Mississippi State Football: The obvious candidates to be State’s permanent SEC opponents

Oct 16, 2021; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers (2) throws a pass against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the second quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 16, 2021; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers (2) throws a pass against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the second quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports /

This is Part 2 in a series breaking down what Mississippi State Football’s future SEC schedules will look like. Who will their permanent opponents be? You can check out Part 1 of the series here for an overview of the changes on the way for SEC scheduling and what that means for the Bulldogs.

Mississippi State football’s SEC schedule is going to look a lot different in the coming years. With Texas and Oklahoma slated to join the league in 2024, the SEC will be forced to change its scheduling format. The overwhelming expectation is that the league will adopt a 9-game conference schedule that features three permanent and six rotating opponents. And the hot topic surrounding SEC fanbases right now is which teams will be paired up as permanent opponents.

This series is dedicated to breaking down which teams make the most sense to become Mississippi State’s permanent rivals in the new SEC. Obviously, we know Ole Miss will be one of those teams. But what about the other two spots to fill? We’ll profile several different teams and explain why they may or may not be annual fixtures on the Bulldogs’ schedule, wrapping things up with a prediction as to whom those teams will be.

In today’s installment, we’re looking at the most obvious candidates to be paired with State: the teams Bulldog fans are already used to playing on an annual basis.

Any of the current SEC West teams are natural fits to remain annual opponents for MSU, and I’ll make the case for most of them below. The only West team that won’t have its own “blurb” (well besides Ole Miss because as stated earlier, we already know they’re one of the three) is Arkansas. While I can’t rule out the Hogs being one of MSU’s three rivals, they seem the least likely of the other West programs. The SEC’s westward expansion has opened the doors for the Razorbacks to play more programs in their geographic footprint along with their biggest historic rival in Texas. Essentially I think there are more natural “fits” for Arkansas’ annual rivals than MSU. But who knows what the SEC decides?

Here are my thoughts on some of the more obvious options…


Yes, I know what you’re thinking. Believe me. I feel the same way. But regardless of how badly we don’t want to have to play the Evil Empire annually anymore, it, unfortunately, makes a lot of sense. Mississippi State is Alabama’s most-played opponent with 107 meetings. MSU and Bama also happen to be the two closest SEC campuses to one another. History and geography are working against us here, and that’s why nearly every projection you’ll find for the SEC’s future permanent rivalries features MSU and Bama.

The other reason this has been a popular selection for media members is because of an assumption (and a very fair one at that) that the SEC won’t force its power programs to exclusively play each other as permanent rivals. You can expect most if not all of the SEC’s top teams to get at least one annual “gimme” game as a part of their permanent rivals. They want the teams that bring them the most money to stay on top. They can help ensure that by giving them games they should always win.

Alabama’s three biggest rivals are Auburn, Tennessee, and LSU. All three of those programs are, at their best, capable of competing for national championships. The Iron Bowl will obviously be a part of the Tide’s annual slate, and because of the history between the two, you can bet on the Third Saturday in October being a yearly affair as well. So what about LSU? If you’re younger, you probably don’t realize that LSU-Bama is very much a modern rivalry. While the programs have played annually since the ’60s, it didn’t become a heated battle until Nick Saban got to Tuscaloosa in 2007.

Now since that time, it’s arguably been the most impactful game in the entire sport. But the history isn’t as deep as with Bama’s other rivalries. And when you consider that Bama’s more established rivals are both programs that can give them plenty of fits, it’s very possible LSU gets booted from Bama’s annual schedule in exchange for a more easily-beatable opponent if the SEC does indeed choose to throw a bone to the teams that literally need the least help to win.

Hello, Mississippi State, as we tie this all back to the point of this piece. Alabama is 85-18-3 all-time versus MSU and hasn’t lost to the Bulldogs since Saban’s first season (shoutout Sly Croom). Though we may see that as all the more reason to stop playing this game annually, Alabama would be all for continuing it. Mississippi State-Alabama perfectly fits the bill for almost everything that is assumed the SEC will consider when creating permanent rivalries, and State fans need to be prepared for the very real possibility that we don’t escape Nick Saban’s yearly wrath.

If you’re MSU, you need to hope that ESPN, who recently became the SEC’s exclusive rights partner, has some influence here and forces the SEC’s hand into keeping LSU-Bama a yearly matchup. There’s a reason CBS almost always chose that game as their one annual night game. It gets ridiculous TV ratings. ESPN will want to capitalize on those ratings too. Of course, it would be our luck that Bama just stops playing Tennessee annually and still gets to play us.

P.S. I promise the other rivalry profiles won’t be this long. This was just one that took a lot of explaining.


Well, we just spent a lot of time talking about how the Bayou Bengals fit as one of Alabama’s permanent rivals. How about their fit with Mississippi State? Like with Alabama, Mississippi State is LSU’s most-played opponent, so the history is there. Unlike Alabama, State has at least managed to have some success against the Tigers in recent years. While LSU still dominates the all-time series, MSU has managed three wins since 2014 with nearly every meeting in that timeframe being tightly contested. Now obviously this is still a loss for State most seasons, which isn’t ideal. But at least there’s some semblance of competitiveness with the added bonus of getting CFB’s best travel destination every other year.

That said, I don’t expect LSU as one of State’s permanent rivals. The reason is because of how many other teams make sense for the Tigers. Along with Alabama, LSU holds rivalries with Ole Miss, Arkansas, Auburn, and Florida. They also have a budding rivalry with Texas A&M, a series many expect to continue annually because of Baton Rouge’s proximity to College Station.


Auburn is blessed to be a part of two of the SEC’s most storied rivalries. Auburn is cursed because those rivalries happen to feature two of the sport’s most dominant programs in Alabama and Georgia. And whether the orange and blue Tigers like it or not, they’re going to have to keep playing those games. If fact, Auburn will almost certainly be the only SEC team forced to play those teams on an annual basis. Because of this, many have suggested Auburn be given Vanderbilt as one of its permanents just for the sake of fairness.

And while I’m sure War Eagle wouldn’t say no to regular trips to Nashville (on top of the annual win versus Vandy), the ‘Dores probably make more sense for other programs. So another popular solution has been to give Auburn Mississippi State. Now, we obviously know suggesting Mississippi State as a “gimme” game for Auburn is pretty insulting to MSU considering the Dawgs have a winning record versus Auburn since 2012 (very much an arbitrary cut-off point, but of course I’m going to spin this in favor of us). If you actually wanted to give Auburn a near auto-win, you’d give them that team from Oxford that’s managed just 11 wins against them in their entire history.

That being said, the Auburn perspective is definitely that MSU is a team they should beat annually. And regardless of how misguided that confidence may be, I can absolutely see them being on board with keeping this game, which may not be a bad thing for State considering the reality of how this series has played out in the modern era. Also, State is Auburn’s second most-played opponent behind Georgia, so the history aspect is there.

You may be noticing a trend that Mississippi State is either the most-played or second-most-played opponent for some of the SEC’s top historic powers. I will also point out that State played most of those games on the road. We should take this time to thank MSU’s old administrations for doing such a fantastic job of assuring they were setting up MSU football for success…

Texas A&M

I wouldn’t have made a section for Texas A&M if not for Jimbo Fisher letting it slip that Mississippi State was being seriously considered as one of A&M’s three permanent opponents at SEC Media Days last summer. Because otherwise, you wouldn’t expect us to be paired up, especially with Texas and Oklahoma on the way. We’ve only played 16 times ever with 11 of those games of course taking place once the Aggies joined the SEC.

But I don’t think any State fans would complain about the Cult of Collie-worshipping Milkmen being a permanent rival. State leads both the all-time and SEC-only series. Even more specifically, ever since Johnny Football left College Station, MSU has dominated A&M (they need to remember to send Father’s Day cards to Nick Fitzgerald).

And of course, there are plenty of parallels between our programs. We both wear maroon and white. We both are Ag schools (MSU also used to be the “Aggies”). We both have dog mascots. We were both coached by Emory Bellard and Jackie Sherrill. We both have an elitist in-state rival that can’t shut up about how good they used to be. And of course, back in 2000, we played each other in the greatest bowl game of all time.


The lone non-SEC West team on this list, Kentucky makes a lot of sense as one of State’s permanent opponents. The SEC paired MSU and Kentucky as annual cross-divisional “rivals” back in 1992 when the league first introduced divisions. Despite the little prior history, it’s turned into a good series for two programs that have become much more respectable in recent seasons. It’s dead-even at 25 wins apiece with several memorable games over the years, and the home team has won 8 straight in the series.

The other reason it makes sense is that Kentucky, like MSU, lacks multiple true SEC rivals. The Cats’ biggest rivals are ACC member Louisville. Within the SEC, UK considers Tennessee its biggest conference rival, though feelings there are not at all mutual. Even if they do get the Vols as a permanent opponent, there aren’t many other obvious options to fill out their other permanents. MSU could be one. And along with the competitiveness, there’s actually been some bad blood developing between the fanbases over the last few years, giving all the more reason to keep the series going annually.

There’s a high likelihood that, along with Ole Miss, Mississippi State’s three permanent SEC opponents come from the group of teams listed above. Whether it be because of history, geography, competitiveness, or some combination of those factors, they all fit the bill and make a ton of sense to play MSU on an annual basis.

But what about teams that don’t make as much sense? The reality is we really don’t know what direction the SEC could take things, and finding three rivals that are good fits for every single team in a 16-team league isn’t easy. There’s a good chance we see some oddball pairings. And what if MSU ends up with one?

In Part 3 of the series, we’ll take a look at a few teams who could be dark horse candidates to become Mississippi State’s permanent SEC rivals.