Mississippi State Football: Evaluating the Remainder of the Bulldogs' Schedule
At the beginning of the 2012 season, fans of the Mississippi State football program had high hopes, and for good reason. With a team full of veterans and promising underclassmen, along with a schedule set up perfectly for the Bulldogs, fans everywhere had this team pegged to finish anywhere from 10-2 to 7-5.
This guy right here predicted an 8-4 finish, and so far, this team is perfect at 4-0.
Yes, the Bulldogs looked sluggish in the second half versus Troy University, and yes, Mississippi State was far from perfect versus South Alabama. But hey, 4-0 is still 4-0. Until it is proven otherwise, I chalk those performances up to some disinterest and lack of preparation. Here's looking at you, Bulldog coaching staff.
After a needed bye week, one where you would think the Bulldogs would take time to fix those little problems, get people healthy and regain focus, the Bulldogs are back on the field this weekend at Kentucky.
Much has happened in the first month of the season around the SEC as well as around the country, and some teams are as good as expected. Others are nowhere near the level of the hype. Some have surprised.
Here, we take another look at the teams remaining on the Bulldogs' schedule and reevaluate each team to see what we may have missed and whether our predictions still hold true.
Joker Phillips Could Be on His Way out in Lexington
At the start of the 2012 season, everyone felt this was a year Joker Phillips had to produce at least a 6-6 season, or he could be on his way out. The Wildcats were throttled by in-state rival Louisville and taken to the woodshed by Western Kentucky, making it apparent that there are major problems in Lexington.
The Wildcats gave South Carolina fits this past weekend for a half, but at 1-4, this is a game the Bulldogs should win.
At the beginning of the season, many people counted this as a win for Mississippi State. This weekend, it will still be a game the Bulldogs should win and need to win.
Odds of a Bulldog Victory? 85%
Tennessee so Far Is Very Jekyll and Hyde
At the start of 2012, many felt that if the Bulldogs could beat Auburn and Tennessee at home, it could set up a showdown with Alabama in November where the Bulldogs could be 7-0 going into that game.
Step one of that process is done with a Mississippi State victory over Auburn. If the Bulldogs get by Kentucky this weekend, that sets up a pivotal game for both teams next weekend in Starkville.
The Volunteers will have had two weeks to prepare for Mississippi State, as they are off this week. At 3-2, and with losses to East rivals Florida and Georgia, Derek Dooley is now in a position where he must win games to save his own job.
The Bulldogs will get the Volunteers' best shot, as it will be strength on strength as the Volunteers' deep passing attack will battle a Bulldog secondary that leads the SEC in turnover margin.
If this game were in Knoxville, this would be a tall task for the Bulldogs. Since this game is at home, you have to favor Dan Mullen's bunch in a close one.
Odds of a Bulldog Victory? 65%
The Blue Raiders Could Be the Suprise of the Sunbelt
This game is one that every Bulldog fan and sportswriter alike penciled in as a definite win for Mississippi State.
After a slow start, the Blue Raiders have run off three straight wins, the most surprising being a 49-28 beat down this past Saturday over Georgia Tech.
This game is a legitimate trap game for the Bulldogs, as the Blue Raiders fall right in between Tennessee and Alabama.
This game is more dicey than once thought, so it will be interesting to see how the Bulldogs respond with the Blue Raiders coming to town.
Odds of a Bulldog Victory? 75%
Crimson Tide Appear to Be the Nations Top Team Again
A 7-0 Mississippi State team versus a 7-0 Alabama team in late October probably means tons of media coverage, College GameDay and the works. But this is Alabama, and Nick Saban and his bunch live for days like this.
The Bulldogs have had limited success since Saban's arrival in Tuscaloosa, and until they prove to me they can beat this team, I will stay with my preseason prediction. Alabama is just too much for the Bulldogs.
Odds of a Bulldog Victory? 25%
Kevin Sumlin's Team Is Ahead of Schedule in Year One
Before the season, everyone wondered how Texas A&M would adjust to not only a new conference but also a new coach and style in Kevin Sumlin.
After a 20-17 loss to Florida to start the season, the Johnny Manziel-led Aggies have dominated their competition.
"Mr. Football" Manziel has been spectacular through the air and with his feet, and the Aggies play just enough defense to keep people honest.
The Aggies themselves still have a tough stretch before this game, so it will be interesting to see who is healthy and who is not when the Aggies travel to Starkville in November.
By this time, there should be enough film on Manziel to make educated decisions on slowing him down, plus this game is a home game for the Bulldogs.
We all thought this was an easy MSU win. I still feel this is a Bulldog win, but now it looks like this will be another tough one for State.
Odds of a Bulldog Victory? 65%
LSU Has Been Far from Superior so Far in 2012
LSU is LSU, right? Besides Alabama, they are arguably the second best team in the country.
The Tigers are off to a 5-0 start, but they have looked far from stellar, as it took everything they had to hang on at Auburn in a 12-10 victory. And Towson punched them in the mouth before falling 38-22.
However, this is a game that has plagued Mississippi State, as the Bulldogs have won only once since 1992.
Much like the Alabama game, this is a game I will not feel good about until the Bulldogs prove they can beat LSU. The game will be in Baton Rouge, and the Bulldogs will be coming off two straight games in which they face great opponents. I just do not like the Bulldogs' odds in this one.
Odds for a Bulldog Victory? 25%
A Nightmare Continues in Fayetville
Before the season, the Arkansas Razorbacks were projected to finish 10-2, and some felt this team was a dark horse for the national title. I had this game as one of the Bulldogs' four losses.
However, since the departure of Bobby Petrino and several key players, this is hardly the same team from 2011.
John L. Smith just can't seem to get anything going as the Razorbacks have started off 1-4. Even worse, they have been outscored 110-10 in the SEC.
This team is easily the Ole Miss of 2011 in that they look like they have just quit.
A game once thought to be a loss has now become a victory in my mind for the Bulldogs.
Odds of a Bulldog Victory? 75%
Hugh Freeze Has His Team Believing in Year One
Three straight Egg Bowls were dominated and won. That is what Dan Mullen has done to instate rival Mississippi since he arrived in Starkville. Mullen even went so far as to say he would never lose to the Rebels. That was a brash statement but one that is expected from Mullen.
Before this year, I along with several others thought this was a sure thing. The Bulldogs would just roll up to Oxford, beat them to death and head back to the house.
I must say I have been impressed with the development of the Rebels under Freeze thus far. Their defense runs to the football and will hit you, and you have to like the pace at which Freeze wants to run his offense.
However, I still feel the Bulldogs are the superior talent between the two, and I still have State winning a game that will be much closer than once thought.
Odds of a Bulldog Victory? 70%
Bulldogs Anticipate Celebration Following a Third-Straight Bowl Season
So what have we really learned in the first month of the season? We know Alabama is still Alabama, LSU appears to be LSU, Arkansas is a train wreck, Ole Miss is much improved, Texas A&M is adjusting just fine under Kevin Sumlin, Derek Dooley is on the hot seat again, Middle Tennessee is much stronger than anticipated and Joker Phillips will be looking for a job in the coming months.
How does all this affect Mississippi State? Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Middle Tennessee will be or should be much tougher games than once thought. Alabama and LSU plus a visit from Tennessee should go about how we thought. And, Arkansas is a heck of a lot worse than we thought, which should play in the Bulldogs' favor.
Will all of this change the way I see the season panning out for the Bulldogs? Sure, I think they are now the third-best team in the SEC and will finish 9-3.
Who do I have them losing to besides Alabama and LSU? I am really not sure on that, but in Mississippi State fashion I am sure they will drop one somewhere.
The good thing is we still have two months of football, so we can sit back, enjoy a 4-0 football team and watch it all unfold.