Schedule analysis: Mississippi State

Is the 2013 schedule set up for the Bulldogs to have their fourth straight winning season?

Nonconference opponents (with 2012 records)

Aug. 31: vs. Oklahoma State (8-5), in Houston

Sept. 7: Alcorn State (4-7)

Sept. 21: Troy (5-7)

Oct. 12: Bowling Green (8-5)

SEC home games

Oct. 5: LSU

Oct. 24: Kentucky

Nov. 16: Alabama

Nov. 28: Ole Miss

SEC road games

Sept. 14: at Auburn

Nov. 2: at South Carolina

Nov. 9: at Texas A&M

Nov. 23: at Arkansas, in Little Rock

Gut-check time: It’s right out of the gate. The Texas Football Classic matchup with Oklahoma State will set the tone for the Bulldogs and go a long way toward establishing where this program is in Year No. 5 under Dan Mullen.

Trap game: A very dangerous and experienced Bowling Green team comes to town on Oct. 12, the week after Mississippi State faces LSU at home. The Bulldogs better not be napping, or they’ll be in trouble. Dave Clawson has done an excellent job at Bowling Green, and the Falcons return 18 starters from a team that won eight games a year ago. Ten of those 18 starters will be seniors.

Snoozer: A week after opening the season on a national stage against Oklahoma State, Mississippi State comes back home to get in its licks against FCS foe Alcorn State, which won just four times last season.

Telltale stretch: One look at the month of November is enough to make anybody wince. In back-to-back weeks to kick off the month, the Bulldogs play at South Carolina and at Texas A&M and then come back home to face Alabama on Nov. 16. A third November road trip to face Arkansas in Little Rock is followed by the annual Egg Bowl matchup with Ole Miss in Starkville.

Final analysis: The wheels came off a year ago for the Bulldogs after their 7-0 start. The close to the 2013 season will be equally challenging. Three of their final five games are on the road, and four of their last five opponents could open the season in the top 25. It also doesn't help that a trip to South Carolina replaces a home game with Tennessee this season as Mississippi State’s rotating cross-divisional game. Throw in the season opener against Oklahoma State in Houston, and on paper, it looks like it could be the toughest schedule the Bulldogs have faced under Mullen. The SEC opener against Auburn is crucial. It’s at Jordan-Hare Stadium, but Mississippi State returns home for four straight games after that. It’s doubtful the Bulldogs will start out 7-0 again next season, but they need to find at least five wins in those first seven games to pave the way to a fourth consecutive winning season.