As you may be aware, it seems my recent post set off a wildfire regarding the out of conference schedule played by the Bulldogs. While many have argued against the idea of playing a BCS-caliber opponent in the OOC, I maintain that Mississippi State would benefit from doing so.
To recap my previous reasons, I have pointed out that Mississippi State is a better team than many they would face, and I have shown that it could be the start of earning respect for the Bulldogs, a team that has not had much success against mid to high caliber programs.
While those are sound reasons, I believe the fact that playing a quality school before the start of SEC play may help the Bulldogs get off to the start they have sorely needed the past few years. I do not advocate doing this in the middle of the season. For it to work, it has to happen early, before SEC play begins.
The three most productive seasons in recent Mississippi State history were 1998-2000. Let's take a look at the schedule each of those seasons.
In 1998 the Bulldogs strangely opened play with then SEC doormat, Vanderbilt, picking up a 42-0 win. They then knocked off Memphis on the road and dropped a decision to Oklahoma State (5-6) on the road. However, the road test against a quality team must have helped the Bulldogs because they went on to defeat South Carolina and Auburn before losing back-to-back SEC games against LSU and Kentucky. The Bulldogs then defeated Alabama, Arkansas, and Ole Miss in succession to win the West before falling to Tennessee in the SEC title game and Texas in the Cotton Bowl. This was not the most talented of Mississippi State teams, but they got off to a 3-0 SEC start, and it is hard not to think that road preparation was not important.
Turn the calendar to 1999, and we see much of the same thing. The Bulldogs take in a few warmups against Middle Tennessee State and Memphis before hosting Oklahoma State (5-6). The Bulldogs handled the Cowboys at Scott Field and went on to win their first five SEC games before dropping back to back decisions to Alabama and Arkansas. If injuries had not hit this team, who knows what might have happened. The Bulldogs were only 17 points shy of an undefeated season.
Let's turn the time machine to 2000. The Bulldogs knock off Memphis on the road, and then do the same out at BYU. At this time, BYU was not a BCS school, but they were well respected. The strain of three road games showed up in a surprise loss to South Carolina, but the Bulldogs responded to beat Florida and Auburn at home in back to back weeks. Without a doubt, 2000 makes the weakest claim of the three years for preparation.
Let's fast forward to the Dan Mullen era. We opened in 2009 with Jackson State, and lost to Auburn the next game. In 2010, the Bulldogs thump Memphis and lose to Auburn and LSU before picking up a win over Georgia. In 2011, the Bulldogs destroy Memphis, but they look totally overwhelmed and unprepared for Auburn to open the game.
Explain how getting a push early doesn't help again?