The SEC has a new mandate requiring its teams to schedule at least one out-of-conference opponent from the "Power 5" conferences each season. For teams with permanent in-state rivalries in the ACC, that decree didn't mean much. But schools like Mississippi State are now taking a noticeable step up.
Since 2006, Ole Miss and Mississippi State have had the most years (three) without scheduling a power conference opponent. In 2012, the Bulldogs swept Jackson State, Troy, South Alabama and Middle Tennessee State. This season they'll face Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama, and Tennessee-Martin.
But since the league introduced the rule in the spring, MSU has locked in one-and-one deals with Arizona, NC State, and is "close" to finishing up an agreement for a one-and-one against Kansas State.
Competing in the brutal SEC west, MSU traditionally built schedules with bowl eligibility as its paramount concern. But head coach Dan Mullen's steady rebuilding of the Bulldogs has coincided with the league's concerns about public perception, as the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 have all opted to move to a nine-game schedule.
"Now it's a different approach than we've taken to scheduling," Mullen said at SEC Media Days. "We've tried to play a lot of regional games. Good or bad, one reason we do that, is these are young kids whose parents come to every game. If we're playing a bunch of games on the West Coast, their parents can't see them play. We're gonna schedule who's out there. We'll go play teams that are out there. We played Oklahoma State last year in Houston. I don't think it was that we were against doing that. It was that we were trying to find regional games."
Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin has spent the offseason working the phones -- and Twitter -- to lock in games, but according to Stricklin, the mandate alone is not enough.
"We've found some difficulty in the process. Teams certainly might want to schedule a SEC team, but to look at a team like Mississippi State that's been successful, they might not want to play us or feel like it's not enough of a sexy matchup."
Stricklin still has work to do. The Bulldogs still need to schedule a Power 5 team for 2016 and 2017.
"We've already contacted all 51 teams [ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Notre Dame] and we're still trying to work something out. It's not easy sometimes," Stricklin said.