STARKVILLE, Miss. – Mississippi State welcomes new head coach Joe Moorhead to a team that went 9-4 and won a bowl game last season, and the 2018 squad could be even better. The 18th-ranked Bulldogs will try to get things started with a win when they host Stephen F. Austin in the season opener on Saturday.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU. LINE: None
Mississippi State wasted little time snapping up Moorhead when Dan Mullens moved on after last season, and the former Penn State offensive coordinator is excited for the atmosphere in Starkville.
"I came from a place where I thought it was the best student section in the country, and I hear the same about Mississippi State," Moorhead told reporters. "You hear writers and the media say this is the best atmosphere in the country, so I want them to arrive early, be as loud as they can and give us a real homefield advantage. I think the students, fans and alumni will be very proud of the product we put on the field."
That product will not include starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who was suspended for the season opener due to a violation of team rules that occurred in March. The Lumberjacks head into 2018 under interim coach Jeff Byrd after Clint Conque announced his resignation earlier this month amid an investigation into violations of university policy.
ABOUT STEPHEN F. AUSTIN (2017: 4-7)
The Lumberjacks allowed a combined 675 yards rushing in dropping their final two games last season to Nicholls and Northwestern State, and the defensive line is looking to improve.
"We've had pretty consistent improvement across the board," senior defensive tackle Lamont Anderson told the team's website. "We've got some young guys who are improving and a couple of transfers who came in. Everybody is picking up pretty well and coming together as a unit."
Stephen F. Austin's offense is expected to be in the hands of senior quarterback Foster Sawyer, who missed the final seven games last season with a knee injury.
ABOUT MISSISSIPPI STATE (2017: 9-4)
Fitzgerald is expected to be one of the best quarterbacks in the nation this season, and the suspension didn't dampen Moorhead's enthusiasm for his starter.
"He had an awesome spring ball, summer conditioning and preseason camp," Moorhead told reporters. "He's been a great leader and teammate. Fitzgerald will sit out this game and come back against Kansas State."
Fitzgerald and running back Aeris Williams combined to rush for 2,091 yards last season and have eclipsed 100 yards rushing in the same game five times over the last two campaigns.
1. Keytaon Thompson will start at quarterback for the Bulldogs on Saturday.
2. Mississippi State's No. 18 ranking is its highest preseason mark since going into the 1984 campaign ranked 14th.
3. Bulldogs senior DT Cory Thomas will miss the opener after being suspended one game for a violation of team rules.
PREDICTION: Mississippi State 65, Stephen F. Austin 7