MWN staff roundtable: Previewing the 2023 Mississippi State football season

Sep 10, 2022; Tucson, Arizona, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs defensive coordinator Zach Arnett against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 10, 2022; Tucson, Arizona, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs defensive coordinator Zach Arnett against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

We’re almost out of the offseason. To get prepped for the 2023 Mississippi State football season, everyone here at Maroon and White Nation got together for a little chat.

The 2023 Mississippi State football is getting closer and closer and college football at large is just a handful of days away.

With the offseason coming to a close and us finally being free of nonsense storylines as we can actually sit back and enjoy seeing Zach Arnett, Will Rogers, Kevin Barbay, Woody Marks, and so many other actually in Davis Wade Stadium and enjoy a few Mississippi State football games this season.

Football is here! Finally!

We don’t have to just flat out talk about all of the nonsense that the offseason provides! We can talk about Mississippi State football. No more boring conference realignment shenanigans.

Let’s talk Mississippi State football.

Which is why I got all of the folks here at Maroon and White Nation together for a chat. And what did we discuss? Well, nothing more than the upcoming 2023 MSU football season. That’s what we discussed.

Below you’ll find a transcript of our roundtable discussion centered on the 2023 Mississippi State football season (and a few other things here or there).

2023 Mississippi State football season preview: Maroon and White Nation staff roundtable

Ethan Lee: College football is here, folks. We’ve got a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator, a new defensive coordinator. And yet a lot of familiar faces still around despite a lot of change. How’re y’all feeling about this season? What’re your thoughts on this past offseason?

John King: I’m ready to jump in wholeheartedly with enthusiasm for this season. I mean, I’m not quite at #wewantbama levels, but I’m excited to see what our offense looks like. And I trust Coach Arnett to have the defense ready to, uh, tackle the season

Ethan Lee: I don’t think I trust anyone who is at #wewantbama levels

Andrew Miller: I don’t feel strongly one way or the other about this team. With the overall amount of experience in place, I think there’s a chance for a good group. But, there are still lots of unknowns for what this team will actually be with a new offense, several new faces on defense, and a new HC running the program.

I’m certainly not expecting a bad season, but I’m not overly optimistic about a big year either. I mostly just think they’ll be fine.

As for the offseason, I do like Arnett’s vision for the program with the staff he hired and making a big push to improve recruiting and NIL efforts. That’s reason for excitement down the line so long as the on-field results are there.

Trending. Mississippi State football: 5 toughest opposing offenses for 2023. light

John King: We have some new faces on offense and defense, but we also bring a good amount of experience back, including some guys who just made the coaches’ pre-season All-SEC team. I think Arnett will still have a lot of say in how the defense is run, too.The offense is obviously going to be a lot different. I think this season hinges on our ability to transition to the new system on that side of the ball

Trey Burke: It’s been “so far, so good” for the nascent Zach Arnett Era at Mississippi State: good enough bowl performance, good close to the 2023 recruiting class and has solid returns in the ongoing 2024 class. Still, the athletics department hasn’t gone all-in on him, and past performance will only get him so far.I don’t think expectations are sky high.

If we come out of 2023 feeling good about Matt Brock and Kevin Barbay, and bad game management didn’t cost us any wins, Arnett should feel good about his future in Starkville.

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the middle of the SECW.

Most observers think Alabama and LSU are the top tier of the division, Arkansas, Auburn, Ole Miss and Texas A&M are in a middle tier and State is in the third tier all by itself. This is saying more about those middle tier teams than State, but I think State is a solid member of that uncertain middle with a new look offense.

John King: Ya know, I wish you hadn’t mentioned game management at all. There’s no telling how Arnett will perform in that category, and a lot of first-time head coaches struggle there

Andrew Miller: Game management and just the overall preparation of the program has been the most overlooked storyline for the team this offseason. Arnett has said all the right things and seems to have a good vision for the program, but it’s an unknown if he handles the day-to-day operation and game management side well.

Justin Strawn: I’m excited. I’m less plugged in than I have been in years, and I plan to join the throngs of fans who don’t understand how we ever lose. Don’t be surprised if I’m tweeting about what time the game starts or what channel it’s on. It’s going to be great.

Trey Burke: As for game management, I’m interested in whether he’s willing to implement some situational models/constraints. Will Arnett have a nerd? Will he listen to the nerd he has?

John King: If he doesn’t have a nerd, I nominate Andrew

Andrew Miller: That requires me to do math, so I’m out.

Matt Tyler: I’m just catching up here, but I’m extremely excited to see Kevin Barbay’s offense in action. We’re in a unique position of returning a lot of offensive production and talent, yet a lot the skill players we’re the most excited about have little in the way of proven production.

I’ve felt for the last few years that we weren’t maximizing the potential of players such as Woody Marks, Tulu, Zavion, and etc. Barbay and Co. have said all the right things this offseason, and the reports from campus are encouraging about both the scheme and its ability to set some of our more explosive players free. That’s been lacking.

Brooks Hill: Maybe my brain is just ruined by years of being a Mississippi State fanatic, and having a terrible attitude toward things. but I have to stop and recognize what team I am a fan of and be a little more realistic. I always ask myself a few questions.

Will we be fine at the end of this season? Yes. It’s not going to be a “burn it all and restart year”. 6-6, 7-5 whatever is fine. Starting to accept we are a middle of road team with a decent year sprinkled in there every now and then.

Will I or any MSU fan be able to go to an SEC game in DWS and it be an enjoyable experience to watch? Yes I think our defense plus Rogers maturity alone to manage an offense and score points will make a game fun to watch.

Do we have a chance to shock some folks. Yes we have a chance. Will it happen? Probably not. But there’s a chance and that is what makes my heart beat a little faster on gamedays.

Now my dumb brain says: 4-8 or 11-2. Arnett is either the equivalent of Croom or the next Nick Saban. No in between.

Ethan Lee: On that note…

Setting reasonable expectations for the 2023 Mississippi State football season

Ethan Lee: Something some of us have touched on in here is the way our fanbase sometimes struggles with setting “realistic” expectations sometimes (and really this is an issue all fanbases face because everyone has overinflated expectations).I guess what I’m asking here is “what are realistic expectations for this season given all the new that has changed around this team?”

Daniel Potts: For year 1, getting to a bowl is a success

Andrew Miller: I think 7-8 wins is realistic, but I agree that bowl eligibility is the baseline expectation, though I certainly wouldn’t be pleased with 6 wins.

light. Trending. How much is Zach Arnett being paid in 2023?

Ethan Lee: If this were just a “first-year head coach rebuild” sort of situation, just attaining a bowl appearance would be good, but given that we won nine games a year ago, I’d think we should be a bit higher than just a bowl appearance. The Dan Mullen special of 8 wins + a sunny bowl destination works for me.

Andrew Miller: 8-4 would be a great season IMO

Daniel Potts: It’s a complete overhaul in offensive philosophy, especially on the offensive line. Also, there are no gimmies in conference play this year, not one.

Andrew Miller: It is. My biggest question is how much do they try and do offensively? They’ve stated many times that won’t run concepts that don’t suit their personnel, but how much do they try and run.

In the Air Raid you were only running a handful of concepts out of a few formations with an occasional wrinkle thrown in to change up the look to the defense.

I’m sure our fans would argue that simplicity was an issue and being more complex is good, but most of the top offenses in the sport today keep things very simple.

Generally speaking, Pro Style systems tend to ask a lot more of the players. Even if the concepts suit the players, do you reach a point where you ask them to do so much that execution suffers

There are a lot of great plays out there, but you can’t run them all. That’ll be a big thing I watch for.

Ryan Strickland: Phrase I would use as far as feeling for this season is cautiously optimistic. We have a lot of experience returning that has won games more than they’ve lost. The talent is there for a good season. I have a lot of faith in Arnett but he still is a first year head coach in the toughest conference in the sport. There will be some challenges and anyone who doesn’t think that is not being honest. I think the defense will be what it needs to be with Brock over it and Arnett as someone for him to rely on getting into the swing of things.

Safeties are my biggest concern on the defensive side of the ball. The offense will be the make or break area for this team and its success. The offensive line being the most crucial. If the offensive line is having trouble and can’t get it going sooner rather than later, it could be a long year. With the experience at that position, I’m hoping it’s not a painful transition.

As far as the off-season, I believe it was as good as anyone could’ve hoped for with the circumstances. They found some solid transfers in areas of need that will contribute right away which is what you obviously want. Arnett made some really solid hires for his staff and recruiting has been good so far and Arnett seems to be all in with recruiting and NIL. That’s huge for a program like us. Just cautiously optimistic.

Feel good but know that things could go a little left with a new offensive scheme/staff and a 1st year head coach.

Ryan Strickland: I have State finishing at 8-4 this year. That’s a great year with all the changes and everything that has happened with the program when the season ended last year. I think 100% believing we should have 9/10 wins like I’ve seen around on message boards and social media is unrealistic. 7-5/8-4 and I’m happy.

They somehow pull off 9? Give Arnett whatever he wants.

I believe 7/8 wins is a realistic expectation and attainable win total with the talent we have on the field and all the changes this program has gone through in such a short period of time. 6 or less wins would be a cause for concern. I have no problem with people saying they’d be upset if we struggled to 6 wins and crawled to a bowl game.

Daniel Potts: State has a higher ceiling this year than the general media believes, but a lower floor than the general State fanbase is willing to accept.

Ryan Strickland: Absolutely nailed it with that. 100% agree

Andrew Miller: Completely agree. I’ve constantly found myself with a higher opinion of this team than national pundits but a lower opinion than the fanbase.

Ethan Lee: What’s the one thing that you’re most excited about with this season? Or, well, what’s the one thing that scares you the most? Is there a particular team that you’re most frightened of (that isn’t Alabama or LSU)?

Brooks Hill: Texas A&M might finally break out of their so called “slump”. Even though I still think we have their number, losing that game will have the ability to change our season from potential 8/9 wins to 6/7.

Andrew Miller: I’m excited to see the interlocking MSU back and the throwback uniforms. It was well before my time, so there’s no nostalgia factor for me. And I won’t say they need to be worn full-time. But I’m a sucker for throwback uniforms, and they look fantastic. Also I think we could see some electric environments at DWS that we haven’t seen in several years.

But I’ll agree with Brooks about A&M. State has owned that series since 2014, but I get the feeling they may have finally put the pieces together to at least come close to what their roster talent suggests they should be. And beating A&M has been key for State having successful seasons in the past.

John King: I’m excited to see Woody Marks play in a system that isn’t the Air Raid. I love the way he runs the ball, and I hope our new blocking schemes can give him some lanes to run in. He was successful in a low volume role, and I think he could dominate if things fall into place.I’m most scared by South Carolina. I’ll be interested to see how they play against UNC in week one. If they win that one, I’m going to have much less confidence that we beat them this year. I think that game could really set the tone for our season outside of the two early tough games vs LSU and Bama.

Ryan Strickland: I’m excited to see who is going to develop and step up and be the future of the defense since we have so many guys in their last year. I’m a big Kalvin Dinkins mark. Dude is a freak of nature and has a great position coach to help him be a real force. Also like Andrew, I’m excited about the interlocking logo being brought back and also seeing the script logo being showcased as our main logo and seeing how that is viewed.

What scares me most is Arnett maybe not being the guy as head coach. I don’t think that’s going to happen but there is a chance that it does and that would be the absolute worst thing to happen outside of a season ending injury to Rogers. Auburn scares me because of Hugh Freeze shenanigans but South Carolina is the game that has the biggest effect. Win that one and they could very well get 9.

Matt Tyler: While everything said and done appears impressive up to this point, we’re still entering the season with a 1st-year HC, young OC, and a 1st-year DC. On paper, I think this is the best offense we’ve had since ‘17 and possible ‘14. Can we translate it what’s on paper to wins when South Carolina, Auburn, Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M all expect to he improved as well?

That’s the key question.

For all the hype our fanbase is giving the defense and their potential, the lack of anything proven pass rusher outside of Bookie (and you don’t want your MLB being your best pass rusher) and the almost complete rebuild in the secondary has me worried. Can we hold up on the back end when our frequent blitzes don’t get home? Does Brock do a better job of containing mobile/running QBs than we have done for much of Arnett’s tenure?

Ryan Strickland: If Jordan Davis can be 75% of what he was before the injuries, I think he could potentially be that effective pass rusher the defense needs. May not be a monster due to the injuries but he can be effective. But you’re right on being worried about the safeties rebuild and blitzes not getting home. It could get ugly if a QB feels comfortable and has time. Safeties might be the biggest unknown on the entire roster.

Ethan Lee: This is good stuff, guys. Thanks for joining in!

dark. Next. Remembering the Pirate: Mike Leach’s Top 5 Games at Mississippi State