SEC slates: Mississippi State

When an SEC football team is short on talent it's advantageous to face your four weaker opponents at home (since you'll have a better chance to win) and face your four stronger opponents on the road (since you're going to lose anyway).

Unfortunately for former Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen, now the first-year head man at Mississippi State, the Bulldogs' schedule is precisely the opposite: They face four SEC teams they might be able to beat at home – Auburn, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Arkansas – on the road. And they face four SEC teams they probably couldn't beat anywhere on the planet – LSU, Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss – in Starkville.

Facing the four weakest SEC foes at home would give MSU a reasonable shot at going 4-4 in league play. Facing them on the road, however, means Mississippi State probably will be the underdog in all eight conference games it plays this fall.

The outlook isn't overly bright in the non-conference portion of the schedule, either. Except for Game 1 foe Jackson State of the Football Championship Subdivision, Mississippi State has no sure wins. Georgia Tech went 9-4 and Houston 8-5 last season; both qualified for bowl games. Middle Tennessee went just 5-7 last year but shocked Maryland. The Bulldogs must visit Murfreesboro, so that game is no lock for Mullen's men.

With a new coaching staff in place, Mississippi State would benefit from having some easy games early to build confidence and momentum. This year's schedule provides no such buffer, however. After Jackson State, MSU must play at Auburn and at Vanderbilt, then host an LSU team that probably has as much raw talent as anyone in college football.

If the Bulldogs get through September without having their spirit crushed, they could enjoy some success in October. Georgia Tech (Oct. 3) and Houston (Oct. 10) must visit Starkville, and Middle Tennessee (Oct. 17) looms as the second-most winnable game on MSU's slate. Mullen will get schooled when his new team faces the Florida team he just left Oct. 24 in Starkville, but his Dogs might catch Kentucky Cat-napping Oct. 31 in Lexington.

If Mississippi State is going to make any noise in '09, it had better come in October because the Bulldogs are likely to go 0-for-November. After an open date on Nov. 7, they close by hosting Alabama (Nov. 14), facing Arkansas (Nov. 21 in Little Rock) and hosting Ole Miss (Nov. 28).

If Mullen manages to win any of those three games he should get a raise and a contract extension.

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