Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
Mississippi State changed the narrative by finally beating an SEC West team not named Ole Miss. So where do they go from here?
A look at the road ahead for the SEC's loss-less teams
It's worth remembering that Dan Mullen's Mississippi State program had never defeated an SEC West team from outside the state boarders when the season began. So, by that measure, the victory against Auburn in the second game of the year counted as a milestone all by itself. Particularly with the schedule trimming back to just two interdivision games a year, the Bulldogs had to start notching more wins against their SEC West brethren to keep annual bowl hopes alive.
But the relatively lopsided win against Auburn also left Mississippi State with something it's not accustomed to: expectations. What expectations people have for the team generally depends on whether or not they are Bulldogs fans. But almost everyone has raised the bar for State after the first four games of the year.
Victims: Jackson State, Auburn, at Troy, South Alabama
Remaining schedule: at Kentucky, Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, at Alabama, Texas A&M, at LSU, Arkansas, at Ole Miss
What's gone right: The cushiness of the schedule certainly hasn't hurt anything; two of the teams the Bulldogs have played haven't even made it to full-fledged FBS membership yet. But Ladarius Perkins is also running the ball well -- churning out 97.25 yards a game -- and Tyler Russell has been solid if not spectacular under center. Still, you're not going to find a list of stats in which Mississippi State is dominant.
Potential pitfalls: Mississippi State is a team that practically screams reversion to the mean: They're averaging a +3.25 turnover margin per game -- tops in the nation. The majority of the turnovers Mississippi State has forced are interceptions, which involve more skill than fumble recoveries, which are almost pure luck. But the Bulldogs have recovered six opponent fumbles while losing just one of their own. That number could be in line for a reversal.
Prognosis: The next three games should be pivotal for Mississippi State. If the Bulldogs can get to the Alabama game at 7-0, they'll be well on their way to a special season. Take just two out of the three winnable games on the schedule and State's looking at a nine-win season even before a potential bowl win is factored in. But if the Tennessee game ends up a loss, even a 6-1 record won't be able to mask the fact that this is an uneven team. A bowl game would still be a certainty, but seven or at most eight regular-season wins would seem more like a reasonable target.