When talking about tasks associated with running a sports team, scheduling never gets the recognition it deserves in the difficulty department. Finding teams willing to play against your team can be tough. Filtering those teams through open dates, travel, costs, and other expectations makes the task even tougher. Never mind the idea of scheduling many seasons in advance and the hope of using a schedule to build momentum. (On a personal note, I coached several sports on the high school level; building a schedule at that level was tough, so I can't imagine it at the college level with all the complexities involved.) However, with all of those considerations, games, such as this one against Troy, highlight what Mississippi State should strive to do with its out of conference schedule.
One aspect of the out of conference schedule for Mississippi State and the rest of the SEC going forward is that they must play a Power Five opponent or an independent listed as acceptable. Scott Stricklin jumped on this requirement quickly, and he snatched up exciting opponents for the foreseeable future with BYU, North Carolina State, Arizona and Kansas State. No one can have complaints about these match ups.
However, one area where complaints begin usually revolve around the playing of FCS teams. Earlier this year, the Bulldogs took on the Northwestern State Demons in nothing more than a glorified scrimmage. Fans had to pay good money to see that game, and it was not very fun after the beat down began. It is time for Mississippi State to steal a page from the Big Ten and eliminate FCS games. With Mississippi State being a program on the rise, one can legitimately question what the Bulldogs gain from such a matchup. While the Bulldogs have such games on the schedule over the next few seasons, and while quirky things such as Tulane pulling out of a game can force the scheduling of an FCS foe, the days of Mississippi State renting these cupcakes should stop.
Instead, Mississippi State should take a regional approach to scheduling out of conference foes. Teams like Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State rarely leave their home state to play any out of conference foe other than a Power Five team. Mississippi State cannot quite afford to do that, but the Bulldogs could manage an out of conference schedule that sees the Bulldogs travel no more than four hours from Jackson for all games other than a Power Five game.
One of the ways Mississippi State has avoided huge costs in out of conference scheduling has been to agree to a 2 for 1 format with smaller schools that sends the Bulldogs on the road once to get two games at home. Any Mississippi State fan that went to Troy a few years ago can see what that is a good thing for college football. Keeping a four hour radius with Jackson in the middle of the circle would pull in the following teams: Memphis, Tulane, Southern Miss, South Alabama, Arkansas State, UL Monroe, Louisiana, and Louisiana Tech. Troy only falls about 30 minutes outside of that circle and could be added to the group.
Instead of playing the Northwestern States and Alcorns of the world, the Bulldogs could face FBS foes that would provide more of a test but not strike a ton of fear into the hearts of the Bulldogs. One might even suspect that fans would rather travel to one of these games than watch a predestined beat down occur at Davis Wade Stadium (the Maine game excluded from that whole thought process).
This would not be something that could happen in the next two years, but perhaps further down the road. The Bulldogs travel to UMass next year, and they have FCS foes on tap in 2016 and 2017. No complaints on most of those games as Stricklin was forced into a scramble after Tulane dropped the Bulldogs. In fact, scheduling a home and home like the UMass series on occasion could be a fair break from this idea.
The Bulldogs have plenty of opponents close to home to provide a more meaningful matchup than a game against an FCS foe, and those opponents would make for interesting road games from time to time. It is time to drop the FCS foes and add another FBS team to the schedule each season.