It’s officially arrived, and college football’s opening weekend is just a few days away. While some games are tune-ups to get the blood flowing, there are potential playoff-shifting games kicking off this weekend right off the bat.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs will usher in a new head coach when they take on the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks, but they’ll be without their star quarterback, who many have as a dark horse candidate to win the Heisman Trophy.
Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald‘s 2017 season ended after an ugly ankle injury required surgery during last November’s Egg Bowl against Ole Miss. Despite the injury, Fitzgerald was a Maxwell Award semifinalist, given to college football’s best player, and a Davey O’Brien semifinalist, given to the nation’s top quarterback last season.
Coming into 2018, Fitzgerald is a National Player of the Year candidate entering a highly-anticipated first season under new head coach Joe Moorhead.
Moorhead has been the offensive coordinator at Penn State University the last two seasons, where his offense, led by running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley, rewrote the Penn State record book.
The Richmond Hill, Georgia native currently owns 11 school records, as well as three SEC records, including the most career 100-yard rushing games by a quarterback (14).
Despite the hype, the senior quarterback has been suspended for the Bulldogs season opener for a violation of team rules back in March.
Senior defensive tackle Cory Thomas is also suspended for the opener, while junior offensive lineman Michael Story remains suspended indefinitely after being arrested Saturday for aggravated cruelty towards a dog in his care.
Fitzgerald’s absence won’t likely be a huge cause for concern when the Bulldogs take on Stephen F. Austin, an FCS school that competes in the Southland Conference. It’s especially not a concern when you have a backup like Keytaon Thompson.
In his first start as a true freshman in last year’s TaxSlayer Bowl against Louisville, Thompson completed 11-of-20 passes for 127 yards, ran 27 times for 147 yards, and tied the Bulldogs’ bowl record with three rushing touchdowns in Mississippi State’s 31-27 victory.
The Bulldogs should do just fine at home in Starkville without Nick Fitzgerald this week.
Still, losing Fitzgerald for the game means valuable in-game reps lost in a new system. The Bulldogs travel to Manhattan, Kansas to take on Kansas State in week two. Then, at the end of the month, the 18th-ranked Bulldogs start a brutal run of games including Florida, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M in consecutive weeks.
Every rep matters when you play in the SEC West.
Fitzgerald should thrive in the Bulldogs new offense, but his potential Heisman campaign will be put on hold while he pays his penance.