Bob Carskadon of HailState.com previews Ole Miss' final 2016 football opponent

In the coming weeks, the Ole Miss Spirit will be previewing each of the Rebels' 2016 football opponents, starting with their last, Mississippi State, and finishing with Florida State. Today, Bob Carskadon of HailState.com answers five burning questions on the in-state rival.

Spirit: The obvious question facing Mississippi State in 2016-17 is who replaces Dak Prescott at quarterback. Who are some candidates, and who do you expect to ultimately win the job?

Carskadon: Perhaps surprisingly, it's a legitimate four-man race to do so. If coaches had an idea who they were going to start coming out of spring practice, they didn't tip their hand. That said, most people are guessing - myself included - that sophomore Nick Fitzgerald will get the job. He did very well in mop-up duty behind Prescott last year and seems to have the most developed combo of passing and running, which Dan Mullen certainly appreciates. That said, I don't rule out any of the four, and I wouldn't be shocked if junior Damian Williams gets the nod to start the season as the most experienced QB in the group and the only who has started an SEC game before. 

Spirit: Last season was the first in many years under Dan Mullen that MSU didn’t have a good running game. Can the Bulldogs get back to the success they had previously, and who are some candidates to emerge?

Carskadon: A portion of that last year came as a result of having an accomplished passer and several great receivers - namely Fred Ross and De'Runnya Wilson - so MSU didn't need or want to run the ball as much. However, whatever the ratio was, there's no denying the running game was less effective than it typically has been. I'd expect a return to a run-first offense, particularly with a new quarterback. They'll be depending on offensive linemen who were young last year to make a jump going into the fall.

As for who gets the job, the list is long and I get the feeling that four or five guys will be given chances. It could be a committee approach, but it will be led, at least at first, by senior Brandon Holloway, who had a very good year running in 2015, despite the team's struggles overall. Sophomore Aeris Williams is another who had a good spring and could be in line for more of a workload in 2016.

Spirit: The Bulldog offensive line struggled last season. Do you expect improvement up front?

Carskadon: As I mentioned above, MSU found itself last year depending on some young talent on the line. At times, that worked fine. At others, it didn't. Such is life when young guys are thrown into the fire. Presuming they learn from their experience, I'd expect a step up for the line, which will be aided by the addition of Martinas Rankin, the former No. 1 JUCO offensive tackle who redshirted in 2015.

Spirit: Is the move to a 3-4 defense the right move for Mississippi State?

Carskadon: Probably, and I'll explain why, but I should note first: it won't be a completely traditional 3-4, nor will it be run exclusively. New defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon was adamant all spring that MSU will present a variety of fronts. That said, MSU's greatest position of strength on the team - offense or defense - is linebacker. This certainly highlights an area that has depth to spare.

Spirit: Who plays cornerback?

Carskadon: Lots of people play cornerback, Ben. But no, that's a good question, isn't it? Longtime starters Will Redmond and Taveze Calhoun are both in NFL minicamps right now, so there's a big hole there. Senior Toledo Cleveland played extensively last year when Redmond was injured, and junior Cedric Jiles has been always-promising but oft-injured. However, a guy coaches seem really excited about is JUCO transfer Lashard Durr. He's long, fast and strong and quickly became a favorite of the strength staff when he got to campus in January. I'd also expect redshirt freshmen Maurice Smitherman and Chris Stamps to be in the mix, and I wouldn't be shocked if Smitherman has worked himself into a starting role by the time I see y'all in Oxford later this fall.


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