"You are absolutely right. You may look at some of these names and wonder who they are, but in the baseball circles these are teams that are very productive.
"Lamar comes in for the opening weekend and they are a perennial top 100 RPI team. They've won a lot of games over the years and had a lot of guys who have been drafted recently. We had Rhode Island in here last year and a lot of our fans were wondering who they were. All they did was finish in the top 48, RPI-wise, the year we scheduled them. They came in with 40 wins and were the last team out as far as getting into an NCAA regional. Sacred Heart is another team that falls into that same type category. A lot of fans may not know where they are from - they are from Connecticut - but in baseball circles they are a very competitive team. Southeastern Louisiana is another team that fell into that category last year. We had them on the schedule last year and they came in here ranked in the top-25. Probably two years before that people were asking who they were. We also have Iowa and Georgia State coming in one of our tournaments. Georgia State, who won 34 games last year, had one of the higher batting averages in all of college baseball last year. I believe it was in the upper 300s. So, they will come in and swing the bat extremely well."
"It's not just us who is scheduling teams like that. You look at other teams in the SEC. From this past season, South Carolina, who won the national championship, opened up with Duquesne, a college that no longer has a baseball team. They also had Presbyterian, Valparaiso, Brown, Furman, Davidson on their schedule. It's not just a Mississippi State thing it's also other folks in the SEC. You can't pick and choose who you want all the time. But you try to get competitive teams. As far as RPI, it really doesn't matter that much because we play in the best league in America. Everyone of the teams in the SEC will easily be among the top 100, and probably 10 of the 12 will be in the top 50, RPI-wise. Because of that, we are going to be guaranteed 30 games against the top competition in America.
"In addition to that, we play Ole Miss and Southern Miss during the middle of the week at Trustmark Park in Pearl, Mississippi. Add those to the 30 SEC games and you have 32 very quality opponents."
Something that many folks probably don't think about is most of the early games are on the weekends, not mid-week. That will allow those teams to pitch their top pitchers instead of their mid-week starters.
"You do see a lot of their number ones. When Akron rolls into town on February 18th it will be their number 1 pitcher on the mound against us. Lamar will probably throw their number 1 against us, too. And Belmont will do the same when they come in here. Iowa, Georgia State will do that as well. While a lot of the teams from the north may not have as deep of a pitching staff as we do, they will have three of four guys who can really throw.
"As an example, we have Eastern Illinois coming here in the middle of the week. And a lot of folks are probably thinking who is Eastern Illinois. All they did last year is finish 37th in RPI and two years ago they had a pitcher drafted in the second-round (of the Major League baseball draft)."
It's also good exposure for Mississippi State when teams from other parts of the nation come in here, isn't it?
"Yes, they've all heard about (the Left Field) Lounge. Every time I talk to a head coach from another school they always ask about the Left Field Lounge. I talked to an assistant coach at Michigan State who recently took a head coaching position at Western Michigan and he raved about how nice our fanbase was. Even though they came in here and lost both of their games against us, their players and their fans had a blast. Some of their fans were watching their games in the outfield. They were just hanging out with our fanbase."
There are 35 home games in the 2011 season. Isn't that a record for home games for Mississippi State?
"It is. We were able to tie that record this year. We would have been able to break that record in 2011 but we had some prior commitments where we do home and home series with a lot of the mid-week teams. For instance, we are returning trips to Memphis, UAB and South Alabama. Those are teams we play year-in, year-out. But in 2012 they come here.
"We also have some neutral site games, including two at Pearl and a neutral site game at AutoZone Park in Memphis. Even though we are playing Memphis in Memphis, it is, in a lot of ways, a home game for us because we will probably outnumber them crowd-wise. And there is still talk that the UAB game could very well be played at the Hoover Met. That could be a fourth neutral site game to go along with the 35 home games."
Who are some of the non-SEC teams that Mississippi State will play in 2012?
"In 2012, we have a lot of the bigger name opponents. We open the year February 17-19th with Washington State from the Pac-10 in a three-game series. They took Arkansas to the brink in the (Arkansas) regional this past season. They have been in the NCAA post-season the last two years.
"The next weekend we have Buffalo rolling in for a four-game series. You are starting to see more four-game series because that will allow you to have less mid-week games. It will be a Friday night game, a double-header Saturday and a Sunday afternoon game. The years when we brought in the monster crowds at Dudy Noble, a lot of those were done on Saturday double-headers. Hopefully, we will have good weather and bring in several thousand fans to watch us play.
"The weekend after that we have Lipscomb, a team out of the Nashville area. They will be a solid opponent. They win 30 or more games and go deep in their conference tournament.
"Arguably, our toughest competition that we will play in 2012 is the UConn Huskies (48-16 in 2010). They will be here for our tournament, along with Lipscomb. People know them from their men's and women's basketball programs but they hosted a regional this past season. They were a top-25 team, ranking and RPI-wise, this past year.This will be one of the games where our fans can be our 10th man. You hear about the 12th man in football all the time. Well, I think the fans can be the 10th man here.
"So, we'll have a Pac-10 team that we open our season with, then have a Big East team the third weekend. Then the following weekend we have another Big Ten team, Penn State, coming in.
"The last weekend prior to conference play we have Mercer coming in. They are good year-in, year-out, and are around a top-100 RPI.
"Playing the UConns, the Washington States, the Mercers as well as our SEC schedule could very well give us another top-10 strength of schedule."
Who are some other non-SEC teams that you will play when SEC play begins?
"We are returning our trip to Southeastern Louisiana. They are a perennial strong team in the Southland Conference. We were going to do a home and home with them in 2010 and 2011. They came here in 2010 and we were going to return the trip in 2011 but we had a date conflict with the times we have available and they had available. So, we are returning the trip in 2012 by playing them March 13th and 14th."
How many home games will there be in 2012?
"In 2012 we will break the record either by one or by two. There will either be 36 home games or 37 home games. That is something that we want to do. You look at our record at home and it has been tremendously better year-in, year-out than our record has been on the road. (The reasons for that is) we have the best fans in baseball and we play in a park that plays big. We play a different type style where you have to have fast outfielders who can really roam the areas in the outfield. And that really plays to how our team is set up for this upcoming year and years down the road.
"You look at the Florida States, the LSUs of the world and they aren't really that interested in playing a lot of road games. They have played a lot of home games and been successful at that. We want to do it as well. Why not play those games at home?"
Do you have anything set up for the 2013 schedule?
"It looks like the University of Portland will be here for the first weekend. They are a top 100 team that comes from the West Coast Conference. We also have Samford coming in for 2013. They are always a quality team. We will have them paired up with someone from the Big Ten or Big East in our weekend tournament. We also have Saint Joseph's coming in as well."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.