We pick back up today with Mississippi State and a closer look at the Bulldogs' 2012 schedule:
Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
Sept. 1: Jackson State (9-2)
Sept. 15: at Troy (3-9)
Sept. 22: South Alabama (6-4)
Oct. 20: Middle Tennessee (2-10)
SEC home games
Sept. 8: Auburn
Oct. 13: Tennessee
Nov. 3: Texas A&M
Nov. 17: Arkansas
SEC road games
Oct. 6: at Kentucky
Oct. 27: at Alabama
Nov. 10: at LSU
Nov. 24: at Ole Miss
Gut-check time: The trips to Alabama and LSU speak for themselves. But the game that sticks out as one of those teeter-totter games is the home date with Arkansas on Nov. 17 -- the week after the Bulldogs visit LSU. Mississippi State took Arkansas to double overtime two years ago at home, but couldn't close the deal. If the Bulldogs are going to make a move in the West, they have to take down at least one of the Big Three. Their best chance will be against the Hogs at home.
Trap game: The Bulldogs' first SEC road game is at Kentucky on Oct. 6. It comes on the heels of a bye week, but there's also a chance they could be 4-0 and riding high at that point -- maybe too high. You can also bet that the Wildcats will view the Bulldogs' visit as one of those games they have to win if they're going to make it to a bowl game in 2012.
Snoozer: Take your pick. The Bulldogs will make the rounds in the Sun Belt Conference with three games. South Alabama, which is transitioning to the FBS ranks, comes to town on Sept. 22.
Telltale stretch: The front end of Mississippi State's schedule looks inviting enough, but that stretch starting the final weekend of October is brutal. The Bulldogs play at Alabama on Oct. 27, come back home the following week to face Texas A&M and go back on the road to face LSU on Nov. 10. It doesn't end there, either. Arkansas visits Scott Field on Nov. 17. That's three preseason top 15 teams in four weeks, and two of those games are on the road.
Final analysis: On one hand, you look at Mississippi State's schedule and grimace. The Bulldogs are one of only two teams in the league that has to play at Alabama and at LSU this coming season. Ole Miss is the other lucky party. What's more, Mississippi State has to face Alabama, LSU and Arkansas all in a span of four weeks. So we'll find out what these Bulldogs are made of in late October and November. There's also reason to be extremely optimistic when you look at the first part of their schedule. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Mississippi State could be 6-1 or even 7-0 when the Bulldogs visit Alabama on Oct. 27. Five of their first seven games are at home, and the two road games are against Troy and Kentucky. Their nonconference slate is ridiculously easy, with three games against Sun Belt Conference teams and a fourth against FCS foe Jackson State. The Bulldogs also go the entire season without having to play back-to-back games away from home. Bottom line: There's going to be a ton of Mississippi State fans restlessly ringing cowbells if the Bulldogs don't win at least eight games.