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SEC 2010 // Mississippi State's Bowl Hopes Count on Defeating C-USA

Mississippi State has to begin the season with two goals: First, get a bowl berth. Second, see what else you can win as part of the rebuilding effort already underway. The first goal is not at all unreasonable, but the second could require changing recent history.

THE SWING GAMES

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Earlier this week
MONDAY Mississippi State Hopes to Take the Next Step
TUESDAY Has Anyone Seen Mississippi State's All-World RB?; Three Things We Know and Don't Know About Mississippi State

at HOUSTON | Oct. 9
The Cougars were on their way back to Earth last season when they defeated the Western Division Bulldogs 31-24. The Mississippi State loss included (like seemingly all SEC games last year) an officiating controversy. Look for Mullen and Co. to try to make the officiating a moot point this year. In that case, the defense will need to improve: Houston returns nine offensive starters from a team that rang up an FBS-high 563.4 ypg in total offense; the 553 yards of offense in Starkville wasn't far off the pace.

KENTUCKY | Oct. 30
State is 2-3 against the Wildcats over their last five games, which is only surprising when you consider that Kentucky has been average the last few years while Mississippi State has often been awful. State's 31-24 win in Lexington last year was the first game the Western Division Bulldogs won that they "shouldn't have." Kentucky is the kind of team that Mississippi State should be able to defeat: An anemic offense and a questionable defense. If they lose this one, it probably means the entire season is going the wrong way.

OLE MISS | Nov. 27
This looks like a rebuilding year for the Rebels, giving the Bulldogs a chance to win two in a row against Ole Miss for the first time since 1998-99 (and only the second time since World War II). But Houston Nutt's team will also be looking for revenge after a 14-point loss in 2009 that put a fitting coda on a disappointing season. If State comes into the game with five wins, knocking them out of postseason consideration will be an especially sweet chance at revenge.

GOING FOR MORE

AUBURN | Sept. 9
Last year's 49-24 shootout in Auburn's favor was almost enough to make everyone forget about the 3-2 game in 2008. Almost. The two combined for almost 886 yards of total offense -- 589 of them belonging to the Tigers. Gene Chizik and Dan Mullen are both expected to produce tangible signs of improvement in their second years at their respective schools; this game could go a long way toward meeting those expectations for Mullen.

at LSU | Sept. 18
These teams have played two relatively close games since the 45-0 demolition the Bayou Bengals unleashed in 2007 to begin their national-title run. Indeed, last season, Chad Jones was all that stood between Mississippi State and an early signature win for Mullen. The Western Division Bulldogs haven't defeated LSU since Gerry DiNardo's last season (1999) and haven't won in Baton Rouge since 1991, the beginning of the Curley Hallman Era.

ARKANSAS | Nov. 20
In what might have been the worst passing game for State all season (49 yards -- total), the Razorbacks won 42-21 last year. The Hogs are supposed to be the surprise team of the SEC West, but if the Bulldogs were to upset that apple cart in late November, it could mean a major bowl berth in January. I wouldn't count on it, but the possibility is there.

OTHER GAMES

9.4.10 | MEMPHIS One of the SEC teams in Mississippi apparently has to begin their season with a game against the Tigers.

9.25.10 | GEORGIA The other Dawgs will be wrapping up a three-game, SEC-opening stretch that also includes at South Carolina and vs. Arkansas.

10.2.10 | ALCORN STATE If there's anyone in the league (besides Vanderbilt) who gets a pass for scheduling a cupcake, it's Mississippi State.

10.16.10 | at FLORIDA Dan Mullen returns to Gainesville.

10.23.10 | UAB Did Mississippi State join Conference USA and just not bother to tell anyone about it?

11.13.10 | at ALABAMA The Tide shellacked State last year (31-3) and will look to do so again this season.