STARKVILLE – Tonight, Mississippi State will renew a rivalry that has been brewing for 24 years.
The Bulldogs begin their 2014 campaign by hosting Southern Miss for a 6:39 p.m. kickoff on the SEC Network. The two Magnolia State programs are meeting for the first time since 1990, when names like Favre and Felker were involved.
Sixth-year MSU coach Dan Mullen has had his share of success against instate opponents, going 8-1 against the likes of Ole Miss, Jackson State and Alcorn State. He is hopeful the familiarity between the two programs and fan bases will create an electric atmosphere in the newly renovated Davis Wade Stadium.
“All the buzz around the state right now is pretty special with the excitement that fans of both schools have,” Mullen said. “I think it’s a great thing. Scheduling those in-state rivals does so much for the state of Mississippi. On a national picture this game is not that big, but in Mississippi this game is a huge game. It means so much to so many different people and it’s exciting to be a part of it.”
The Golden Eagles lead the all-time series 14-12-1 thanks two two wins forfeited by the Bulldogs in 1975-76. State has won two straight in the series and holds the advantage in games played in Starkville 8-6-1.
The Bulldogs enter the new year following a 7-5 season and a fourth consecutive bowl appearance. MSU ended the year on a three-game winning streak for the first time since 1974, capped off by a 44-7 victory over Conference USA champion Rice in the Liberty Bowl.
Mullen’s squad returns 18 starters and 57 letterwinners, including leading passing and rushing leader Dak Prescott. The junior quarterback went 4-3 as a starter and accounted for 25 touchdowns in 2013.
“I think the game will be a lot slower this year having those starts under my belt and knowing what to expect,” Prescott said.
USM enters the fall having won just one game in its past two seasons. The Golden Eagles ended a 23-game losing skid with a 62-27 win over UAB to close out 2013.
“Winning that last game I’m sure has really bolstered them going into this off-season giving them momentum going into the off-season,” Mullen said.
Southern Miss returns 16 starters – including eight from an offense that committed 38 turnovers (26 interceptions, 12 fumbles) a year ago.
Second year coach Todd Monken knows the Golden Eagles have to protect the football better to give themselves a chance on the road against an SEC opponent.
“We have to play good football and take care of the football,” Monken said. “We have to try to find a way to get explosive plays. We have to find a way to create turnovers and not give up explosive plays.”