{FSMETA} College Football: Rivals.com - College Football

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January 14, 2008

Top 25 Countdown: No. 19 Mississippi St.

Head coach: Ron Polk
Last season: 38-22, 15-13 in SEC
Postseason: With several veterans at key positions, the Bulldogs surprised many by finishing second in the SEC West. State then won the Tallahassee Regional before winning the Starkville Super Regional to advance to Omaha.
2008 breakdown: Probable starters | Overview | Offense | Starting pitching | Bullpen | Outlook

Overview

Mississippi State might have some offensive question marks but won't be able to take advantage of the element of surprise.

The Bulldogs had a veteran lineup last season but with many of those players gone, several returnees must rise to the occasion.

Talented infielder Brandon Turner leads the offensive charge, while Connor Powers and Jet Butler had significant roles. Turner expects to echo last season's results, while Powers and Butler hope to establish more consistency.

MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS
Sophomore infielder Brandon Turner is one of the nation's premier players.

Probable Starting Lineup
C Ryan Duffy
1B Tyler Moore
2B Brandon Turner
SS Jet Butler
3B Connor Powers
OF Nick Hardy
OF Mark Goforth
OF Andy Rice
DH Jason Nappi
SP Justin Pigott
SP Chad Crosswhite
SP Ricky Bowen

While the offense has something to prove, the pitching staff is in good shape with weekend starters Chad Crosswhite, Ricky Bowen and Justin Pigott leading the charge.

Pigott and Crosswhite are experienced starters, while Bowen is making the transition from reliever to starter.

The Bulldogs are also excited about the bullpen particularly hard-throwing junior Aaron Weatherford.

Like most teams, State has some question marks. However, they expect to be in the SEC title mix.

Offense

Without question, the offense is the biggest unknown entering the spring.

The Bulldogs had an incredibly experienced lineup last season but with many of those players gone, others must rise to the occasion.

State will lean heavily on sophomore Brandon Turner.

Despite being hurt last season, Turner managed to lead the team with an impressive .399 batting average. He also hit three homers, 13 doubles and knocked in 48 runs.

The Bulldogs are also looking for increased production from Connor Powers and Jet Butler.

Powers hit .306 with eight homers and 37 RBIs last season, while Butler hit .245 with a pair of homers and 12 RBIs.

Also keep an eye on newcomers Jason Nappi and Tyler Moore.

Nappi redshirted last season, while Moore earned NJCAA Division II Player of the Year honors as a sophomore at Meridian CC.

The future of the MSU lineup is uncertain but the talent to succeed is certainly there.

Starting pitching

Mississippi State returns a talented and experienced weekend rotation.

State is led on the mound by senior left-hander Justin Pigott, junior right-hander Chad Crosswhite and sophomore right-hander Ricky Bowen.

Pigott started 16 games last season and had a 4.51 ERA in 113 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 76 and walked 24.

Crosswhite started 11 games and had a 4.69 ERA in 78 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 66 and walked 27.

Last but not least, Bowen is new to the rotation. The talented righty made 27 appearances last season, but started no games. He finished the year with a 3.00 ERA in 36 innings of work.

The Bulldogs need stability on the mound and they seem to have it with Pigott, Crosswhite and Bowen.

Bullpen

With a talented and experienced weekend rotation, the Bulldogs hope they don't have to use the bullpen too much.

If they do, they're still in good shape.

State welcomes back a pair of consistent relievers veterans John Lalor and Aaron Weatherford.

Lalor has appeared in 41 career games and had a 4.17 ERA in 49 2/3 innings of work last season. He also struck out 54 and walked 20, while allowing 23 earned runs.

Weatherford is a rising prospect and appeared in 20 games last season. The hard-throwing right-hander had a 3.53 ERA in 66 1/3 innings of work. He also struck out 72 and walked 25.

Since moving from the weekend rotation to the bullpen midseason last year, Weatherford has been outstanding.

Like the weekend rotation, the MSU bullpen has experience.

Outlook with postseason forecast
Before last season, Mississippi State was predicted by most to finish near the bottom of the SEC. The Bulldogs had the last laugh with another trip to the College World Series. Veteran offensive leadership was an important part of last year's team. But with Rea, Moreland and Easley gone, the Bulldogs need several players to rise to the occasion. While the offense has some question marks, the State pitching staff is in great shape with Chad Crosswhite, Justin Pigott, Ricky Bowen and Aaron Weatherford leading the charge. Pitching wins championships and the Bulldogs have a lot of it. However, the offense must do its part if the team plans on returning to Omaha in June.

Shoes to Fill

Common characteristics of an Omaha contender includes experience and veteran leadership.

The Bulldogs had both in 2007.

With Ed Easley, Mitch Moreland and Jeffrey Rea leading the charge, State had one of the nation's most productive lineups.

Replacing the trio will be difficult.

Easley batted .358 with 12 homers and 63 RBIs, while Moreland hit .343 with 10 homers and 62 RBIs. Additionally, Rea finished the year with a .343 batting average and 13 steals.

Having to replace consistent contributors is tough, but replacing veteran leaders will prove to be even tougher.

Must Step Up

The Mississippi State pitching staff is in great shape, while the offense leaves something to be desired.

With the Bulldogs hoping to continue their successful ways, the outfield trio of Andy Rice, Nick Hardy and Mark Goforth must rise to the occasion.

Goforth earned significant playing time last season, while Rice and Hardy saw limited action.

Goforth, a junior, batted .282 with 16 RBIs last season. He was also 12-for-16 in stolen bases. Meanwhile, Hardy hit .216 with five RBIs, while Rice hit .209 with a pair of homers and 18 RBIs.

The Bulldogs have other returnees that must increase their production. However, the outfield must set the stage.

Impact Newcomer

With veterans Mitch Moreland, Ed Easley and Jeffrey Rea leading the offensive charge last season, the Bulldogs had one of the nation's most productive lineups.

State must find a way to continue its successful ways without the talented trio.

MSU is looking for JUCO transfer Tyler Moore to fill the void left by Moreland.

Moore has an impressive resume.

As a sophomore at Meridian CC last season, Moore batted .472 with 19 homers and 62 RBIs. He also posted an impressive .989 fielding percentage.

In addition to getting drafted by the Washington Nationals, Moore was named the NJCAA Division II Player of the Year.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.

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