Mississippi State fans know the story all too painfully. For those who don’t, here’s a brief recap. In 2022, head coach Mike Leach led State to an 8-4 season, even winning the coveted Egg Bowl. Exactly one year ago, on December 12th, Leach passed away from heart complications, leaving students, fans, and especially the team in a state of disbelief and sadness. Defensive coordinator, Zach Arnett, was appointed head coach and led them to a ReliaQuest Bowl win over Illinois. But in the 2023 season, the Dawgs sputtered to 4-6 under Arnett. Following his firing, the team finished at 5-7, losing the Egg Bowl and breaking a 13-year streak of going to a bowl. The new head coach, Jeff Lebby, started making changes quickly. Because of the coaching change, players had early access to transfer. 13 Bulldogs have entered, and each day brings anticipation with tales to be told from the portal.
The Big Dawg in the Room
Will Rogers – This veteran quarterback is probably the best-known of all those Bulldogs moving on. He declared for transfer within a day of the Egg Bowl loss. 2023 was not a good year for the Brandon, MS native. His performance sputtered at times, and his 38 consecutive starts were interrupted due to a shoulder injury. Lebby has already stated that he’s looking for a quarterback who can use his feet and passing arm. Rogers has the latter but not the former. So, in his final year of eligibility, Rogers is banking on his prior years to make him attractive to many teams who have a similar Air Raid-style offense.
Rogers’ stats are impressive, to say the least. His 12,315 career passing yardage ranks second all-time in the SEC. He has over 1,000 career completions, more than any SEC quarterback in history. He has 94 touchdown passes, placing him fourth in the conference, ahead of Peyton and Eli Manning, Tua Tagovailoa, and Bryce Young. In 2021, he threw for 4,739 yards, 521 more than this year’s Heisman-nominee Michael Penix, Jr., who had had 4,218 this season.
Interestingly enough, 247Sports reports that Penix’s team, Washington, is very interested because of their “pass-happy” offense, similar to Air Raid. Offers from the Huskies will not likely be until after New Year’s Day because of their pending playoff game against Texas. This will be interesting to watch.
Major Offensive Threats Leaving
Jo’quavious “Woody” Marks – This Bulldog running back is a dual threat and was one of their greatest hopes for the 2023 season. Marks started in 32 games and amassed 1,883 yards on 410 carries and 22 touchdowns. He started 2023 very strong but suffered a leg injury causing him to miss three games during conference play. He returned for the final two games, but the writing was on the wall by that point. Marks has one year of eligibility left as a graduate student.
Zavion Thomas – This Bulldog wide receiver made a bold statement in the 2022 season as a freshman All-American punt returner. He was second in the SEC with 13.47 yards per return. This season, Thomas increased his role as a receiver while still returning punts and kicks. His highlight reel includes that memorable 94-yard opening kickoff return against Texas A&M. He had two receptions last year. In 2023 he had 40. He had 42 receptions for 507 yards and a touchdown. Thomas already has interest from LSU and Auburn, with a greater chance for an offer from the Bengal Tigers.
Other Offensive Bulldogs
Steven Losoya III – This season, Losoya started in all 12 games at right guard. The redshirt senior came to MSU from Middle Tennessee State where he made the C-USA All-Freshman team. He enrolled in time for the 2022 season under Leach. Between MTSU and the Bulldogs, Losoya has appeared in 48 career games, 25 for the Dawgs. Out of his 35 starts, he has 21 at State. Out of all the Dawgs in the portal, he is the only one already snapped up. He has committed to Vanderbilt.
Ryland Goede – Preparing for the pro-style Kevin Barbay offense, State went after two tight ends who had played for the national championship last year. One of those was Goede who played four years at Georgia. He came to MSU hoping to be more of a receiving tight end. The Georgia native played in 10 games starting in seven, but was relegated to mostly blocking and only had one reception for 18 yards against Ole Miss. Goede will have one more year of eligibility.
Simeon Price – The running back cup runneth over this year at State and Price seemed to be edged out by true freshman Seth Davis, plus transfers Jeffery Pittman, and Keyvone Lee. He was more productive in 2022, rushing for 150 yards on 30 carries. He was also a threat as a receiver, catching 13 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown. Price enters the portal as a redshirt sophomore.
Jacoby Bellazar – This junior wide receiver transferred in from Southwest Mississippi Community College where he led that team in receptions, yards, and touchdowns over two seasons. In his one year for the Bulldogs, he had one reception for 13 yards.
Nakai Poole – Poole is a freshman wide receiver who turned down Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss, and Missouri to come to State. Although he played sporadically this year, he did not register any statistics.
The Bulldog Departing Defenders Are…
Corey Ellington – Ellington came to the Dawgs as a three-star recruit in the signing class of 2021. As a junior in 2023, a year when the secondary was desperately needed, he had 66 tackles, four for a loss, two sacks, and a forced fumble. Over his three seasons at State, he had 92 tackles in 31 games.
DeCarlos Nicholson – This cornerback came to MSU in 2022 as a transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. He was primarily on special teams last year but made an impact in 2023 with 42 tackles, two for a loss in 12 games.
Will James – James was a true freshman in the 2023 season, making his debut as a safety against Auburn, but didn’t register any statistics.
There will probably be more coming to the transfer portal on the outbound side, but the window is gradually closing. It has been said that the portal giveth and the portal taketh away. There will be another upcoming article about Lebby and what the portal giveth for the Bulldogs. as well as his staff hires and fires. Stay tuned for any updates on outgoing transfers as well.