Keytaon Thompson MSU football.

Mississippi State quarterback Keytaon Thompson (10) sprints to the end zone for a touchdown ahead of Louisiana-Lafayette linebacker Justin Middleton (58) during the second half of their NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Starkville, Miss. Mississippi State won 56-10.

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Before the start of Illinois football's training camp on Aug. 2 in Champaign, beat writer BOB ASMUSSEN is counting down the Top 50 teams heading into the 2019 college football season:

No. 24: Mississippi State

Coach: Joe Moorhead

2018 record: 8-5

Projected 2019 record: 8-4

Circle the date: Nov. 16 vs. Alabama

Bowl trip: Liberty

Why No. 24: Moorhead, a former Penn State offensive coordinator, was a hit in his first year at Starkville. The team finished the regular season strong, winning four of its last five, with the lone loss coming at Alabama. A disappointing loss to Iowa in the Outback Bowl provided offseason motivation for the Bulldogs. ... Mississippi State will miss quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. But backup Keytaon Thompson got valuable experience last season and appears to have the running skills to handle the job. His passing needs to improve, especially with former Penn State quarterback Tommy Stevens now in Starkville. ... The Bulldogs are set at running back with the return of Kylin Hill. He is also a threat as a receiver. ... Three starters return on the offensive line. ... Starting receivers Osirus Mitchell and Deddrick Thomas are back after catching 24 and 19 passes, respectively. ... Only three starters return on defense. The top player is linebacker Erroll Thompson. ... The biggest challenge in the nonconference schedule is a visit from Kansas State. In the SEC, the Bulldogs travel to Auburn and Texas A&M, while hosting LSU and Alabama. Georgia is not on the schedule.

Last year’s ranking: No. 18

Bob Asmussen is a college football reporter and columnist for The News-Gazette. His email is asmussen@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@BobAsmussen).

College Football Reporter/Columnist

Bob Asmussen is a college football reporter and columnist for The News-Gazette. His email is asmussen@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@BobAsmussen).