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Mullen agrees future openers against nationally-ranked teams could be beneficial




Matt Stevens


STARKVILLE - One instantly gets the impression from Mississippi State University coach Dan Mullen that win or lose Saturday, playing a national foe on Saturday is a good thing for the program in the long run.  


The game against No. 13 Oklahoma State University will be the first time MSU will open a season against a BCS non-conference opponent under Mullen. It also will be the first time in a decade MSU has played a power opponent. MSU lost to the University of Oregon 42-34 in 2003. Mullen and Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin are two eras removed from Jackie Sherrill and Larry Templeton. 


Mullen, who is in his fifth year in Starkville, is projecting an energetic message about opening the season at Reliant Stadium in Houston in front of a national television audience (WKDH-WTVA / ESPN2). Mullen, who spoke about the topic Monday in his media conference at the Seal Family Football Complex has used words like "excited, motivated, challenge, and honor" to describe the Aug. 31 game against OSU. 


"This is a great game for us," Mullen said. "The opportunity to play in this type of game is special no matter what the outcome. It is a great honor for us to be invited to play in this game and shows where our program is in that light to be invited." 


Stricklin told The Dispatch weeks after the game was announced he and Mullen spoke for several days about whether to accept ESPN's invitation to play in the Texas Kickoff Classic. Mullen convinced Stricklin his team would be prepared and liked the thought of going into the game with fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler Russell. 


Stricklin said Monday, while MSU's non-conference schedule is full up to 2016, he would be open to possibly moving games around to accommodate another nationally-televised season opener. Stricklin said Monday the direction of where the SEC schedule goes in the future between the typical eight-game slate or a nine-game schedule.  


"I think we'd be open to it," Stricklin said. "There's a lot of variables in something like that but I think the direction of the SEC will go a long way. If it's a nine-game schedule, we won't be as open to playing a game like this for obvious reasons." 


Mullen hasn't been involved in a high profile non-conference matchup since 2008, when as offensive coordinator at University of Florida he helped the Gators beat the University of Miami 26-3 in Gainesville, Fla. Then-Florida coach Urban Meyer and Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley saw the positives of playing the game. 


"I probably better answer that question on Sept. 1, the day after that game, to see how we prefer it better," Mullen joked July 17 at SEC Media Days. 


MSU junior offensive tackle Blaine Clausell said he'd rather open the 2013 season with a tough opponent to properly assess where the Bulldogs stack up among the national elite instead of a Football Championship Subdivision opponent such as Jackson State University.  


"I'd rather play a hard game like this (because) you might get an aura of confidence that's not really there," Clausell said. "When you go out and play a opponent like this, you know how the season is going to go." 


In 2007 and 2009, OSU opened the season against the University of Georgia. OSU lost 35-14 in Athens, Ga., in 2007 but won 24-10 in Stillwater, Okla., in 2009, a game that christened Boone Pickens Stadium. 


In 13 years under Les Miles and Mike Gundy, OSU has opened the season against a non-BCS opponent at home four times: Montana State University (2005), Missouri State University (2006), University of Louisiana-Lafayette (2011), and Savannah State University (2012). 


"We've always talked, and we'll continue to talk," Oklahoma State Athletics Director Mike Holder said of Gundy. "He wants to play all his games in Stillwater, and I'm in the same camp. But it's not always practical or possible to do that. ... Whenever possible, we're going to schedule in Stillwater." 


Eight SEC schools are opening up the 2013 college football season on national television (meaning everyone in the country can watch the game on a local cable package):  




- North Carolina at South Carolina on ESPN 


- Ole Miss at Vanderbilt on ESPN  


- Rice at Texas A&M on ESPN  


- Mississippi State at Oklahoma State on ABC/ESPN2 


- Alabama vs. Virginia Tech in the Georgia Dome on ESPN  


- Georgia at Clemson on ABC 


- LSU vs. TCU on ESPN  




"There's a lot of advantages for a game like this for us," Stricklin said Monday. "The exposure factor is big and playing in a NFL stadium is special. We just know the SEC schedule is tough too and you have to be smart with how you manage the non-conference part of things." 




All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.



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