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Dan Mullen expresses concern of getting major conference schools to play in Starkville


Mississippi State Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin (left) and MSU coach Dan Mullen (right) will have to continue to negotatiate with power conferences schools to get them to play in Starkville

Mississippi State Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin (left) and MSU coach Dan Mullen (right) will have to continue to negotatiate with power conferences schools to get them to play in Starkville


Matt Stevens


STARKVILLE -- In the eyes of Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, it's not a matter of wanting high profile non-conference opponents. It's about not being able to get them to come to Starkville.  


The Bulldogs head coach expressed his desire on the Southeastern Conference to get more home-and-home contracts with schools from the Power 4 conference now that was made a requirement this past weekend. The Southeastern Conference announced Sunday announced the voting approval of a format for future football scheduling to include a strength-of-schedule component requiring all schools to play a school from either the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12 opponent on an annual basis. 


"We've tried to schedule teams from all the five major conferences in the past," Mullen said. "We haven't had a lot of luck in teams wanting to schedule games with us." 


Other than a 2013 Texas Kickoff Classic game against Oklahoma State in Reliant Stadium in Houston brokered by ABC/ESPN and provided MSU with a financial payout of at least seven figures, MSU likely wouldn't ever consider scheduling that type of matchup without calling the Troy, UAB and South Alabama's of the world.  


"My hope is we play a really good high-profile non-conference opponent every December or January," Stricklin said in May 2010 while referencing a bowl game. "I want to schedule in a way that allows us the opportunity to do that." 


While he wouldn't comment on the discussion or thought process that led to his approval vote, Stricklin clearly showed without saying that he'd rather play Virginia or Illinois or Washington State than a ninth SEC opponent that the league would dictate who and where that game would take place. Stricklin apparently has the backing of his head coach in regards to playing a tougher non-conference schedule that will now include a major conference opponent. MSU, Ole Miss, Missouri, Auburn and Alabama are the SEC schools that currently do not have an agreement already in place for 2016 to play a non-conference game against a school in these power four conference schools. Since 2008, MSU and Ole Miss have scheduled the least amount games against the power conferences by playing three each.  


"We've reached out to a lot of different people and never got a lot interest in teams wanting to play home and homes with us from the bigger conferences but we're going to continue to do so in the future," Mullen said.  


After MSU lost 21-3 to the Cowboys in August 2013, Stricklin took to Twitter apologizing to all Bulldogs fans for scheduling such a difficult opening game to the season.  


"I believe this @HailStateFBall team is good," Stricklin tweeted after the loss. "Tough foe in game one (that's on me). Thank you fans for the support. See you at #DavisWade!" 


After some time to think about the neutral site matchup, Mullen looks back at the game against Oklahoma State last year with positive memories despite the result. He said on the teleconference it was something he'd be for doing again. 


"In retrospect in the injury department it didn't rep well for us in that particular game," Mullen said. "For our kids, I think that was a great game play in. It was an honor to get invited to go play in that game. Hopefully we get to do that more." 


Each SEC team will continue to play eight conference football games per season, to include six games against division opponents and two games against non-division opponents. One of the non-division opponents will be a permanent annual opponent and the other non-division opponent will rotate each year. 


MSU has played three games against a power conference school and is 0-3 in those contests. In 2008 and 2009, MSU played in a home-and-home series against Georgia Tech. Ole Miss scheduled a game against Wake Forest and a home-and-home series against Texas where they went 2-1 in that time. 


The Dispatch researched the schedule agreements of schools in the power five conferences and learned only nine potential opponents exist to schedule Mississippi State in 2016. Only nine schools in the other four power conferences don't already have a contract in place with a power conference school: Boston College, Baylor, Kansas State, West Virginia, Maryland, Purdue, Arizona, Utah and Washington State.  


"By 2017, we are very flexible with our football schedule so I'm confident we can find things that will make sense for us and work.," Stricklin said in a phone interview Sunday. "It's not like going to grocery store if you're not one of those schools that does it every year. You must find a brand that wants you too." 


The most likely possible short-term solution for Stricklin and MSU is to call former MSU Director of Athletics Greg Byrne, who left MSU for the same position at Arizona, and schedule a home-and-home series against the Wildcats. The Wildcats, currently coached by former West Virginia and Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, have only BYU and FCS member Grambling State on its 2016 schedule. In 2017, Arizona only has signed deals with Houston and UTEP. MSU and Arizona have never met in football and the last time the Wildcats faced a SEC opponent was a 45-3 loss to LSU on Sept. 9, 2006 in Baton Rouge, La. Arizona hasn't defeated a SEC school since a 31-19 win over Auburn on Sept. 11, 1976.  


The moving and shaking of SEC non-conference schedules have already begun with reports surfacing that LSU paid $100,000 to break the contract of a home-and-home series in 2017 and 2020 with North Carolina State.  


Alabama coach Nick Saban said Wednesday the Crimson Tide have some "good opportunities" in 2016 & 2017 to play some really good neutral site games, which haven't been announced. 


Missouri coach Gary Pinkel used a question about future non-conference scheduling to take a not-so-subtle jab at Kansas.  


"We might even want to schedule Kansas one day if they'd like to continue that rivalry," Pinkel said.  




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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