TUPELO – Phil Steele, who publishes the quintessential college football preseason magazine, ranks Mississippi State’s 2013 schedule as 33rd-toughest in the nation. Don’t let that ranking deceive you – it might be even tougher than that.
There are plenty of tough opponents, sure, but what makes this fall’s slate even harder for MSU is the way it’s set up. Don’t fool yourself – just getting bowl eligible could become a concern if things start badly.
And it starts in 32 days against Oklahoma State, in Houston. The Cowboys are the preseason favorite to win the Big 12, and one wonders what that prolific passing attack might do to an MSU secondary breaking in new cornerbacks.
Two weeks later, SEC play begins at Auburn, a place MSU hasn’t fared so well in recent years.
State has lost five of its last six there, and fifth-year coach Dan Mullen is 0-2 on the Plains. The Tigers went 0-8 in SEC play last year, but new coach Gus Malzahn will have that offense in working condition in short order.
After that game, the schedule isn’t too bad: Four consecutive home games spread apart thanks to a pair of off weeks (Sept. 28 and Oct. 19). The big one during that stretch is LSU on Oct. 5.
Things get brutal in November starting with a trip to South Carolina (Nov. 2), followed by a trip to Texas A&M the next weekend. Good luck having to deal with Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel in consecutive weeks.
If MSU loses those two games, it could set off a season-ending skid similar to what we saw last year, when the Bulldogs dropped four of their last five regular season games.
Two-time reigning national champion Alabama visits Starkville on Nov. 16, then it’s a trip to Little Rock to take on Arkansas. MSU is 0-6-1 there, including 0-2 under Mullen. The Hogs have a new coach in Bret Bielema, so they’re somewhat of an unknown.
Five days later, the Egg Bowl will be played in Starkville. Ole Miss made strides last year under new coach Hugh Freeze, beating MSU, reaching a bowl game and carrying that momentum onto the recruiting trail.
A lot of folks figure the Rebels to be better this season, and this is nearly always a toss-up game.
So let’s be realistic: MSU could be fighting for bowl eligibility come Nov. 28. But I’m making no predictions right now, because I know how unpredictable college football can be.
Maybe the schedule isn’t as tough as it looks to be on paper. Maybe it’s tougher. Maybe MSU makes a big jump this fall and becomes the program Mullen has been envisioning.
One thing I’m certain of: With this schedule, it won’t be boring.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) blogs daily at DJournal.com.