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Ten Thoughts: Mississippi State


Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

1. "Mississippi State is going to upset LSU." "Mississippi State is going to upset LSU." "Mississippi State is going to upset LSU." "Mississippi State is going to upset LSU."

2. If a year ever existed for Mississippi State to end LSU's streak of wins, you would not be incorrect for saying this is the one. I don't need to rehash the narrative much for you: the attrition at the skill positions on LSU's offense, the turnover and shallow depth of the defensive line, or Dak Prescott supposedly being the best dual-threat quarterback in the mold of Tim Tebow or Cam Newton since both won national championships. You know these things already, and I have rehashed them enough.

3. Mississippi State also has playmakers elsewhere. Take Jameon Lewis, who seems to be a shorter, off-brand Percy Harvin at wide receiver. There's also linebacker Bernardrick McKinney and defensive end Preston Smith, two great defensive players who are capable of making the day especially long for LSU's offense. The trench play seems to be stout and deep for State, something vital to surviving every week in any major conference. One blip exists on the radar, and that's an experienced and uncharacteristically bad secondary through three weeks. However, against an LSU passing game that is still finding itself, the damage through the air could be limited. On paper, it seems like it's one of the best Mississippi State teams in a while, one that could very well become the one behind the one in 9-1 for Les Miles' record against the Bulldogs should they pull off the upset.

4. So how have they done in 2014 thus far? State's got a spotless 3-0 record, the first win coming  against an overmatched Southern Miss team that's still rebuilding since Ellis Johnson got the keys and drove Larry Fedora's serviceable Ford Taurus of a program off a cliff. Week 2 was much closer than many would have predicted, with the phoenix of UAB rising from the ashes of Garrick McGee and hanging 548 yards of offense and 34 points on the Bulldogs. The third win? A 35-3 formality of a picnic and win in Mobile at South Alabama, albeit one where the hosts ran around for 345 yards before wearing themselves out and retiring to their bedrooms.

5. The Bulldogs are entering Death Valley on a 14 game losing streak to LSU. They haven't won in the confines of Tiger Stadium, one of the toughest environments in America, since I was wearing diapers. The motivation is obviously there for them. On paper? It seems like they're ready to go and meet the challenge. So, are they?

6. The truth is, we don't know. Mississippi State's defense has been porous through the air, but has been stingy on the ground. With LSU still trying to find the right chemistry on the offensive line and Les Miles' penchant for running the ball until someone starts bleeding, this could mean a bad day for the offense. Or it could mean we get to watch Anthony Jennings throw the ball on a secondary that has, up to this point, been a set of maroon traffic cones set around a receiving corps that has become loads of fun to watch, if untested (I love the Mad Bomber method. You love the Mad Bomber method, even if it isn't sustainable). Who knows? On offense State has put up numbers, but they're going against an LSU team that hasn't allowed a point since I was sweating out the remainder of my bourbon haze in Houston. The two consecutive shutouts LSU has put up have been against an FCS school and a Sun Belt school, so it's hard to tell what those mean either. The win against Wisconsin? People seem to ignore it because LSU dug itself out of a 17-point hole in what appeared to be a fluky win. In honesty, it could be fluky, as Wisconsin was playing with half a passing attack and without their feature back for most of the second half. Les Miles has a winning record in games in which he's trailed during the fourth quarter. If his record were 1-0 in such games, one could say the two are related. He's 22-21 in such games and leads the country in this metric by a large margin. It's only a fluke if it doesn't continually happen.

7. Back to LSU dropping this game being a foregone conclusion in the eyes of several media members. We have reached a fairly unique situation where, aside from LSU's win over Wisconsin, neither team has really played an opponent which shows their actual respective worth. LSU's defense may have been uncharacteristically timid for one half against Wisconsin before flipping a switch and deciding to grind everyone's bones to dust. Mississippi State's offense may be as good as Mullen's offenses at Florida were from 2005-2008, or it may have just hung crooked numbers on overmatched defenses. We don't know. Dak Prescott and company get the benefit of the doubt because they've got experienced players on their side, which LSU seemingly does not because of our tendency to funnel players into the NFL. In this case, Mississippi State has less unknowns than LSU does. Don't take anything away from them, they are a talented group. Due to this familiarity, they're a popular pick against an LSU team that is riddled with question marks, or so many think. It's typically a safe choice to pick the outcome when you're more familiar with one of the two sides, even if there's several factors stating to the contrary, like LSU's aforementioned winning streaks against State and at home in Tiger Stadium. You could even bring up Dan Mullen's record as a head coach, which has improved over the last few seasons (he finally beat an SEC West team not named Ole Miss!), though this is partly due to some very, very bad teams coming out of Arkansas in 2012-2013 and Auburn in 2012. He has, by all accounts been outstandingly average.

8. For a game that's loaded with unknowns, anchoring to familiarity, (or what you think is familiarity) is a safe pick. I can hardly blame anyone for doing it. More importantly, it fits the narratives. If State wins, they've turned a corner and the preseason hype for Dak Prescott & Co. is justified, and LSU has been lucky and may be declining like so many media members have said they would for so long. If State loses? LSU's night record at home in Tiger Stadium will be the sticking point, as will the words "it's just so hard to win in Death Valley on a Saturday night."

9. The narratives of LSU's supposed decline and State's hopeful rise to the upper echelon have met, and for some reason, it just seems like it feels right to make that pick for so many people right now. If it isn't, there's a back door out in the form of LSU being absurdly good at home in night games. That's my explanation of the past week, and I'm sticking to it.

10. Doggles.