"Yes, we have some newcomers on the schedule. Akron is from Ohio. A lot of our fans will probably relate to them because they are used to watching Akron play football on Tuesday nights. It seemed like every Tuesday or Wednesday it was Akron or somebody from the MAC conference playing.
"They are a pretty solid team coming from the north and it is a chance for them to get down south where we have much better weather early in the year. It's very attractive for them to come down here, play in a good environment and play at Dudy Noble Field in front of our crowds. Everybody knows about our crowds and the fans here, the best fans in college baseball, and the Left Field Lounge. They hear about the crowds and want to see it themselves, check out the Left Field Lounge and get some home cooking from some of the grills in Left Field Lounge.
"Michigan State, who we played this past year, has been a great ambassador for us. They went back and spread the word throughout the Big Ten about the incredible baseball environment down here in Mississippi."
How did scheduling Akron come about?
"Their head coach sent me an email the fall of 2008, wanting to know if we had our 2009 schedule wrapped up. I told him wedid, then he asked about 2010. I told him we had just finished our 2010 schedule as well. Then, he asked if we had anything available for 2011. I told him we did, the first weekend. He said he would really love to get down here and play a tournament type series which would give his kids a good experience down south. I told him that we tentatively had Lamar on the schedule and we could do a round robin type invitational with his team and Lamar. He said he absolutely would like to do it."
Is Georgia State a newcomer?
"Being a player here and now a coach, I don't remember playing Georgia State. They are from the Atlanta area and are a solid school that was a top 100 RPI team a year ago. A lot of those schools outside of Atlanta are getting good players. When you think about the East Cobb Showcase, some of the best players in high school baseball come through the heart of Atlanta. And Georgia State is right there in that mecca of recruiting. Due to that, they are going to have solid arms. They had a guy last year who went pretty high in the (Major League Baseball) draft."
Did Georgia State contact you or did you contact them?
"I talked to their head Greg Frady after another coach from the SEC told me that Georgia State was looking to fill in a weekend. So, I called him and he said he would love to come here. He said it was only a four to four and a half hour drive from Atlanta to Starkville. He said they wanted to do a tournament type thing, which leads us to our next opponent, Iowa.
"Iowa is from the Big Ten and had heard good things about us as well. Michigan, who we played in the Cadence Classic along with Troy a few years go, and Michigan State had both spoke highly of us. I called the head coach at Iowa the first week on the job in 2008 and asked him if he would be interested in coming on our schedule. He told me they were booked through 2010 but he said they would love to come down in 2011. So, they are going to be coming down here and are excited about it."
Looking at the schedule, I noticed there are 35 home games. That is a lot, especially for an MSU schedule.
"One of the things that we trying to do is create more opportunities for our fans to come watch us play. We have a 15,000 fans capacity stadium, something nobody else in America has, and the best fans in college baseball. So, we want to try and give them as many opportunities to see us play as possible. And it also gives us a tremendous home field advantage."
I don't know anything about Sacred Heart University, another team on your schedule.
"They are from Fairfield, Connecticut. They had a pretty good player this past year who went fairly high in the draft, so they have good players. They are another northern team who when they try to take BP on their field early in the season it is 10 degrees outside. When they come here in February and March it is 70 degrees and our fans are in the outfield grilling. It feels like baseball and it looks like baseball and that is something that they want to experience."
Did you contact Sacred Heart or did they contact you?
"Their head coach sent me an email about a year ago. They were trying to wrap up their schedule and wanted to see if we had anything available before our conference season started. I told him that we had a weekend that had just opened up. We had talked about going to a tournament in San Francisco, but some things fell through and it ended up not being what we really were looking for. At first, it appeared there were going to be some really quality opponents that we would be playing. It would have given our players a chance to play against some really good teams, kind of like the tournament this past season where we played UCLA and Oklahoma, two teams that ended up being in the College World Series. And UCLA is playing for the national title. But when the really strong teams that were expected to play ended up not being able to play in it, it really ended up not being worth it for us to go. Then, Sacred Heart emailed me two weeks later and we added them to the schedule."
How did Eastern Illinois end up on the schedule?
"Coach Cohen knows their head coach really well from his days when he was at Kentucky. They were going to be down here playing a weekend series in this area so their coach asked (Coach Cohen) if we had any openings. Coach Cohen told him he would check with me. He called me and asked me if we had anything available mid-week. I told him we had one or two slots left. He told me to write down Eastern Illinois because they wanted to play here. Two years ago, they had a second rounder on the mound. They are in the Ohio Valley Conference and a powerhouse in that conference. That goes back to the RPI situation. When you play the mid-week opponents, you want to make sure you are playing good teams. That way, if you win, it will help you RPI-wise and strength of schedule-wise."
I noticed that you are playing four games on two of the weekends prior to conference play. Why are you doing that?
"You used to have a lot of Tuesday-Wednesday mid-week games. But having a four-game series on the weekend allows you to not have those two mid-week games later in the season when you are playing 30 SEC games against some of the best competition in all of college baseball. You don't want to play a three-game set against Florida, then have to play two difficult Tuesday-Wednesday games, then come right back and play a three-game series with South Carolina.
"Another factor involved in the Saturday double-headers is they are good for the fans. When you think about a lot of the big crowds that Dudy Noble Field used to have in the 80s and 90s, they were on the double-header days."
You've mentioned RPI quite a bit. Why is that so important?
"You want to schedule name teams that our fans know but you also want to make sure you are bringing in teams that are going to help you out strength of schedule-wise and RPI-wise. If we beat up on a team that is ranked 290 in RPI, then that is not going to do a lot of good for us. So, you want to try to reach a happy medium. You want to get a good quality opponent that helps out your RPI and your strength of schedule, teams such as Northwestern State, Georgia State and even Sacred Heart. Those are teams that will either be powerhouses in their conference or really good in their conference. That becomes a huge factor toward the end of the year when it comes to a team that is on the regional bubble or a team that has a chance to host a regional, a super regional or be a national seed. The RPI is huge when it comes to that committee determining what they are going to do with you when it comes to the regionals."
What's going on with the 2012 schedule?
"We have some things in the works with the 2012 schedule. We have Washington State from the PAC 10 coming here. They played Arkansas in their regional this past season, so they are a quality opponent. It will either be a three-game or a four-game series. We haven't finalized that yet. The University of Maryland, an up and coming program in the ACC that just hired as their head coach the Vanderbilt recruiting coordinator, will be a quality opponent. We have them tentatively set to play here but it's still in the discussion stage. Penn State is another big-time name team that a lot of fans know about due to their football that is coming here."
Do you have to return a trip to those three schools?
"No, they are northern schools that want to come down here and play at Mississippi State. They know about Dudy Noble Field and want to play in this environment."
When you add those games to your SEC schools that will leave you with about 16 games to be scheduled for 2012.
"We will still have Southern Miss, Ole Miss (in the Governor's Cup), UAB, Memphis, South Alabama and Mississippi Valley, teams we play year-in, year-out. That will leave about 7 or 8 more games that I will go out and try to schedule."
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.