Mississippi State Bulldogs, 6-7 (3-5)
How big of a difference will Todd Grantham make?
The Mississippi State Bulldogs finished 2016 with terrific momentum, arguably entering the offseason hotter than any other team in the league after dominating Ole Miss 55-20 in the Egg Bowl, earning a bowl bid and escaping with a dramatic 17-16 victory over Miami (Ohio).
However, the Bulldogs succeeded down the stretch in 2016 despite a defense that allowed 34.0 points and an average of 475.9 total yards of offense per game in conference play – including an average of 546.5 yards per contest in November, when State picked up key victories against Texas A&M and Ole Miss, but lost to Alabama and Arkansas. The team even allowed more than 600 yards to Samford.
Given the unit’s struggles, few fans were sad to see defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon leave for Louisville after the season. Surprisingly, Sirmon traded places with Cardinals DC Todd Grantham, who became the fourth defensive coordinator in four years in Starkville, and the seventh in head coach Dan Mullen’s nine seasons.
Grantham, who SEC football fans may remember from his days at Georgia, helped Louisville rank among the top 20 in the country in total defense in the last three years. Last season, Louisville allowed 322.2 total yards per game, which ranked 14th in the nation.
Grantham has a history of success, and though he will also have some key contributors back, such as athletic defensive back Brandon Bryant, star sophomore linebacker Leo Lewis and talented defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons, he must replace top tackler Richie Brown, as well as top sackers Johnathan Calvin and A.J. Jefferson.