First-year Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead has hit the proverbial ground running with recruiting, as the Bulldogs were the beneficiary of a late-June surge that gave them a total of seven four-star verbal commits for the 2019 recruiting class. Now, Moorhead must prove that his on-field product matches his prowess in the recruiting game.
Mississippi State has a manageable road schedule with games at Kentucky, LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss and an intriguing Big 12-SEC matchup at Kansas State. The Bulldogs host seven teams this season, none more anticipated than Florida, who comes to Starkville in September. Their home SEC opponents also include Auburn, Texas A&M and Arkansas.
Now-departed head coach Dan Mullen propelled Mississippi State to new heights during his tenure, and Moorhead will look to build on that success and take the Bulldogs a step further.
Here’s a look at Mississippi State's schedule ranked from easiest to toughest game.
12. Sept. 1 vs. Stephen F. Austin
The Joe Moorhead era begins with a contest against FCS member Stephen F. Austin. SFA head coach Clint Conque played junior college football at Southwest Mississippi Community College. His Lumberjacks will attempt to become the first FCS squad since 2004 to knock off the Bulldogs.
11. Sept. 15 vs. Louisiana
The Bulldogs host Louisiana before heading into conference play. Mississippi State is undefeated in three contests against the Ragin’ Cajuns. Both teams last met in 1987, when Mississippi State won 31-3. The Bulldogs are 28-3-2 against Sun Belt opponents.
10. Nov. 17 vs. Arkansas
Mississippi State has won five of its last six against Arkansas. The Razorbacks grabbed a 58-42 win the last time these teams met in Starkville in 2016. The Bulldogs defeated the Razorbacks 28-21 last season thanks to Nick Fitzgerald’s short touchdown pass to Deddrick Thomas with 17 seconds left.
9. Nov. 3 vs. Louisiana Tech
A week before heading to Alabama, Mississippi State gets Louisiana Tech for homecoming this year. The Bulldogs from Conference USA have finished first or second in the West Division in three of head coach Skip Holtz’s five seasons, and went 7-6 in 2017. One of those losses was to Mississippi State and it wasn't close (57-21).
8. Nov. 22 at Ole Miss
Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald watched most of this game from the sideline last season after injuring his leg in the first quarter. Ole Miss capitalized on his early exit and emerged victorious, 31-28 win. A healthy Fitzgerald this year, however, will make it difficult for Ole Miss to make it two in a row against Mississippi State.
7. Sept. 22 at Kentucky
Mississippi State’s last visit to Lexington resulted in a 40-38 loss, but the Bulldogs have been nearly impeccable against the Wildcats over the last 10 years, going an impressive 8-2. The Bulldogs get Kentucky a week before their highly anticipated matchup against Florida.
6. Sept. 8 at Kansas State
Mississippi State heads to the Little Apple for its first game against Kansas State since 1977. The Bulldogs won that game 24-21 but later forfeited due to an ineligible player. Mississippi State also defeated Kansas State 21-16 in Starkville in 1974.
5. Sept. 29 vs. Florida
Perhaps no game on Mississippi State’s schedule will be more anticipated than this one, which signals the return of former Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen. These two teams haven’t met since 2010 when Mississippi State under Mullen pulled off the upset, beating the Gators 10-7 in Gainesville.
4. Oct. 27 vs. Texas A&M
Mississippi State owns a two-game winning streak against Texas A&M and holds a slight 6-5 edge in the series. First-year Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher visits Mississippi State in between road trips to South Carolina and Auburn, while Mississippi State plays this one a week after a road date at LSU.
3. Oct. 20 at LSU
Mississippi State was the talk of the SEC after beating LSU 37-7 in Starkville last September for its first win in 17 years at home against the Tigers. Mississippi State has been formidable in Baton Rouge over the last five years, as the Bulldogs defeated LSU 34-29 in 2014 and lost by just three points in '16. Mississippi State goes to Baton Rouge after a bye week.
2. Oct. 6 vs. Auburn
Joe Moorhead can endure himself to the Mississippi State fan base with a strong showing against the Tigers. Mississippi State has struggled in its last two games against Auburn, as the Bulldogs have been outscored 87-24.
1. Nov. 10 at Alabama
The toughest game on Mississippi State’s schedule should come as no surprise. The Bulldogs visit the defending national champions, who they haven’t beaten in 10 years. Mississippi State last defeated Alabama in Tuscaloosa in 2006. The Crimson Tide own an 80-18-3 series advantage.
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-- Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star, Hayes also has been an invited guest on "The Paul Finebaum Show." Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.
(Joe Moorhead by Trevor Birchett/MSU Athletics, courtesy of hailstate.com)