Is the Easy Non-Conference Schedule Hurting MSU?

Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Lack of focus, fan enthusiasm, preparing to play in the SEC - is this schedule a good or bad thing for Mississippi State?

Jackson State, Troy, South Alabama, Middle Tennessee. Those are the list of lightweights Scott Stricklin lined up for Mississippi State this year.... 3-0 so far for the Dawgs. MSU and A&M are the only SEC teams who didn't schedule a BCS non-conference foe this year.

Is this schedule hurting Mississippi State?

  1. Is it not creating enough competition to keep the team sharp?
  2. Is the MSU administration selling a poor product to the fans?
  3. Is it creating such a large gap between quality competition that the team will have difficulty 'turning it on' emotionally?
In the my article yesterday I asked why isn't MSU focused? I put a poll on that asking if y'all were concerned about the team's ability to focus, 70% said yes. What a Maroon! brought up an interesting point in the comments section:

State did on Sat. eve what I did today: went to the office and got through a sluggish Monday without accomplishing anything great, but on balance succeeding rather than failing. Friday’s going to be different, though. Friday’s a big day. It’s going to be 12-14 hours, and I have got to be ON, baby! And I will be. I love big days. Too many little days in a row and all I want to do is come home early, sip some wine, read FWtCBT, and natter on in the comments section. Vision, shimsion. Big days are motivators. Hell, average days are motivators; I like my work. Too many little days in a row and even an alpha dog gets lazy.

I thought this was one of the better arguments FOR a more difficult non-conference slate. I also think that the answer to the three questions I asked is yes. But I still keep coming back to one invariable conclusion: Mississippi State is 3-0.

In the greatest conference in the land, the SEC, several teams have fallen victim to non-conference foes.

  • Arkansas to ULM and Rutgers
  • Ole Miss to Texas
  • Auburn to Clemson (and almost to ULM)
  • Kentucky to Louisville and Western Kentucky
  • Vanderbilt to Northwestern
That's seven non-conference losses from SEC teams this year. Five of them were to BCS schools, and then two to the Sun Belt, and we're only 4 weeks into the season. South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Missouri all still have BCS games left.

The games which were lost by Arkansas, Ole Miss, Auburn and Vanderbilt will likely cost them a bowl game this year. Arkansas could have rebounded this past week vs. a C-USA team, but instead they scheduled Rutgers - an undefeated BCS school who beat them. Now they are staring at the teeth of the SEC with a 1-3 record. Ole Miss has done well to be at 3-1, but they could be 4-0 if they would not have scheduled Texas - a worthless game that did nothing but let everyone know they still are not good.

Mississippi State is 4-0, in large part due to scheduling. And when you consider that State had to go to Troy because of a smaller budget than places like Georgia or Tennessee, putting a BCS opponent in there would mean only 6 home games in many years.

And what about those home games? Are fans getting cheated? Perhaps. But the Jackson State and South Alabama game did sell out. And would you rather walk out of Davis Wade Stadium with an easy Bulldog win or a loss to a BCS school? Obviously the best case scenario would be a win over a BCS team, but MSU has lost it's last 3 chances at that (GA Tech, West Virginia, Oregon).

Why can't MSU get focused for these lesser games? Plenty of other teams do. I think what it amounts to is the players know they are 4-0, the best start since 1999. They know Mississippi State doesn't get here often, and they are not used to winning. They have never been in a championship hunt and they don't know what the week-to-week preparation looks like. Alabama's new starters know what it looks like, they saw it last year...and last year's players saw it two years before that. These games are a letdown now, but once the culture has fully evolved, the players will be better focused in these games.

And my final point is this - these Sun Belt teams are getting better. All of the lower-tier conferences are getting better. When the SEC limits its schools to only 25 signees per year, you take those 3-4 guys who would've signed with a SEC school and put them at a ULM or Troy. Those teams are going to keep getting better. Troy was good competition, not ACC or Big 12 competition, but they were a good team. And as we go forward, these teams will be better and better tests for Mississippi State.

I don't think the easy non-conference is hurting MSU. As a fan, I'll take the W's. For the players, they just need to have a championship focus, preparing and playing to a standard. If State can consistently win 8-9 games per year I won't be upset if we schedule Oklahoma State or whoever. But until then, leave well enough alone.
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