Parrish Alford: PARRISH ALFORDig opener for MSU, La. Tech in Starkville Saturday

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Sep. 2—STARKVILLE — Mike Leach and Skip Holtz have coached and won a lot of football games, but one of them won't win the next one.

And it's always about the next one.

You can win enough games and build up enough capital to keep the wolves farther from the front door, but eventually they arrive.

Neither Leach, at Mississippi State, nor Holtz, the son of a legend building his own brand at Louisiana Tech, won enough games last year. Outside the program few expect them to win big in 2021.

La. Tech and MSU kick off Saturday at 3 in Starkville, and for both coaches the next one is important.

Leach during camp has dismissed those outside observers who predict the Bulldogs to finish last in the SEC West.

However, he has not spoken of his own team in glowing terms.

Even to this day he hasn't actually bought in Will Rogers, a returning starter at quarterback, as this year's starter. On Tuesday, Leach said, "Will's ahead right now."

The offensive line that was such a trouble spot in 2020 is better but with a lot of work to do, he warns.

It might be easy enough to dismiss Leach's caution as traditional coach sandbagging — but those spots, while showing progress, did not set the woods ablaze in camp.

Some other spots came close to that, though.

There's clearly more depth at receiver, which can't help but make Rogers better.

Defense was very good in camp scrimmages.

Cornerbacks Martin Emerson and Emmanuel Forbes could be one of the top duos in the SEC. There were high expectations for them when camp started, and they didn't disappoint.

"Forbes got off to a good start last year. Lots of times a freshman will play scared or he really isn't ready to play. That wasn't the case with Forbes. He got out of the chutes pretty good," Leach said. "Martin was one of the better corners in the conference before last year then he continued to reinforce that."

There's depth at safety with players Leach believes he can trust.

Holtz' Tech team went 5-5 last year it's worst record since his first season in Ruston in 2013. Tech went 34-14 in C-USA games from 2014-2019.

This year Tech is transitioning at quarterback and lacks proven threats on the outside. There are question marks on defense.

The good news for both of these coaches is that teams don't stay the same. It's where you go after Week 1 that determines a lot of things.

"I think there will be some movement as the season goes along, it appears, with how quickly some of the young guys are picking things up," Leach said.

PARRISH ALFORD is the college sports editor and columnist for the Daily Journal. Contact him at

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