HOOVER, Ala. — Mississippi State’s first Southeastern Conference test this season will come against LSU, which should not have surprised anyone when the schedule was released in April.
It's the third time in four years the Bulldogs will have opened their conference football schedule against the Tigers.
Sticking with the recent history theme, the Bulldogs are also banking on it being a tight ballgame.
“It seems to come down to the last play of the game the last several years, right down to the wire,” coach Dan Mullen said.
The early-season meeting is a relatively new occurrence in this rivalry. When the teams met in Baton Rouge on Sept. 12, 1992, it was the first time they had played each other in September in the of the series.
Since then, they have played 25 times, and 16 of the games have been in September. This early-season period in the series has also been dominated by LSU.
The Tigers have taken 23 of the 25 matchups since that 1992 game, many in blowout fashion. LSU won 13 straight against Mississippi State from 2001-13 by an average of 27.2 points.
But the series has taken a competitive turn lately. The composite score for the past three meetings: 73-73, with all three games going down to the wire.
“We always know we’re going to play them tough every year,” said senior linebacker Dez Harris, who was part of the 2014 team that snapped an 11-game Mississippi State losing streak in Tiger Stadium. “It’s been great to put on a show and actually compete with them and have great games against them the last couple years.”
The Bulldogs played LSU to within a field goal last season despite an off day by quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who was making his first SEC road start.
“It got a little loud down there,” senior offensive lineman Martinas Rankin said.
LSU limited Fitzgerald to 133 yards of offense, his worst full-game effort in a season when he would go on to post more yards of offense (3,798) than anyone else in the SEC. Much of the Bulldogs' hope this season is pinned to the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Fitzgerald, who they believe will be even better this season after getting 13 games of starting experience under his belt as a sophomore.
It may not have been much of a rivalry before, but is something starting to brew between these programs? Mullen seems to think so.
“Over the last couple of years, it seems that it’s been that type of game, right down to the final whistle,” he said. “And we’ve come up on the short end the last two years, but you know, I think our guys have the confidence that we can go make the final play this year.”