Mississippi State Football: are they really that “young”

Oct 14, 2016; Provo, UT, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs wide receiver Gabe Myles (5) can
Oct 14, 2016; Provo, UT, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs wide receiver Gabe Myles (5) can /

Dan Mullen has said Mississippi State is a “young” team at least 674 times in the last two months. So is it true?

The players on this team exhibit very little leadership and they don’t know how to “strain” properly. Is this really a function of youth and inexperience? Why is MSU perpetually young? Let’s breakdown the roster:

Senior Class

  • Devon Desper (OG) – two year starter
  • Nick James (DT) – two year starter
  • Nelson Adams (DT) – mostly a backup but has played a lot
  • Joquell Johnson (OG) – backup as juco transfer
  • Jamaal Clayborn (C) – two year starter
  • Justin Senior (OT) – three year starter
  • Will Coleman (DE) – backup as juco transfer
  • Torrey Dale (DE) – career backup
  • A.J. Jefferson (DE) – two year starter
  • Richie Brown (LB) – two year starter
  • Ashton Shumpert (RB) – mostly a backup but has played a lot
  • DeAndre Ward (LB) – backup as a former walk-on
  • Johnathan Calvin (DE) – one year starter as juco transfer
  • Kivon Coman (S) – two year starter
  • Brandon Holloway (RB) – two year starter
  • Fred Ross (WR) – two year starter
  • Tolando Cleveland (CB) – would be a one year starter but out with injury
  • Cedric Jiles (CB) – career backup mostly due to injuries

That’s 18 seniors on this team. It’s not like 2013 when there were only 11 so that was part of the reason for going 6-6 – and you knew the team was primed for success in 2014 because of it. This group of seniors is a fully-loaded class despite the departures of De’Runnya Wilson, Beniquez Brown, Fred Brown, Gus Walley and Chris Jones. They feature 10 starters – nine of whom have been starting for at least two years.

The problem with this class isn’t in numbers or experience. It’s the lack of leadership. Dak Prescott was an Alpha Dog – for at least the last two years everyone looked to him and it stunted the growth of future leaders. I’m not saying that was an excuse, but it appears that it’s what happened.

Junior Class

  • Traver Jung (LB) – backup as juco transfer
  • Gabe Myles (WR) – one year starter
  • Donald Gray (WR) – one year starter as juco transfer
  • Jamoral Graham (CB) – one year starter
  • Damian Williams (QB) – career backup
  • J.T. Gray (LB) – two year starter
  • Lashard Durr (CB) – one year starter as juco transfer
  • Westin Graves (K) – two year starter
  • Logan Cooke (P) – three year starter
  • Dez Harris (LB) – career backup but mostly due to injuries
  • Martinas Rankin (OT) – started half the games this year as juco transfer
  • Jordan Thomas (TE) – backup as juco transfer

That’s a junior class of 12 players, two of which are the punter and kicker. This won’t be like the 2013 small senior class that featured Nickoe Whitley, Tyler Russell, Deontae Skinner, Gabe Jackson, Denico Autry and LaDarius Perkins. This group does not have the key play-makers outside of perhaps the two Grays.

The problem here is the 2013 recruiting class was complete hit or miss…

Hit: Bear Wilson, Chris Jones, Fred Ross, Justin Cox, Kivon Coman

Miss: Jahmere Irvin-Sills, Artimas Samuel, Cord Sandburg, Shelby Christy, Kent Flowers, Jake Thomas, BJ Hammond, Trent Simpson, Jeremey Chappelle, Brandon Wells.

All of those misses – all TEN – are no longer enrolled at MSU. Add in Wilson, Jones and Cox and you’ve got THIRTEEN of the 21 that were signed who didn’t make it to their 4th year in the program!

Plus the fact that guys like Ross and Coman were not red-shirted, so we’re essentially left with Gabe Myles, Damian Williams and Dez Harris as juniors from the 2013 recruiting class.

Sophomore Class

  • Brandon Bryant (S)
  • Jamal Peters (S)
  • Gerri Green (LB)
  • Nick Fitzgerald (QB)
  • Malik Dear (WR)
  • Chris Rayford (CB)
  • Aeris Williams (RB)
  • Dontavian Lee (RB)
  • Cory Thomas (DT)
  • Mark McLaurin (S)
  • Deion Calhoun (OG)
  • Ronald Cochran (OG)
  • Elgton Jenkins (OT)
  • Justin Johnson (TE)
  • Jesse Jackson (WR)
  • Grant Harris (DT)
  • Braxton Hoyett (DT)

These 17 guys are the future of Mississippi State football. If this program is going to get its feet back under it, it’ll be with these guys plus a handful of jucos (six are currently committed).

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I believe this is a two-year rebuild from the Dak era. 2016 will be absent of a bowl game, but likely 2017 will include one provided this group steps into a leadership role. 2018 will be the year you can hitch your wagon to.

Dan Mullen still has a lot to address with the offensive line, and that will be a main reason this will be a two-year rebuild. If there is improvement on that unit, he can position the program for success once this sophomore class rises to be seniors.

BUT – if guys like Leo Lewis, Jamal Peters, and other talented players turn pro before 2018 then it won’t happen. That’s the struggle here – if it’s going to take three and four years to “develop” players, it kills you when a few decide to leave for the NFL. We are seeing that with the losses of Bear Wilson, Chris Jones and Beni Brown….your senior class is handicapped and the junior class isn’t ready yet.

This has been a tough rebuild that has hit us all harder than we thought it would. And look no further than the roster to understand why it’s that way. MSU is “young” because the top talent is younger than the seniors and the coaches don’t have them ready yet. The bottom line for 2016 is that this senior class had some key pieces plucked from it so the top end talent is gone and they haven’t figured out how to lead the team without them around, so you’ve got a 2-4 team.