Preseason football camp can seem to drag on forever, but there will be a steadily building buzz in Starkville this August.
That’s because Mississippi State is opening the season Aug. 31 against Oklahoma State, at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
It’s big-boy football from the get-go, which isn’t the norm for MSU.
In fact, this will be the Bulldogs’ first season opener against a non-SEC school from a BCS conference since 2003. That year, State hosted Oregon, losing 42-34.
Under fifth-year coach Dan Mullen, MSU has opened the season against Jackson State and Memphis twice each, winning those games by an average of 42.3 points. Oklahoma State will be just a little bit tougher to deal with.
The Cowboys, 8-5 last year, were picked by the media last week to win the Big 12 title.
“The sense of urgency starting with a big-time game like we’re going to have to start the year off, I think that really draws that urgency right from Day 1 that the clock is ticking to kickoff,” Mullen said.
“I want to see how that will affect us in training camp this year compared to last year with our guys, to have that, knowing this is a very critical game for our season on opening kick right from Day 1.”
This game, dubbed the Texas Kickoff Classic, is an ESPN production. It will be a national spotlight game, televised by both ABC and ESPN2 (2:30 p.m.), depending on the market.
For a program like MSU that’s looking to garner more attention outside Mississippi’s borders, this is a good situation – so long as the Bulldogs don’t lay an egg. It adds a thick extra layer of meaning to the season opener.
It also means MSU has to be extra sharp. Playing a Jackson State, a team can work out some kinks and rest its starters in the second half. Not against Oklahoma State.
“You don’t have the opportunity to make a mistake or to start slow,” Mullen said. “You have to come out and play a great game right from the opening kickoff of the season.”
The Bulldogs, 8-5 a year ago, have already taken a peek at the Cowboys and have an idea of what to expect from coach Mike Gundy’s squad.
“I spent a little time watching them,” quarterback Tyler Russell said. “They have a pretty good defense. They have an offense that likes to run the ball, throw the ball, run a lot of plays.”
To say this game would set the tone for MSU’s season could sound cliché, but a win sure would be useful once the back end of the schedule rolls around. Like last year, the last five games will be brutal, and MSU can’t afford another 1-4 finish to the regular season.
While the Oklahoma State contest isn’t an SEC game, it’s awfully important. The Cowboys should be ranked in top 25 this preseason, and one strike against Mullen is his 2-16 record against top-25 teams.
So this game is huge for MSU for a few reasons. The players sense that, and they’ll sense it more and more as the calendar keeps flipping.