STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — The annual Mississippi State-Kentucky football matchup may never have a place among the Southeastern Conference’s most celebrated rivalries.
But for the Bulldogs (5-2, 1-2 SEC) and Wildcats (4-2, 2-2), it’s become a very important part of the schedule, and a bellwether for which program is rising and which one is struggling.
The programs — squaring off for the 26th straight season — are permanent cross-division opponents under the SEC’s current scheduling setup.
“You kind of know each other and I think that it brings a little different edge,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said.
Mississippi State has won the last six games in the series, though several have been close. It’s no coincidence that the Bulldogs have been a very good program during that stretch, advancing to five straight bowl games for the first time in school history.
Kentucky, on the other hand, hasn’t been to the postseason since 2010.
There’s indicators that streak could be snapped this year: The Wildcats have been competitive in all six games and appear in good position to finish with more than two SEC wins for the first time since 2009.
“The truth is we’re a better football team,” Stoops said. “I think our body of work through half the season makes that pretty evident.”
Mississippi State is trying to build some momentum after a mildly disappointing first half of the season. The Bulldogs missed what would have been a game-winning field goal in a 21-19 loss to undefeated LSU and fell 30-17 to Texas A&M on Oct. 3.
Since then, the Bulldogs have won two straight games over Troy and Louisiana Tech. Now they step back into conference play.
To end its losing streak in the series, Kentucky will likely need a big game from Patrick Towles, who has had an up-and-down season with 1,512 yards passing, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Towles was fantastic in last year’s 45-31 loss against the then No. 1-ranked Bulldogs, throwing for 390 yards, running for 76 more and accounting for four touchdowns.
Mullen said that game opened the Bulldogs’ eyes to how good he can be.
“He had a huge game at their place,” Mullen said. “The best way to trump any quarterback is to have home field advantage, to our student body and fans on their feet making an awful lot of noise, and making it uncomfortable.”
With two SEC losses already, including one to first-place LSU, the Bulldogs are a longshot to win the Western Division.
But a victory over Kentucky would help Mississippi State become an intriguing team in November, especially since it has home games against division rivals Alabama and Mississippi.
“If we play well we have a chance to win the rest of our games,” Mullen said. “If we play poorly, we won’t win anymore. You have to come out and play at an extremely high level to have an opportunity to win when you are playing SEC games.”