Mississippi State and Arizona have scheduled a home-and-home football series for the 2022 and 2023 seasons. MSU will travel to Tucson, Arizona to play in 2022 and the Wildcats will play in Starkville the following season. The two schools have never played each other in football.
June 5, 2014 12:20:51 PM
STARKVILLE-- For the first time in their schools history, Mississippi State and Arizona will meet in a non-conference game on the football field.
Sources with ties to both programs confirmed Thursday morning to The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog the two schools have agreed to play a home-and-home series in 2022 and 2023. The first game will be at Arizona Stadium in Tucson and the Wildcats will make a return trip to Davis Wade Stadium the following year.
Mississippi State is expected to announce the deal with Arizona at 1 p.m.
MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin confirmed MSU has non-conference game contracts with Power 5 league opponents for 2018-21 but the school will be waiting to announce those matchups sometime later in the summer.
Arizona always seems like a logical fit for a scheduling partner for MSU once the new Southeastern Conference rules on non-conference opponents were announced on April 27. Greg Byrne, the former MSU Director of Athletics before Stricklin was promoted to the position in Starkville, is Arizona's current Director of Athletics Greg Byrne. When Byrne announced he would take the job in Arizona in early 2010, he campaigned to schedule MSU in many sports, but he understood football could be difficult "because the schedules are done so far in advance."
However, The Dispatch has learned Byrne reached out to Stricklin months ago to do a home-and-home series but MSU's Director of Athletics was just waiting to see what the SEC's scheduling policy would be this spring and basically needed to be assured a nine-game league schedule wasn't coming anytime soon before agreeing to such a contract with a power school such as Arizona.
Starting in 2016 all SEC schools will have to play a school from the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big 12 Conference, the Big Ten Conference, or the Pacific-12 Conference every year. MSU is still in search for such an opponent for its 2016 and 2017 non-conference schedules.
"Clearly we're doing this kind of backwards but we're just not prepared to say we have anything in place right now for those first two years of 2016 and 2017," Stricklin said.
Since Byrne's departure, each of the major three revenue sports will now have played each other in a non-conference game. The Bulldogs baseball team split two games in a tournament at Arizona this past spring and MSU men's basketball defeated Arizona 67-57 in the 2011 2K Classic tournament final in New York City.
While this football series won't be played for at least another eight years and both schools could have different leadership situations by then, Arizona is currently coached by former West Virginia and Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez. Arizona Stadium, the home of their football games currently holds a capacity of 56,037. The stadium sits at an elevation of 2,430 feet above sea level making it a true home field advantage for any school outside the local region playing in Tucson, Arizona.
MSU hasn't played a school from the Pacific 12 Conference in football since losing both games of a home-and-home contract with Oregon in 2002 (36-13 loss to No. 15 Ducks) and 2003 (42-34 loss).
"Gregg is a good friend and it's something we wanted to do but couldn't make it work," Stricklin said. "It's two dates and a school that makes sense for both parties and that's always an attractive option when you put together something like this."
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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