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Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald (7) throws the ball as the University of Georgia football team plays Mississippi State University at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia, on Saturday, September 23, 2017,. (Photo/Reann Huber, www.reannhuber.com)

Leading up to the start of the college football season, The Red & Black will preview each of the 13 teams Georgia plays alongside in the Southeastern Conference. Today, The Red & Black takes a look at the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

2017 results

9-4 (4-4 SEC); 4th in SEC West

Summary of last season

After starting off the 2017 season 3-0, Mississippi State dropped two road games in a row to Georgia and Auburn. The Bulldogs went on a run to return to relevancy late in the season and hung with Alabama in a 31-24 loss in Starkville on November 11. They closed out the regular season with a disappointing 31-28 defeat at the hands of Ole Miss in which quarterback Nick Fitzgerald suffered a gruesome ankle injury. They still qualified for a bowl, though, beating Louisville in the TaxSlayer Bowl on December 30.

New year, new coach

After nine seasons with Mississippi State, former head coach Dan Mullen left the program in November to become the head coach at Florida. Mullen was 69-46 as head coach of the Bulldogs and led the team to eight consectuive bowl appearances over his last eight seasons.

Thus, the bar is set high for new head coach Joe Moorhead, who was hired after serving as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Penn State in 2016 and 2017. Moorhead enters the position in a favorable situation, as Mississippi State is poised for success in 2018 with several key players returning from last season.

Key returning players

Nick Fitzgerald, quarterback—Before he suffered an ankle injury in Mississippi State’s final game of the regular season in 2017, Nick Fitzgerald had a good season for the Bulldogs. In 12 games, he threw for 1,782 yards and 15 touchdowns. His sophomore season in 2016 was even better, as he threw for 2,423 yards and 21 touchdowns. Fitzgerald will return from injury for the 2018 season and could be poised to have a breakout season in his senior season with the Bulldogs.

Aeris Williams, running back—The Bulldogs’ leading rusher returns for his senior season in 2018 after accumulating 1,107 rushing yards in 2017. Williams ran for at least 100 yards in four games last season and scored two touchdowns in Mississippi State’s loss to Alabama last November. Williams has the potential for another impactful season with the Bulldogs in 2018.

Season outlook

With several key players returning, Mississippi State’s potential is high going into the 2018 season. A trip to Kansas State in week two presents a relatively challenging non-conference opponent, but the Bulldogs should still have the upper hand in the contest. Mississippi State’s SEC East matchups are both winnable games against Florida and Kentucky. It remains to be seen how Moorhead will fit into the new head coaching position, but the Bulldogs could at least put up a fight for the top spot in the SEC West, though it will be a tough task to fight off both Auburn and Alabama.

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