It's no secret that swing games can be the difference in a team having a mediocre season or having a phenomenal one. There are six games on the schedule this season for Mississippi State that I would call swing games. With four of those being on the road, these games will make or break the Bulldogs in 2015.
Before we talk about how many of those contests MSU will need to win to finish with a respectable record, let's look at which games we think will be swing games that could go either way:
September 12 vs. LSU
There couldn't be a better opportunity for MSU than this big matchup in the second week of the season. After a tune-up game at Southern Miss, the Bulldogs take on the Tigers at home in the first SEC game of 2015. You always want to play a team like LSU early in the season before they find an offensive identity. But Les Miles' squad will be out for blood after Dak and the Dogs embarrassed them on their home field.
September 26 @ Auburn
This may be the toughest game for MSU when it comes down to it. Auburn is the team that a lot of people are picking to win the west, and deservedly so. They have a ton of talent on offense and one of if not the best offensive minds in football. Their defense should also be much improved with Will Muschamp in town. On top of that, MSU hasn't had the best of luck in Auburn, as we all know. The last two trips down there have resulted in losses on the final drive of the game.
October 3 @ Texas A&M
There is no time to rest after the Auburn game as a trip to Kyle Field is in store the following week. It will be another test for the defense going up against one of the SEC's best wide receiver corps. I could see this turning into another shootout similar to the game in 2013 that resulted in a 51-41 A&M victory.
November 5 @ Missouri
This one has a weird feel to it. Missouri isn't the most elite or consistent team out there but they find a way to win games. It will be the first time they have faced MSU since joining the SEC. If the game were in Starkville, I would take the Bulldogs all day. It should be a very competitive game.
November 21 @ Arkansas
This is one of the hardest games on MSU's schedule, not only because of where it is played, but because of the timing of it. The game is sandwiched in between Alabama and Ole Miss, which might spell disaster. The Razorbacks, one of the more physical teams in the SEC, will face an already beaten down MSU team that may be caught looking ahead.
November 28 vs. Ole Miss
It won't be easy facing Ole Miss after playing Bama and Arkansas in consecutive weeks. But the good news for the Dogs is that this rivalry has turned into one where the home team wins nearly every year. More often than not the two teams are pretty evenly matched, and all it takes is the momentum the home team gains from playing in front of its own fans that can make the difference.
So just how many of these games does State need to win to make this season a success? Well that depends on your level of expectation. For argument sake, we'll look at what needs to unfold for an 8-4 finish.
We'll go ahead and chalk up the four non-conference games as wins. We'll throw Kentucky in that same boat. The Wildcats are always competitive against MSU, but they have also yet to beat Dan Mullen. Along those same lines, we'll say Alabama is a loss. Until they prove they can beat Bama, I won't call that a swing game just yet.
That means they must find three wins in those six swing games to make it to eight wins. So pulling out at least one win on the road is a must.
Right now I would give the edge to State over both LSU and Ole Miss. The Tigers are the worst at the quarterback position in the SEC west, and the home team dominates the Egg Bowl.
Between the four road games, I think MSU has the best opportunity to take down either Auburn or Missouri. I know right, Auburn? But hear me out. Dan Mullen's team has been in that game every single year starting in 2010. It's always competitive and usually comes down to the end. An elite player like Dak is all it takes to make that one extra play that makes the difference.
Some people might switch Auburn with A&M, but I just think State matches up so much better with Auburn. The Aggies have that style of offense that MSU has a hard time defending. Sumlin's offense won't be down two years in a row. Not many people will give State much of a chance against Auburn. Call it like you see it, but those are always two evenly matched teams, especially when they play each other early in the season.
Split with Missouri and Auburn, and an 8-4 record is there for the taking. That might not be as good of a season as some fans expect, but it's definitely nothing to fret about after losing so many key pieces off last year's team.