On Tuesday night, the Mississippi St. Bulldogs and Southern Miss Golden Eagles announced they renewed their football series for three games in upcoming seasons. Southern Miss will travel to Starkville for the 2019 and 2023 seasons. Mississippi State will make a return trip to Hattiesburg for the 2024 season.
From a pure fan perspective, it makes perfect sense. The Bulldogs get two home games against a team we get to use the “little brother” smack talk against, and a road game that is an easy drive for most Mississippi State fans. Playing in-state teams is always fun and can get people in the state a little chippy when it gets close to time for the game to kick off.
But from an athletic department perspective, this one is a little bit of a head scratcher. The gap between Power 5 teams and Group of 5 teams is growing each and every year. Due to TV rights contracts, Mississippi State is improving their facilities and doing all it can to keep up with the rest of the Joneses in the SEC. Scheduling an in-state opponent just trying to keep up in the ultra competitive landscape of college football does not make a lot of sense.
The only program which will truly benefit from this series is the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. They will get a nice pay day for taking two road games against the Bulldogs and will have a shot, albeit a long one, to make a statement with a win against an SEC team.
For the Bulldogs, the best case scenario is you thump the Golden Eagles when the games take place but do nothing to change the perception of what kind of team you have. Southern Miss was a really good team in 2015, but when Mississippi State struggled to put them away to open the season, many thought the Bulldogs weren’t that great of a team because of it. You’re also giving recruits a chance to reconsider whether or not Southern Miss is a viable option for them should they do the improbable and beat the Bulldogs.
Mississippi State needs to play Group of 5 teams every year, and more likely than not, twice each season. In an effort to stay fiscally responsible, the Bulldogs usually do a 2-for-1 to keep from having to pay so much money to get these games scheduled.
Scheduling a Group of 5 team is not an issue. The issue is choosing to play one in-state that has a huge benefit to that team and almost none to Mississippi State. When these games take place, it’ll be fun for fans. But there isn’t any way to make a statement for Mississippi State in these games while Southern Miss can. And that’s the real problem with keeping this series going.