The Mississippi State Bulldogs are being predicted by most of those who cover college football to take a significant step back from where they were at the end of the 2014 season. Much of this is being predicated on the amount of experience Mississippi State is losing. There is one reason though that is the cause for Mississippi State’s poor outlook in 2015, and it is similar to the reason so many predicted the Bulldogs to finish lower than they did on 2014.
The predictions for the Bulldogs in 2014 ranged mostly around the 7-5 mark. There were some who thought they might do better, but those people were few and far between. People looked at the fact Mississippi State lost their starting running back from the 2013 season as a reason to doubt whether or not the Bulldogs would be good as 2014 played out. Josh Robinson entered 2014 as an unknown commodity, but those who really paid attention to the Bulldogs in 2013 saw the potential Robinson carried. A breakout junior season for Robinson might land the running back as a late round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
When Robinson declared for the NFL Draft, those same questions surfaced for the 2015 season. How can Mississippi State replace a back that ran for the number of yards that Robinson did? The answer lies in the talent that was left behind.
Talent level at the running back position is not lacking for the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs have two four star recruits waiting in the wings to take over. And the bright side is neither were listed on the 1st team when Spring Practice.
Brandon Holloway was listed as the 1st team running back when the depth charts were released. Despite running for nearly 300 yards last season and averaged 6.5 yards a carry, he will have an uphill battle keeping that spot. Holloway picked up the majority of his yards last season on a handful of carries. If Holloway got into the open field, his lightning quick speed allowed him to pick up large chunks of yards at a time. His handicap is simply he doesn’t fit the mold of an effective back in Dan Mullen’s system. Productive backs for Mullen have always been North-South runners that crave the physical contact that comes with running up the middle.
The first back that will have the advantage of receiving the bulk of the playing time is Ashton Shumpert. Since Robinson was so productive in 2014, Shumpert received very few opportunities to showcase his talents. When he did though, he often performed extremely well. He was one of the few bright spots in losses to Ole Miss and Georgia Tech when he averaged about 6.5 yards a carry.
Pushing both of them for playing time will be the 2014 High School Player of the Year in Mississippi, Aeris Williams. Williams was redshirted for 2014, but will see playing time this coming fall. Williams might be the most talented back in the roster, and he will be listed on the third team when the Bulldogs travel to Hattiesburg in September.
Then there is dark horse Dontavian Lee. Lee didn’t come to Starkville with the same fanfare as Shumpert or Williams, but he has shown this Spring he could be just as productive. He fits the same mold as Williams and Shumpert, and has displayed that he can be productive in the passing game.
It’s possible the Bulldogs could average more than the 233 yards they averaged last season in 2015. It’s also possible they might do it without a single player accumulating more than 700 or 800 yards for the season. This is another reason I believe the Bulldogs won’t drop off that much in 2015. The Bulldogs could sub in a new back every series and be fresh when the fourth quarter is rolling around. When the defense is tired and about to give out, the Bulldogs will be able to pound the football with a back that is craving the contact. Mississippi State might take a step back in 2015, but it won’t be because the Bulldogs don’t have a running back that can tote the ball.