The game this weekend, and the yearly matchup with Mississippi State, has always been an intriguing spot on the schedule. The reason is for the SEC West opponents who get the Bulldogs every year, they almost always consider them to be the worst program in that division. There are certainly years where Ole Miss is worse, or Arkansas is worse, but overall Mississippi State is the worst team in that division. UK was lucky in many regards that MSU became our yearly cross-divisional opponent for that reason.
On the East side of the league, Vanderbilt is generally considered the dog of the division, although UK has fallen into that spot in stretches. But considering UK’s winning record over Vandy since the division split in 1992, I’d like to think that the ‘Dores are the worst team. So, when it comes to analyzing the football schedule, we almost always say the game that you just can’t lose is Vanderbilt.
Which brings us back to Mississippi State. If we are in agreement that the Dogs are the worst team in the west, why don’t we consider them as a “must-win” as much as we do Vanderbilt? I am not saying that traditionally they are as bad as Vanderbilt, but let’s not act like their tradition is Alabama, LSU, or Auburn’s. They are a mid-tier to bottom-tier football program. In fact, UK has the 3rd most wins against MSU compared to all other SEC programs since 1992:
Vanderbilt (14): 96, 97, 98, 99, 01, 02, 04, 05, 06, 07, 09, 10, 14, 16
South Carolina (10): 92, 93, 95, 98, 99, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17
Mississippi State (9): 93, 96, 98, 02, 03, 05, 06, 08, 16
LSU (5): 92, 93, 95, 98, 99, 07
Arkansas (4): 99, 02, 07, 08
Ole Miss (3): 93, 06, 11
Georgia (3): 96, 06, 09
Missouri (3): 15, 16, 17
Alabama (1): 97
Auburn (1): 09
Tennessee (1): 11
Florida: 0 wins since 1992
Texas A&M: have not played since 1992
So here is my question as we look at Saturday’s game: WHY SHOULDN’T WE LOOK AT MISSISSIPPI STATE LIKE WE DO VANDERBILT? I think if we are to believe that UK is an up and coming SEC contender, a team will a blossoming football program, we should EXPECT to beat Mississippi State. We should expect to have a winning record over time against them, like we do Vanderbilt. We should expect that going to freaking Starkville, Mississippi is not some grueling task.
Are we going to begin to build the mentality, as a fanbase, that this program is legit? If so, and if we are to push away the defeatest attitude of the last 30 years, we have to start thinking Mississippi State is more than just a “winnable” game. We have to start thinking it is a “must win” game.