July 16, 2013 1:31:33 AM
STARKVILLE -- For the first time since 2007, Mississippi State University will open up its college football season with a Bowl Championship series opponent.
Normally, the opener for the Bulldogs has involved either a Football Championship Series opponent, a struggling University of Memphis opponent and Louisiana Tech University.
After MSU finished the 2012 season with five losses in six games, the players have known it's 46 days until the Bulldogs arrive at Reliant Stadium to face Oklahoma State University.
"There's already a countdown after the way we finished the season last year," MSU junior tight end Malcolm Johnson said. "From the moment we walked off the field with that loss in Jacksonville (in the 2013 Gator Bowl), we knew that would be our next chance to show what we're capable of on a big stage."
The Bulldogs will kickoff the 2013 campaign against Oklahoma State in the Texas Kickoff Classic at Reliant Stadium in Houston, and the game will be televised nationally on ABC and ESPN2. ABC will carry the game for much of the country, with the game on ESPN2 in other areas, giving the contest a national reach.
MSU speaks Wednesday at the Southeastern Conference Media Days, held in Birmingham, Ala. ESPNU will have live coveage.
"When we first began talking about the opportunity to participate in the Texas Kickoff Classic, we knew there would be a large national appeal to this game," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "The fact that it'll be available on ABC and will be a nationally televised game just reaffirms our thoughts."
Mullen is 4-0 in season openers since taking the job in Starkville but this will be only his second away from Davis Wade Stadium and first on national television.
MSU is slated to get a slightly greater than $2 million payday as a part of opening the 2013 season at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
"This is a great opportunity for our team to open the 2013 season in an NFL stadium," MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin said. "It provides our fans a unique destination for the season opener. We have a great fan base in Texas, as well, who will be excited to see the Bulldogs play in their home state."
n MSU linebackers Skinner and McKinney named to national watch lists; OG Jackson named to Lombardi Award watch list: MSU linebackers Deontae Skinner and Benardrick McKinney were named to the Dick Butkus Award watch list Monday morning.. MSU also had preseason All-America selection left guard Gabe Jackson selected to the Lombardi Award watch list.
The Butkus Award, which honors the best linebacker in the country, named Skinner to the list after the 250-pounder racked up 62 total tackles as a junior in 2012.
The Macon native also tallied 5.0 tackles for loss, three pass breakups, two quarterback hurries and a forced fumble.
"I treat him and prepare him like he's going to be an All-SEC player, an All-American, and that should be his goal," MSU defensive coordinator Geoff Collins said of Skinner.
"That should be all of their goals, is to reach those kind of standards."
Joining Skinner on the watch list is McKinney, a 2013 preseason All-SEC linebacker by Phil Steele and Athlon Sports, after he finished sixth in the SEC last year in tackles per game. Last week, the Tunica native was picked to the watch list Bednarik Award, given annually to the best defensive player in college football.
"It's a blessing to be an All-American and something that when you're a kid you grow up dreaming about but not really thinking it's possible," McKinney said. "All I wanted as a kid was to play for a big college and then my goals changed the minute I got here."
MSU was one of only two SEC schools to have multiple players on the Butkus Award watch list and the Southeastern Conference led all leagues with nine selections to the list.
Semi-finalists for the award will be named Oct. 28, finalists Nov. 26 and winners will be notified on or before Dec. 10.
Jackson was named to the watch list for the Lombardi Award, which is awarded yearly to the best lineman or linebacker in college football. The Liberty native made the list for the second-consecutive year after earning All-America honors as a junior in 2012 by Phil Steele, Scout.com, Pro Football Weekly and Sports Illustrated. Jackson, a 2013 preseason All-American by most publications, is widely considered the number one offensive guard prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft. Last week Jackson was also listed on the watch list for the Outland Trophy, which is awarded to the best interior lineman in college football, as selected by the Football Writers Association of America. The SEC also had 18 lineman on the Lombardi Award list. The award will be held on Dec. 11, 2013 at the Wortham Center in Houston, Texas.
n Former MSU OL Quentin Saulsberry arrested on DUI charge in May: Former MSU offensive lineman Quentin Saulsberry was charged on May 19 with driving while under the influence of alcohol and failure to drive in a single lane in Arapahoe County, Colo., according to an Arapahoe Sheriff's Office report.
According to a report in The Denver Post, deputies responded shortly after 2 a.m. to a caller who saw a truck weaving and "unable to maintain the lanes" near East Broncos Parkway and South Jordan Road. When a deputy talked to the caller in person, the caller pointed to Saulsberry's truck as the one that had been weaving.
Saulsberry told the deputy that he only had one beer at a friend's house, but the deputy wrote in a report that Saulsberry "had slow speech, his eyes were bloodshot and watery, and he had a strong odor of an unknown alcoholic beverage on his person." Saulsberry submitted to a blood test, the report said, but the results were redacted.
Saulsberry signed a one-year, $405,000 contract in January. He spent last year on the team's practice squad but was suspended four weeks during the season for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
"We have been aware of Quentin Saulsberry's arrest and will continue to monitor the legal developments related to this matter, which is subject to review under the NFL's policies," Broncos spokesman Patrick Smyth told the Post Monday.
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5. Coaches' All-Southeastern Conference team COLLEGE SPORTS