BRAD LOCKE: Despite bumps in road, there’s a path to 10 wins

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

There is nothing good about a three-game losing streak, and Mississippi State fans are understandably upset.
But let’s be real: MSU is pretty much where it should be right now.
When I surveyed the 2012 schedule, I saw a 7-0 start as a real possibility. That’s what happened.
Then I looked at the final five games and figured a 3-2 finish would be possible, but 2-3 was more likely. The two games I had pegged as wins: Texas A&M and Ole Miss.
State lost to the Aggies. Turns out, that team is much better than we thought it would be.
This weekend, MSU plays an Arkansas team that was ranked 10th in the preseason, and I – along with a lot of people – marked that as a likely loss for the Bulldogs. That’s no longer the case.
MSU is clearly a favorite to beat the Razorbacks, who are 4-6 and just haven’t been the same without coach Bobby Petrino. And while Ole Miss has clearly improved, I don’t see MSU losing that game next week, even if it is in Oxford.
So for the most part, MSU’s season has gone as expected. Armed with hindsight, none of us should be surprised that this team is 7-3 with the likelihood of finishing 9-3. Sure, 10-2 seemed do-able, but that was a best-case scenario.
Las Vegas has certainly had things figured out: State is 7-0 this season when favored, 0-3 when the underdog. The underdog role is something MSU players say they relish, but it’s not a position from which they’re adept at succeeding.
That’s OK. If MSU wins out, it will have a chance to get to 10 wins with a bowl victory. That’s only happened two other times in school history: 1999, when the Bulldogs won the Peach Bowl (now known as the Chick-fil-A Bowl) to finish 10-2; and 1940, when they were 10-0-1 after an Orange Bowl win.
As for this three-game losing streak, that’s largely a product of the schedule. The first seven games were full of cupcakes – the three SEC teams State played during that stretch are a combined 0-20 in SEC play.
The last three games have been against the top three teams in the Western Division, and all of them are now ranked in the top 10.
The combined SEC record of Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU is 25-5, with three of those losses coming against each other.
If those three teams had been sprinkled throughout the schedule instead of bunched together, MSU fans might not be as concerned as they are right now.
Big picture? The Bulldogs are pretty much who we thought they were.

Brad Locke (brad.locke@journalinc.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at DJournal.com.