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Mississippi State Football: Looking ahead to 2014

The 2013 season has ended for Mississippi State, and Bulldog fans have started to look ahead to 2014. This five-part weekly series will take a look at what to expect from Mississippi State in terms of the schedule, offense, defense, individuals and records, and a final catch-all category. One of the most important items in what to expect from a team is the schedule, so we start with whom the Bulldogs will face in 2014.

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In what seemed like only an instant, the 2013 college football season has officially closed for Mississippi State. Just four short months ago, the Bulldogs kicked off their season against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Houston. In the following weeks, Dak Prescott emerged as the staring quarterback for Mississippi State, and the Bulldogs took the Auburn Tigers to the limit.

October proved to be a month to be forgotten with bad losses and ugly wins, but when the calendar flipped to November, the Bulldogs seemed to flip to a different page as well. The team showed grit against Texas A&M and Alabama. A third-string, true freshman quarterback, Damian Williams, sealed a win against Arkansas, and then he played well enough to keep Mississippi State in the game against Ole Miss before Prescott took over.

With 2014 already upon us, here is a look (albeit, a way too early one) at what to expect out of the 2014 Mississippi State football season in terms of the schedule.

Mississippi State will open its 2014 season against Southern Miss. Many fans hate this move, but the Bulldogs should keep this game on the schedule every season. The Bulldogs will open the season against the Golden Eagles and close the season against Ole Miss. Doing this every year would give Mississippi State an opportunity to establish themselves in the state every season. It would bring the Bulldogs to a part of the state that Mississippi State often ignores. For the fans, this means that one road game each year would still be in the state of Mississippi, and with a little luck, the Bulldogs could open the entire month of September in state. Here's hoping this becomes an every year event after the current contract runs out.

Opening against Southern Miss, UAB, and a road trip to Mobile to face South Alabama, the Bulldogs should start the season at 3-0 before traveling to Baton Rouge to take on LSU. If the Bulldogs can get past the Tigers, the doors will be thrown wide open for an amazing start for Mississippi State. Considering that Texas A&M could be down next year, and that the game is in Starkville, that should be very winnable for Mississippi State following the bye week after LSU. The next week, the Auburn Tigers come to Starkville. A bye week follows before a road trip to Lexington and back to back home games against Arkansas and UT-Martin. If, and yes it is big if, Mississippi State can get past LSU, there is a fair chance that the Bulldogs could be 9-0 heading into the Alabama game. In order to do that, the Bulldogs would also have to knock off the Auburn Tigers, but at worst, the Bulldogs should expect to be no worse than 7-2 at that point of the season.

Mississippi State closes the year by going to Alabama, hosting Vanderbilt, and going to Ole Miss. If the cards fall correctly, and the Bulldogs go into the Alabama game at 9-0, a win at Alabama would put the Bulldogs into a legitimate conversation for the playoff as they would only have games against Vanderbilt and Ole MIss to go undefeated in the regular season. Yes, talk about getting to 9-0 might mostly be the stuff of dreams, but those dreams are not too detached from reality.

Perhaps the most realistic finish to expect out of Mississippi State would be 9-3. That would allow for losses to LSU and Alabama and a loss to either Auburn, Texas A&M or Ole Miss. Anything less than eight wins would really come as a disappointment in 2014.

In addition to wins and losses, the Bulldogs and Dan Mullen should have the opportunity to get several monkeys off of their backs during the season.

After going 0-2 against teams ranked in the AP Poll top-10 in 2013, the Bulldogs find themselves mired in a 25 game losing streak in such games. The last time the Bulldogs knocked off a top-25 team came on October 16, 2010 in Gainesville when the Bulldogs defeated then No. 22 Florida 10-7. Mississippi State might have a chance early to snap that streak against LSU, and if not against those Tigers, a matchup against Auburn might provide the first such opportunity.

The Bulldogs also struck out against top-25 teams in the AP Poll in 2013. Mississippi State posted an 0-5 record in such games, and ran that losing streak to 15 games. Again, games against LSU and Auburn in the first half of the season should allow Mississippi State a chance to break this streak, and the matchup against Texas A&M may do the same as well.

Many people like to examine schedules in halves, but the Mississippi State schedule in 2014 can be best divided into quarters. The first quarter should see the Bulldogs dominate, picking up three wins against Southern Miss, UAB, and South Alabama. The second quarter will be the most difficult for the Bulldogs with a road trip to LSU and home against Texas A&M and Auburn following a bye week. The Bulldogs have a "halftime" bye week after the Auburn game, and they should dominate the third quarter of the season, being no worse than 6-3 at the end of it, with games at Kentucky and at home against Arkansas and UT-Martin. The fourth quarter will prove difficult with a home game against Vanderbilt sandwiched between road trips to Alabama and Ole Miss.

Looking at the bye weeks, the Bulldogs did not get a great draw. The week before LSU comes at a good time, but having a bye week before the contest with Kentucky is not very advantageous. The Bulldogs would have benefited more from that bye week coming either before or after the Alabama game.

As for Mullen, this will be a season of high expectations for his squad, and he will have the opportunity to get the monkey of no "signature-wins" off of his back. Should Mississippi State accomplish that early in the season, the Bulldogs could be primed for one of their best years since 1999.