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Mississippi State: Toughest early season stretch for the Bulldogs

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Four key games to keep an eye on early in the 2019 football season

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Less than 50 days remain before the sights and sounds of tailgating and hard hits on the gridiron kickoff the 2019 college football season.

As the month of July - known as the dog days of the sports world – continues to move now that the Fourth of July has come and gone, it will not be long before the cowbells are ringing in Davis-Wade Stadium for Mississippi State football.

As a player and a coach, every game matters. The difference in a win or loss could have huge implications as the season unfolds. As for Mississippi State – a team that showcased many offensive and defensive weapons a year ago – the Bulldogs have a favorable schedule to kickoff the season that include games against Louisiana-Lafayette and two home games against Southern Mississippi and Kansas State.

But, these games do not necessarily mean an automatic win.

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

For the Bulldogs, the toughest early season stretch begins with their first Southeastern Conference game at home against Kentucky. Gone are the days where Kentucky was just a superb and powerhouse basketball team.

Since 2015, when the Wildcats finished 5-7, Kentucky has improved as the team finished 10-3 and 5-3 in, second best in the SEC East behind Georgia. The Bulldogs-Wildcats matchup should be a true test to see how prepared Mississippi State is for conference play. A year ago, Kentucky ran away with the game in the second half defeating Mississippi State 28-7 after the Bulldogs entered that game with three straight wins against non-conference opponents.

Hopefully for Mississippi State, history will not repeat itself.

After what should be a very competitive game against Kentucky, the Bulldogs will play at Auburn. From there, Mississippi State will get a much-needed bye week, take a visit to “Rocky Top” to play Tennessee at Neyland Stadium before arguably its biggest early season test in a game against LSU.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off back-to-back losses to Florida and Kentucky a year ago, Mississippi State defeated an Auburn team (23-9) that held high aspirations coming into last season. This season, the Tigers will look to seek revenge in one of the most difficult places to play in the conference, Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The last time Mississippi State played Tennessee was in 2012 under then head coach Dan Mullen as the Bulldogs defeated the Volunteers 41-31. Before the 2012 meeting, the Volunteers held the Bulldogs’ number in the last six meetings dating back to 1995 under former Bulldogs coach Jackie Sherrill.

Tennessee, a team that finished last in the SEC East a year ago, has always been known to make shocking upsets.

Other than the Egg Bowl versus Ole Miss and a SEC West divisional matchup against Alabama every year, there’s nothing like a LSU-Mississippi State matchup. Coming off a win against Auburn, then first-year head coach Joe Moorhead was looking to guide his Bulldogs to another big win over a division opponent.

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

LSU’s defense made it difficult for Mississippi State to score points. While the Bulldogs finished that game with 201 rushing yards mainly behind the play of former quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and current running back Kylin Hill, Fitzgerald was forced to pass the ball and ended the game with four interceptions.

Against a defensive-minded team like LSU under head coach Ed Orgeron, that is a recipe for disaster. The Bulldogs most recent victory against the Tigers came in 2017 in Starkville when Mississippi State defeated LSU 37-7.

The Bulldogs 19-3 loss to LSU at Tiger Stadium last season gives Mississippi State even more of an edge to beat LSU this season in where the Tigers feel that they have all the parts to make a run for a SEC title and national championship run.

How well Mississippi State survives this early to midseason stretch will play a big part in early bowl projections, division standings and the amount of urgency the Bulldogs will play with to secure quality wins in the latter half of the season against division opponents.