By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Mississippi State is 7-11 in SEC play, has won only one of six series, and has lost nine of its last 12 league games. And yet what I’m about to say is a real possibility: By Sunday evening, the Bulldogs could be in first place in the Western Division.
This isn’t just some mathematical possibility. It’s a real, feasible possibility. Wouldn’t shock me in the least if it happens.
The Bulldogs are in fifth place in the West, but don’t let that fool you, because they’re only two games out of first place. Three teams – Arkansas, Auburn and Ole Miss – started the weekend tied for first with 9-9 records. Alabama is fourth at 8-10, while LSU is last at 5-14.
Now, to make my case on how MSU could wind up atop the standings after this weekend: Arkansas plays at Georgia, Auburn’s at No. 2 South Carolina, and Ole Miss is at No. 5 Florida. And MSU hosts Alabama.
I think it becomes self-explanatory from there, but since they tell us journalists not to assume anything, let me explain. All of the Eastern Division teams in those first three matchups should win their series, because they’re markedly better, except maybe in the case of Arkansas-Georgia.
Mississippi State should match up well with Alabama and has a very good shot at picking up that second series win – the other was a sweep of Auburn. Best-case scenario, MSU earns a sweep while the three teams in front all drop a couple. Boom, first place.
Even winning two against Bama while the others lose their series would at least put MSU in a tie at the top.
Here’s even better news: If ground isn’t made up this weekend, there’s still three more weekends left, and the schedule gets easier. Before I examine that, let’s review.
MSU has faced three top-five teams already in Vanderbilt, Florida and South Carolina. While they lost all three series, the Bulldogs picked up a win against each team, and those wins look especially big now. Without them, State is right there with LSU in the cellar.
The ability to keep its head just above water has become a defining trait of this MSU team. After being shut out twice by Vandy on the first SEC weekend, it rallied to take the finale, 9-8. There was a Friday win against Florida, a Sunday win at Arkansas, and a Saturday triumph last week versus South Carolina.
MSU has been swept once, at Georgia.
The top three teams in the East have lost a grand total of four games to West opponents, and three of those losses came to MSU.
Back to the present and future. After Alabama, the Bulldogs visit Tennessee (5-13) and then Ole Miss, and they close the season at home versus LSU. I can reasonably see eight wins for MSU over the next four weekends, and even if that didn’t translate into a West title, it would mean a .500 record and a spot in the SEC Tournament.
And that would mean an NCAA regional berth.
I’ve mentioned a lot of possibilities that just last year would have been laughable, mathematically or otherwise. This new reality means MSU’s recent misery might finally be behind it.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.