The Mid-American Conference (MAC) has existed since 1946 but somehow MSU has never played a team from that league. That will change in 2013 as Bowling Green comes to Starkville for Homecoming. This won't be your typical cupcake HC game - the Falcons have a good team.
Mississippi State hasn't exactly always taken care of business on Homecoming - a game you are supposed to win rather easily. We are 49-21-3 all time. Of course, we have scheduled a SEC team 15 times (4-11-1). MSU has played some C-USA and FCS patsies over the past 10 years for this game, but this games is more reminiscent of the games in 2005 and 2009 against good Houston teams.
Bowling Green was 8-5 in 2012, losing their bowl game to #24 San Jose State. They were 6-2 the MAC, finishing 2nd in their division. In games against the big boys, they played Florida really well, only losing 27-14 but the game was extremely tight in the 4th quarter and it was looking like a possible upset. In their other game, however, Virginia Tech stomped them 37-0.
They've got 10 returning starters here, only losing their right tackle from last season. That doesn't exactly mean they were a dynamic offense, however, as they ranked 93rd in the nation with 365.5 YPG.
Quarterback Matt Schultz is back - he threw for 2,585 yards in 2012 with 14 TD and 12 INT. RB Andre Givens had shockingly similar numbers to LaDarius Perkins (998 yards on 202 carries to Perk's 1,024 on 205 carries). They return their top 5 receivers from last year. The O-line returns 72 career starts.
This side of the ball averaged just 22.9 points per game but with this much back it would be hard to conceive they won't be considerably better in 2013.
The bread and butter of Bowling Green's 8-5 season was the defense, and they return 9 guys here. This unit was ranked 6th in the country just giving up 296.6 YPG. They were excellent in getting off the field on 3rd down - 4th in the country at a 28.1% clip.
The primary reason for their success last year was the run defense. They gave up almost 100 yards per game fewer (107) than in 2011 (203). They didn't really have a dominating player, but LB Gabe Martin stands out at the 'ROV' position.
With 19 returning starters experience won't be a problem for the Falcons. Phil Steele gives them a rating of 5th best in the country according to his experience ratings. This is a team that should content for the MAC title in head coach Dave Clawson's 5th year.
Mississippi State plays LSU the week prior, so that is a tough game to come off, and if somehow we are able to pull an upset this is a classic let down game. I wouldn't at all be surprised if Bowling Green is undefeated and possibly ranked headed into this game - their toughest tests are against Tulsa (Week 1) and Indiana (Week 3). We should find out what they have right off the bat in their Thursday night opener vs. Tulsa, a team that went 11-3 last year.
MSU should win this game no doubt, but it won't be a cakewalk. In a year where the SEC schedule is extra tough on the Bulldogs, games against Oklahoma State, always pesky Troy, and this Bowling Green team don't make things any easier.