Mississippi State football returns home for what’s likely a season-defining game against Kentucky. Can the Bulldogs turn things around against the Wildcats?
November is here, and the future of Mississippi State football may depend on how they perform over this final month of the regular season. State sits at 4-4 and just 1-4 in SEC play. It’s actually not a shocking record to this point compared to our preseason expectations of their opponents. But having seen how the year has played out, that record, and even more specifically how they’ve played in those games, is incredibly disappointing.
Because of that, MSU is in need of big November for the program to seem as though it’s back on solid ground. There are lots of concerns about the direction of things under Zach Arnett. So much so that if the current trajectory is in fact a reflection of how the season will end, we may be soon discussing major changes in the football building. But a strong close to the season would ease those concerns considerably.
It starts this weekend with the Kentucky Wildcats coming to Starkville for what’s been one of the more even series in the SEC. In fact, the series literally could not be more even as the all-time record is 25-25. State had to do a lot of work to bring the series even, though, winning 7-straight under Dan Mullen from 2009-2015.
But since that run of dominance for the Bulldogs, the outcomes for this matchup have reflected its history. Kentucky broke through in 2016 to beat State, a crucial win for them ending a bowl-drought, and the programs have traded wins since. Specifically, we’ve reached the point where the home team simply wins this game every year. The last team to win on the road in this matchup was a #1-ranked Mississippi State in 2014. And given MSU’s winning streak in this series pre-2016, you’ve got to go all the way back to 2008 to find the last time the Bulldogs well to the Cats in Davis Wade Stadium.
All of this suggests Mississippi State should come out victorious on Saturday. But as we know, prior results don’t always tell you what’s going to happen in the future. And right now, Kentucky is the better team.
Though they’re going through their own rough patch.
Mississippi State football: How can the Bulldogs take on the Kentucky Wildcats?
The Cats are 5-3 but have lost 3-straight after an undefeated start. Those losses have all been understandable. They came to Georgia, Missouri, and Tennessee, all of whom are ranked at the moment. But that hasn’t stopped Big Blue Nation from expressing their displeasure in how Mark Stoops seems to have, yet again, given them a team that’s capable of beating the lesser opponents on the schedule and make a bowl but not challenge for anything beyond that by beating a team of significance.
Now I, along with anyone with a basic understanding of what Kentucky football is as a program, will tell you that those results are literally doing about as good as you realistically can in Lexington. But no fanbase ever wants to hear that. They will always believe there’s a next step to be taken and that their current coach, who’s obviously maximizing their program to anyone not blinded by fandom, isn’t doing a good enough job.
I can’t be too much of a jerk about this. Mississippi State fans literally did the same thing when it came to Dan Mullen. It’s the nature of college football fandom.
While Kentucky may not be the elite team Cats fans believe they should be in Mark Stoops 11th year, they’re still a good enough team to handle Mississippi State if the Bulldogs play like they have for much of the season. The closest team to MSU on their schedule in terms of quality is Florida, who they smoked 33-14.
That game was in Lexington as opposed to being in a tough road environment, specifically one in Starkville that seems to give them trouble. But Kentucky is clearly still solid, and considering State has taken Ls to bad teams in South Carolina and Auburn and barely pulled out a win over an awful Arkansas squad, “solid” is scary.
Let’s take a closer look at the Wildcats…