Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has proven, if nothing else over the years, that he knows how to get the absolute most out of his players. And that is a compliment most coaches love to hear, because it signifies a job well done. The nation’s top players usually don’t end up in Starkville, so Mullen has to work with what he has. That has been easier over the past few seasons with Dak Prescott at quarterback, but it is about to become more of a challenge.
The Bulldogs’ schedule this season doesn’t make Mullen’s job any easier. Of course, that could be said for most teams in the SEC West. Mississippi State has to travel to Death Valley early in the season, which is tough enough, but the Bulldogs also have an absolutely terrifying November slate – plus a random trip to Provo, Utah, somewhere in the middle.
Here is a look at Mississippi State’s 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to toughest:
12. Oct. 29 vs. Samford
This is the only real snoozer on Mississippi State’s schedule, but at least the Bulldogs were decent enough to not schedule it in late November. Samford doesn’t bring a lot to the table, but did finish a respectable 6-5 last season. The last time Samford gave an SEC team a run for its money was in 2013 when the Bulldogs from the FCS played Arkansas tough, eventually losing 31-21 in Little Rock.
11. Sept. 3 vs. South Alabama
The last time Mississippi State played South Alabama (2014), the game was in Mobile, where the Bulldogs won comfortably, 35-3. Not much has changed in two years, expect for the fact that Mississippi State will be trying to find its groove on offense. Still, the Jaguars shouldn’t have enough manpower to put a blemish on State’s record in week one.
10. Sept. 24 at UMass
Last season, the Minutemen finished 3-9 but did show signs of life against Temple and Bowling Green. This year, due to someone being bold in the scheduling department, UMass plays three SEC teams. By the time Mississippi State rolls into Foxboro’s Gillette Stadium on Sept. 24, the Minutemen will have already been tested by Florida and Boston College. This game could be tricky, but probably not.
9. Oct. 22 at Kentucky
When it comes to cross-division competition, Mississippi State does get a bit of a break (which is nice, considering the SEC West slate). While Kentucky should be able to put up some points this season, the defense just isn’t up to par to compete with most of the SEC. Throw in the fact that Mullen’s teams are a perfect 7-0 against the Wildcats and this one really doesn’t look good for Big Blue Nation.
8. Sept. 10 vs. South Carolina
The Gamecocks should provide more of a challenge for Mississippi State. It will be interesting to see a young Will Muschamp-coached defense against a team looking for its offensive identity early in the season. Chances are, this will be a close game but the Bulldogs should be favored at home. Fun fact: Mississippi State hasn’t beaten South Carolina since 1999 when Jackie Sherrill was the head coach. That seems like a lifetime ago.
7. Oct. 8 vs. Auburn
Last year, State got the best of Auburn in a defensive struggle down on the plains. This will be a crucial year for Gus Malzahn, as his teams have underperformed in the past two seasons. This is the kind of toss-up game that the Tigers will desperately need to win, so Auburn should be at its best. Mullen’s teams have had success against the Tigers, winning three of the last four matchups. Mississippi State will be coming off a bye week.
6. Oct. 14 at BYU
This game is centered in the middle of the SEC schedule, it is a long road trip, and it will be played on a Friday night. Because of those three factors, this seems like an awkward challenge for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs probably have a better roster, top to bottom, but BYU won’t be a pushover. Last season, the Cougars went 9-4 and knocked off Nebraska and Boise State in the process. They will be battle-tested coming into this non-conference matchup.
5. Nov. 5 vs. Texas A&M
One would think that by November, the Aggies will have things figured out on offense with new quarterback Trevor Knight. This game begins an incredibly difficult SEC stretch to close the season for Mississippi State. Luckily, Mullen’s squad will be coming off what should be an easy-going game against Samford. Kevin Sumlin’s teams are 3-1 against the Bulldogs.
4. Nov. 19 vs. Arkansas
Who wants to play Arkansas in late November? What was that, crickets chirping? Seriously though, the Razorbacks have been tough to beat late in the season under Bret Bielema. Still yet, Mississippi State has been the one team to get the job done consistently. In fact, the Bulldogs have won the last four against the Hogs, but Bielema’s squad is getting closer each year. This game went to the wire last season, with State pulling it off late, 51-50. Could this be the year Arkansas closes the deal?
3. Nov. 26 at Ole Miss
The annual Egg Bowl is usually one the SEC’s best rivalries. It doesn’t seem to matter which team is favored. Since 2004, this one has been neck and neck – six wins for Ole Miss, six wins for Mississippi State. But since Hugh Freeze took over in Oxford, his teams have gotten the best of Mullen’s, for the most part. With Chad Kelly back at Ole Miss, this looks to be a pretty tough matchup for the Bulldogs.
2. Sept. 17 at LSU
It was tough to decide which of the SEC West favorites would pose the most difficult challenge for Mississippi State, but more often than not, the Bulldogs have played LSU close over the past few years. The Tigers are loaded coming into the fall, but like Mississippi State, they could still be working things out at quarterback early in the season. This should be a close, low-scoring game in Baton Rouge. With that said, State has only beaten LSU once in this millennium.
1. Nov. 12 at Alabama
Until somebody proves otherwise, Alabama is the team to beat in the SEC... especially in November. The Crimson Tide are usually at their best as the postseason approaches. As good as Mullen is as a head coach, he has never beaten Nick Saban, even with Prescott at quarterback. Moreover, this game tends to be a blowout. Maybe things will change, but for now it doesn’t seem like this year’s Bulldogs will have what it takes to knock off Alabama.