July 23, 2014 10:00:58 PM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State coach Rick Ray doubled his win total in non-conference games during his second season in Starkville, improving from 5-7 in non-league games in 2012-13 to 10 non-conference wins in 2013-14.
On Wednesday, the school released its non-conference schedule for the 2014-15 season, a schedule that includes nine games within the state and gives Ray a chance to further improve on his 15-10 mark in games played prior to the Bulldogs' Southeastern Conference schedule.
Ray's third season leading the Bulldogs will open at home with a Nov. 14 game against Western Carolina, and MSU's non-conference slate includes games against Florida State, Oregon State and Utah State. MSU will play eight games at home and a ninth - Dec. 20 against South Carolina Upstate - will be held in Jackson.
"Our non-conference schedule is an indication of the direction of our program," said Ray, who is 24-41 in two seasons at MSU. "As our team matures and our talent level increases, our schedule reflects the belief in my team to accept bigger and better challenges."
The Bulldogs, who return all five starters in Ray's third season, will open with four consecutive home games - Western Carolina, Miss. Valley State, Utah State, Clayton State - before traveling to face St. Louis in the Corpus Christi Challenge in Corpus Christi, Texas.
The non-conference slate also includes a road trip to face Oregon State, which finished at 16-16 overall and in 10th place in the Pac-12. The Beavers return two of their top three scorers from a year ago, led by Devon Collier's average of 13.4 points per game.
Mississippi State, by contrast, returns five of its top six scorers, losing only senior Colin Borchert and his 8.7 points per outing. Junior guard Craig Sword led the Bulldogs with 13.7 per night as a sophomore, while fellow rising junior Gavin Ware, a 6-foot-9 forward from Starkville, averaged 10 points per game.
MSU will round out its non-conference slate against Atlantic Coast Conference foe Florida State, which finished 22-14 a year ago and returns three of five starters. The meeting will be the fifth in Starkville between the two schools, and MSU owns a 3-1 advantage.
"I also want to provide a great fan experience by having a team of the caliber of Florida State come in and play in The Hump," said Ray. "This schedule will not only prepare us for the SEC but also prepare us to have success."
Follow Dispatch sports writer on Twitter @BWonStateBeat
1. MSU vs. Southern Mississippi: Five Things to Watch COLLEGE SPORTS
2. Clark helps MSU's operations running smoothly COLLEGE SPORTS
3. Oak HIll Academy looks to stop skid in series with Heritage Academy HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
4. Game of Week: Starkville, West Point renew HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. New Hope looks for continued improvement against Columbus HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS