The Arizona Wildcats have gotten off to a 1-0 start to the 2023 season thanks to a 38-3 home win over NAU last weekend. The road gets much tougher this week, as the UA visits Mississippi State on Saturday night.
Arizona hasn’t beaten an SEC team since 1976, and doesn’t have a road win over a team from that conference in its history. The Wildcats’ last true road win over a nonconference victory over a power-conference team came in 1994, against Georgia Tech, and since then they’ve dropped eight such games.
Mississippi State is also 1-0, having beaten SE Louisiana 48-7 in its opener. The Bulldogs won 39-17 in Tucson last September.
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Arizona is a 9-point underdog. Who takes this matchup? Here’s what our staff thinks.
Kim Doss — Mississippi State wins 35-21
This is a tough one to call with the changes at Mississippi State this year, but there’s enough on the Arizona side to make this one a concern. With the lack of discipline shown by UA last week (something that could be more pronounced against a hostile crowd), the absence of Gunner Maldonado in the first half of the game, and Jayden de Laura’s continuing issues with turnovers, there are quite a few things the Wildcats need to overcome. All three likely come back to haunt them at some point, especially in the opening 30 minutes. Vegas may think this is a less than two-score difference, but unless Arizona can make a huge jump in limiting its own mistakes, that seems extremely optimistic.
Ezra Amacher — Mississippi State wins 28-23
Mississippi State is a much different looking team under first-year coach Zach Arnett than what we saw a year ago. The Bulldogs ran for nearly 300 yards in their season opener, and I expect them to utilize the ground game to their advantage Saturday. I don’t trust that Arizona’s defensive line will be able to hold up for four quarters. On the other side of the ball, de Laura has to play a clean game and execute in the red zone. I expect de Laura to commit a couple interceptions, which will be too much to overcome.
Brandon Combs — Mississippi State wins 34-31
Before the season started, I chose MSU to beat Arizona. I am sticking to that prediction. And it’s not because I don’t think Arizona can win, they definitely can. It’s because I’m not really sure of the full impact of the team’s improvement after last week’s blowout of NAU. It’s blatantly apparent that the offense was running a bland playbook. The defense didn’t really blitz, if at all. So we don’t know what the team looks like at full bore.
Now, you can make the argument that Arizona taking NAU to task while running basic plays is a good sign....and it is. It’s the uncertainty of know what the team actually looks like.
In the end, I think it’ll be a great game, with the Bulldogs squeaking out a field goal late to win it.
Adam Green — Mississippi State wins 31-27
Arizona took care of business against NAU in a way that a quality team should. If not for a couple of silly penalties and turnovers the score would have been even more lopsided. But alas, the Lumberjacks never figures to offer much of a test.
Mississippi State will.
It probably doesn’t make much sense to look at least year’s game as a guide given the unfortunate coaching change on one side and the revamping of the roster on the other. That said, the talent (and size, and speed, and strength) gap was noticeable last season and it’s unlikely the Cats have closed it enough to go on the road and steal one.
If the Cats can avoid turnovers they should be able to keep this one close, and if they keep it close they’ll have a chance. The guess here though is there will be a mistake, perhaps a turnover or an untimely penalty, that will ultimately be the difference.
Devin Homer — Mississippi State wins 31-27
Arizona did what they were supposed to do and handled NAU to open the season 1-0. The UA run game will be a key for their success, last season when they played Mississippi State, UA had their worst rushing game of the season (40 yards).
UA will have a shot to win this game if they limit turnovers and contain Mississippi States run game.
Brian J. Pedersen — Mississippi State wins 28-20
Arizona had one of its worst offensive games last season against Mississippi State, rushing for a season-low 40 yards and turning it over three times. Jayden de Laura is less willing to take risks like he did in that game, or at least we thought before he had that ill-advised scramble in the opener, so that side of the ball should do better a second time around.
It’s the UA defense, though, that will really decide this game. It wasn’t ready for the physicality of an SEC team last time around, but that was the case most weekends in 2022. The performance against NAU was promising, but this is a completely different opponent who will likely expose flaws in Johnny Nansen’s revamped unit.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.