By Logan Lowery
STARKVILLE – Starting in 2016, all schools in the Southeastern Conference will be required to played at least one non-league game against an opponent from the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12 conferences.
That means things will have to change at Mississippi State.
Since Dan Mullen’s arrival in 2009, the Bulldogs have played just two regular-season opponents that would qualify under the new rules. MSU lost 42-31 to Georgia Tech at home during Mullen’s first season and fell 21-3 to Oklahoma State at the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff game in Houston this past season.
“We have made an attempt to schedule teams from those leagues,” Mullen said. “We’ve reached out to a lot of different people and never got a lot of interest in teams wanting to play home-and-homes with us from the bigger conferences. But we’re going to continue to do so in the future.”
Of his 33 regular-season victories, 17 have come against non-conference opponents outside of the four major conferences that will be required in 2016.
The Bulldogs’ schedule for 2014 would not meet the SEC’s new standards, either. State has games slated against Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama and Tennessee-Martin in the fall.
Although the Golden Eagles are from Conference USA, Mullen said he still considers it a marquee matchup. Not only will the contest begin the season but it will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Scott Field and open the new $75 million renovation to Davis Wade Stadium.
It also renews an in-state rivalry that has not been played since 1990.
“I know on a national level it’s not much, but I know for everybody in the state of Mississippi, it’s such a huge game,” Mullen said. “It’s a great series that hasn’t been played in a while. In scheduling, we’ve been very proactive in trying to play quality games or games that mean a lot to the people here in the state of Mississippi.”
During Mullen’s tenure the Bulldogs have played both Jackson State and Alcorn State in non-conference tilts.
Mississippi State was also originally scheduled to play Mississippi Valley State in the 2013 season opener but the game was cancelled due to the Delta Devils failure to meet NCAA-mandated financial aid guidelines.
The game would not have counted towards bowl eligibility if the Bulldogs won.
Programs such as Florida and South Carolina will not have an issue with the new scheduling format with annual rivalry games with Miami, Florida State and Clemson respectively.
The Bulldogs had the same thinking in mind when scheduling Southern Miss but the new rule could affect the rivalry extending beyond the 2015 season.
“For some of the schools, it’s a little easier because they have that every year rival that they play in a non-conference game that is already from one of those conferences,” Mullen said. “They kind of have one of those games already scheduled in. We don’t have that local rival to do that with.
“Playing Southern Miss, we went out and said, ‘Hey this is a big rivalry in the state of Mississippi, let’s try to do something like that.’ In the future that may come off the table.”