State college roundup: MSU, MC have coaching openings, DSU and Belhaven are in playoffs

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, November 15, 2023

It’s already been a busy week in college football across the state, here’s a look at the biggest headlines from around the Magnolia State.

Mississippi State

The Zach Arnett era in Starkville lasted just 11 games after the school announced on Monday that it was relieving the first-year head coach of his duties.

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Arnett was named head coach nearly a year ago after the sudden passing of MSU head coach Mike Leach.

He was by far the least experienced head coach in the SEC, as the 37-year-old Arnett had previously only worked at one school, San Diego State University, before coming to Starkville.

Syracuse actually hired Arnett away from SDSU to be its defensive coordinator, but that relationship didn’t last two weeks as he was then poached by Leach to join his staff at State. He became a sought-after defensive coordinator during his time working under Leach but spurned other schools to stay in Starkville.

With longtime athletic director John Cohen having left for the job at Auburn and the MSU fan base grieving the loss of Leach due to a heart condition, the administration at the school made the move they best saw fit in elevating Arnett to the head job.

A year later, with new athletic director Zac Selmon evaluating the program, Mississippi State chose to move on from Arnett following a 4-6 record thus far in 2023.

The Bulldogs host Southern Miss on Saturday and then finish the regular season by hosting Ole Miss on Thanksgiving night in the Egg Bowl.

Injuries have been an issue all season, but Arnett’s attempt to transition his team into a new scheme by first year offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay and away from Leach’s Air Raid never felt like it gained much traction.

Arnett’s lone SEC win was a 7-3 victory at Arkansas. The next three weeks saw State lose consecutive games at Auburn (27-13), to Kentucky (24-3) and at Texas A&M (51-10).

The MSU and TAMU game will be remembered as the final game for both Arnett and former Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher, as Fisher was relieved of his duties the day after that game. It was a similar situation to how both Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke and MSU head coach Joe Moorhead lost their respective jobs following the 2019 Egg Bowl, although Moorhead did coach the Bulldogs in a bowl game before being relieved of his duties.

Mississippi College

Mississippi College is also in the hunt for a new head football coach after the school announced on Monday that John Bland is stepping down after 10 seasons of leading the Choctaws.

Bland came to MC after an eight-year run at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky.

While at MC, Bland helped lead the Choctaws back into the NCAA Division II ranks after the program had previously been a Division III member for 17 years. Division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships, while the league that MC plays in as a Division II program, the Gulf South Conference, is historically one of the toughest in the nation.

MC wrapped up a 3-7 season over the weekend with a 41-3 loss to Delta State.

Delta State University

The win over Mississippi College on Saturday gave Delta State its second straight GSC title, a feat not accomplished by the Statesmen since the 2010-2011 seasons.

DSU (9-1) begins the NCAA Division II Playoffs on Saturday by hosting the only team to beat them in 2023, the University of West Florida Argonauts.

West Florida won 24-21 in Cleveland on Oct. 21. It was also West Florida that put DSU out of the playoffs last year in a second-round game that the Argos won 38-27 at Delta State.

Belhaven University

The Belhaven Blazers are headed to the NCAA Division III playoffs after beating Brevard 46-19 on Saturday in Jackson.

That win gave Belhaven (9-1) the USA South Athletic Conference title and earned the Blazers an automatic spot in the DIII playoffs.

The postseason appearance is the first since Belhaven made the transition from the NAIA ranks to the NCAA Division III fold.

Belhaven will get to see where they stand in the DIII pecking order fairly quickly, as they’ll travel to Napierville, Illinois on Saturday to face North Central. North Central (10-0) is the defending DIII national champions and have won 25 straight games.

Jackson State, Alcorn State

The 2023 season will wrap up for both the JSU Tigers and their rivals from Alcorn State on Saturday in their traditional grudge match.

The Tigers and first year head coach TC Taylor are 7-3 and haven’t played since a 21-19 win over Texas Southern on Nov. 4.

Alcorn State played at Texas Southern on Sunday and had a chance to lock up an appearance in the SWAC Championship Game with a win. That didn’t happen though, as TSU won going away, 44-10 in Houston.

Kickoff in Veterans Memorial Stadium is scheduled for 2 p.m.