Ben's burning questions: What Mississippi State's new schedule forecasts, is a wave of transfers coming and how sportswriters would deal with no football this fall


Ben Portnoy

Ben Portnoy



Ben Portnoy



STARKVILLE -- As I sat inside the press box at MGM Park in Biloxi, the stirs of pandemic-related hysteria remained at bay.


I looked on as Mississippi State swept a two-game set against No. 4 Texas Tech and looked the part of a team that could contend for the program's first national title.


But within days of that game, the NCAA men's basketball tournament was canceled and the NBA season was put on pause. Other professional leagues followed suit. Soon, we were all forced to our respective abodes in hopes of containing the scourge better known as COVID-19.



Nearly five months to the day the Bulldogs topped the Red Raiders, this pandemic continues to affect our daily lives and present a clear and present danger to those old and young. Even our guilty pleasures, like watching football on Saturdays in the fall, are in peril of falling by the wayside.


I don't know what tomorrow will bring, let alone the coming weeks, but I know this: administrators, coaches, players and yes, you the fans, would love nothing more than to play a college football season assuming it can be done safely. Here's to hoping we can.


Alright, that's enough ranting for one day. Time to grab my coffee and answer your rumblings. Let's get to it.



Mississippi State added Vanderbilt and Georgia to its schedule this past week. How does that change their outlook for the coming season?


To be perfectly candid, this is basically a best-case scenario for MSU. One would assume the Bulldogs are able to handle a Vanderbilt squad that hasn't won three or more Southeastern Conference games since 2013, and a contest against preseason No. 4 Georgia is at worst a chance for an upset.


This isn't to say I expect MSU to march into Athens and defeat their red and black Bulldog compatriots. Hell, I'd be absolutely shocked if it happened. But in a league that boasts six teams in the inaugural Amway/USA Today Coaches Top 25 (five of whom are now on MSU's schedule), it was almost a given that first-year head coach Mike Leach's squad would pick up at least one elite foe in the SEC's schedule reshuffle.


I'll preface my predictions with this: It is early August, and it remains to be seen if any football will be played this year. However, if it is, Leach and co. will have ample opportunities to fill the win column. Games against Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky and Vanderbilt should all be winnable, although the Wildcats have become an increasingly tough out under Mark Stoops.


If MSU takes care of business in those four contests, the Egg Bowl likely becomes a chance to go 5-5 as the Bulldogs will also face Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Texas A&M and Georgia. Drop one of the aforementioned winnable contests and MSU likely sits at 4-6, which given the bizarre scheduling surrounding college football may be enough to get into a bowl game.


I wrote last week that Leach's offense lends itself to first-year success, but the defense will need to replace some important pieces. If the defense holds up, I'll say MSU goes 5-5; if not, the Bulldogs fall to 3-7 or 4-6 in what will be an assuredly insane year should it be played.


(Godspeed to Arkansas and Missouri, who added Florida, Georgia, Alabama and LSU to their ledgers. To the Razorback and Tiger fans out there I bring you some advice from one-time pre-med student and one of my favorite movie characters of all time, John Blutarsky -- I suggest you start drinking heavily.)



If the SEC and ACC become the only conferences to play this fall, could we see an influx of transfers from other conferences?


Granted this question is contingent on the Big Ten, Pac-12 and other FBS conferences not playing, but it's a reality we could be headed toward. I've written for weeks about the SEC's hellbent desire to play football this fall, though whether that comes to fruition remains to be seen.


Dispatch Sports Editor Garrick Hodge and I actually discussed this at length a few days ago, but more in the context of whether top-flight FCS talent could flip to FBS programs in time for the season. In this scenario, they would not have to sit out a year because they are coming from a different level.


Given the NCAA has granted immediate eligibility for seemingly every transfer under the sun (apologies to Kentucky quarterback Joey Gatewood: I know you're still waiting), these players should be allowed to play immediately -- though the logistics of such a move would be difficult at best.


At this point, teams have held voluntary in-person workouts for months, and we're theoretically only a handful of days away from training camps starting in the SEC (I, of course, have my doubts whether these will begin at any point, but that's neither here nor there). It would be nearly impossible for a player to arrive on campus two weeks before the season, learn the playbook and step into a starting or impact role. This doesn't necessarily account for top-flight NFL-caliber talent, but you get the idea.


It wouldn't be the craziest thing in the world for players to look to other teams and conferences if theirs don't play football this fall, but the optics of some leagues playing while others tap out due to health and safety concerns would be a bad look in itself.



If there is no college football this fall, what's the outlook for sports reporters who focus on the college beat?


First things first, I want nothing more than for college football to be played. It's a sport I love, and it also is the engine that keeps me and so many others in this industry employed. The narrative that reporters want the season canceled is a ridiculous and, frankly, absurd take.


I won't get on a soapbox and rant to you all about the difficulties of being in journalism, let alone sports media at the moment, given the well-documented hardships newspapers are facing nationwide, but the reality is plenty of people in my world will be unemployed if football does not get played this year.


I'm lucky to be in a place like The Dispatch where I and my fellow sports writers on staff have been given other varying responsibilities during the pandemic, in addition to sports coverage, to justify our remaining on staff. A huge thank you goes out to managing editor Zack Plair and publisher Peter Imes for that.


Again, I don't know what tomorrow will bring, and I sure as hell don't know when this pandemic will cease, but as long as I've got a place to write and something to say, I hope to still be bringing you all sports content for the weeks and years to come.



Ben's best:


During my junior year of college I spent the second semester living in Seville, Spain, studying journalism and Spanish. At first, I was reticent to the idea, but my parents pushed me toward it. Looking back, living with a host family who spoke no English and spending four months living in a foreign country was one of the best experiences of my life.


Throughout this quarantine time, I've thought about places I want to visit whenever we are able, but here's a look at my favorite places I've been thus far:


1. Chefchaouen, Morocco


2. Dublin, Ireland (during St. Patrick's Day)


3. Lagos, Portugal


4. London, England


5. Munich, Germany


(And, of course, Sevilla)




Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @bportnoy15.


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