National cable network ESPN has given Mississippi State tremendous national exposure as a regular on its Thursday night college football package. The MSU-Auburn game will mark the Bulldogs' 10th regular-season appearance on ESPN Thursday night. State is 7-2 in previous prime-time showings. Overall, MSU is 10-8 on the national cable network, but the Bulldogs have won seven of their last nine games on ESPN.
STATE EYES SUCCESSFUL START TO SEC SEASON
Mississippi State has not opened its Southeastern Conference seasonal schedule with a win since 1999, a year in which the Bulldogs rattled off five-straight victories to open the conference campaign.
BULLDOGS FARE WELL IN SEC OPENERS AT HOME
Mississippi State has posted a 9-8 record in Southeastern Conference openers that have come at Scott Field, a mark that includes four victories in its last five such games.
DOGS TO APPEAR ON NATIONAL TV AGAIN
Mississippi State will appear on national television for the 11th time in its last 16 games dating back to the 2000 season when ESPN shows the MSU-Auburn game. State has been televised nationally at least seven times in each of the last five seasons.
STATE IMPRESSIVE ON NETWORK TELEVISION
Mississippi State has posted a 25-16 (.610) record in regular-season, network-televised games during the past five-plus years, a superb record to say the least. Overall, MSU is 27-18 (.600) on the tube since 1997.
TV APPEARANCE 76th UNDER SHERRILL
When ESPN airs the Mississippi State-Auburn game, it will be the 76th time in Jackie Sherrill's 131 games (.580) as head of the football program that the school has appeared on live television.
RECENT HISTORY SUGGESTS A CLOSE FINISH
The last three Mississippi State-Auburn games have been decided by a total of 11 points. Auburn won last year's game by two points with a last-minute field goal, MSU won in 2000 by seven points, and scored a last-minute touchdown to win by two in 1999.
MSU 5-YEAR MARK IS BEST IN SEC WEST
Mississippi State has posted 36-22 record in its most recent 58 games, a stretch that begins with the final game of the 1996 season. Over that time period, MSU's 36-22 mark is the best in the Southeastern Conference's Western Division. Mississippi has matched MSU's 58-game record (36-22), while Auburn and Arkansas have recorded a 35-23 slate during that time. LSU is 33-25 during that span and Alabama is 31-27. In the Eastern Division, only Tennessee (51-7), Florida (47-11) and Georgia (42-16) have a better overall mark. Kentucky (25-33), South Carolina (23-35) and Vanderbilt (16-52) round out the East.
MSU's 23-18 SEC MARK is WEST'S BEST
Mississippi State has recorded a 23-18 win-loss ratio against Southeastern Conference foes during the past five-plus seasons, the best mark against league foes by anyone in the SEC's Western Division. State's league slate over that period is better than Alabama and Auburn (21-20), the only other West teams with a winning mark against the league. LSU is 20-21, while Arkansas and Mississippi (19-22) round out the West. Only Florida and Tennessee (34-7), and Georgia (28-13) lead MSU. USC is 14-27, Kentucky is 11-30, and Vanderbilt is 4-37.
MISSISSIPPI STATE-AUBURN TICKET UPDATE
A crowd in excess of 50,000 is expected for Mississippi State's Southeastern Conference-opening game with Auburn. MSU announced in early September that it had sold 37,761 season tickets for the 2002 campaign, a school record. That figure is more than 1,200 season tickets ahead of last year's record total, with an increase of over 200 full-price season tickets from 2001. A limited number of tickets still remain available for the MSU-Auburn tussle. Contact the Bryan Athletic Administration ticket office, 662-325-2600 or 1-888-GO-DAWGS, for details.
SHERRILL SHOWS A 7-5 SLATE AGAINST AUBURN
Mississippi State head coach Jackie Sherrill is 7-5 all-time against Auburn, a mark that includes six wins during his 11 previous meetings with the Tigers while at the helm of the Bulldog program. He also beat the Tigers once while at Texas A&M.
SHERRILL HAS MSU READY FOR SEC HOME OPENERS
Mississippi State head coach Jackie Sherrill is 7-4 all-time in Southeastern Conference home openers.
MORGAN CONTINUES TO MAKE BIG PLAYS FOR MSU
Senior free safety Josh Morgan (Vicksburg, Miss.) has been a steadying influence on the Mississippi State secondary for three years, a trait which belies his big-playmaking ability. Morgan continued that type of play in State's season-opener at Oregon, recording eight tackles, a pass deflection and one fumble recovery. This past Saturday, he was credited with one-half of a tackle for loss (minus 2 yards) among his seven hits, a stop that registered a safety for the Bulldog defense. Like Haggan, he has produced more than 200 career tackles (220), including 12.5 for loss (minus 52 yards). He has now recovered five fumbles during his career, totaling 120 yards in returns and two touchdowns. He has also made five pass interceptions.
FANT MAKES PRESENCE FELT UPON RETURN
Mississippi State junior quarterback Kevin Fant (Moss Point, Miss.) returned to his starting role with the Bulldog offense this past Saturday against Jacksonville State after missing State's season opener with Oregon. Fant picked right up where he left off at the end of 2001 season. Against the Gamecocks, Fant completed 15-of-26 passes (.577) for 336 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. His 204.3 passing efficiency rating points would lead the Southeastern Conference if he met league minimums. In the final two games last fall, he completed 34-of-49 passes (.694) for 609 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception. In fact, when he began to receive substantial playing time under center at midseason, he completed 74-of-119 passes (.622) for 1,096 yards, all eight of his seasonal touchdowns and only four interceptions. His 155.01 passing rating over that time span, if accomplished over the entire season, would have ranked second in the league behind only Rex Grossman of Florida.
GRINDLE RISES ON MSU'S CAREER CATCH CHART
Mississippi State senior split end Terrell Grindle led the club with three pass receptions (118 yards) and a touchdown against Jacksonville State. Grindle, who is sixth all-time in receptions at State, has 91 career catches and needs 12 grabs to move into the No. 5 spot, surpassing Bill Buckley (102; 1971-73). His career-best single-game receiving yardage gives him 1,289 yards for his career, ninth on the school's all-time chart. He jumped Jerry Bouldin (1,199; 1987-90) and Louis Clark (1,192; 1983-86) on that chart and needs 103 yards to surpass Willie Harris (1,391; 1989-92) for the eighth spot.
GRIFFITH SET TO ENTER MSU CATCH LIST AS WELL
Mississippi State senior fullback Justin "Cokey" Griffith (Sanatorium, Miss.) carried seven times for 43 yards, a 6.1-yard average, and one touchdown in the Bulldogs' win over Jacksonville State this past Saturday. It marked a career-best rushing effort for Griffith and his first score since mid-2000. With two pass receptions against the Gamecocks, Griffith now has 68 for his career, six shy of matching Willie Harris' 74 catches (1989-92) for 10th on the school's all-time ranking.
WALKER MOVES UP BULLDOG RUSH, TD CHARTS
Mississippi State senior tailback Dontae Walker (Clinton, Miss.) rushed 17 times for 62 yards and a touchdown against Jacksonville State this past Saturday. Walker stands 12th on MSU's career rushing list with 1,797 yards. He needs just 12 yards to surpass Tom "Shorty" McWilliams (1,808; 1944, 46-48) for 11th all-time and 69 yards to reach the school's all-time top 10 in that category. With one scoring run vs. Jacksonville State, Walker passed Dennis Johnson (1974-77) and moved into an eighth-place tie with McWilliams with 19 scores on the ground. He needs one rushing TD to move into a three-way tie with Michael Haddix (1979-82) and Walter Packer (1973-76) for the sixth spot with 20 rushing TDs.
COOK CONTINUES STERLING FOOT WORK
Mississippi State sophomore punter Jared Cook (Columbus, Ga.) averaged a respectable 40.7 yards per punt during the 2001 season, but he served notice that his punting numbers might well improve during the 2002 campaign. Cook kicked eight times at Oregon in the season opener, averaging 42.8 yards per boot. He had a game-long, 58-yarder against the Ducks. This past Saturday against Jacksonville State, he punted three times for a 48.3-yard average. He currently ranks second in the Southeastern Conference and ninth nationally in punting average.
REID SCORES FIRST CAREER TOUCHDOWNS
Mississippi State sophomore tailback Fred Reid (Tampa, Fla.) rushed six times for 14 yards and scored one touchdown, and added two receptions for 22 yards and another TD. It marked the first rushing and receiving scores of his career.
SMITH CONVERTS MSU'S FIRST 3-POINTER
Mississippi State junior place-kicker Brent Smith (Byhalia, Miss.) kicked a 27-yard field goal with 3:44 left in the game against Jacksonville State, MSU's first field goal attempt of the year. Three of his full-field kickoffs went for touchbacks, while two others went to the goal line.