STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — When Mississippi State and Southern Mississippi agreed to a home-and-home football series five years ago, it was hailed as an intriguing matchup between two fairly even programs.
Things have changed drastically.
Now the Bulldogs are a perennial postseason team while the Golden Eagles have fallen off a cliff, losing 23 of their past 24 games over the previous two seasons. Mississippi State will be more than a four-touchdown favorite when it hosts Southern Miss on Saturday at newly renovated Davis Wade Stadium.
Even so, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen isn't taking anything for granted this weekend.
"It's going to be a huge challenge," Mullen said. "... Probably on a national level (this is) a very underrated game, but on a state-wide level a game that has been waiting since 1990 to be played. I think everybody is pretty fired up about it."
Mississippi State's expectations are high this fall after finishing 7-6 last season. Junior quarterback Dak Prescott returns after a stellar first season as the starter and the Bulldogs return nearly their entire starting defense.
Southern Miss — which is led by second-year coach Todd Monken — is still in a state of flux. The Golden Eagles do return sophomore quarterback Nick Mullens and have a deeper roster than last season, when they lost their first 11 games before a 62-27 victory over UAB in the season finale.
The opener against Mississippi State is part of a tough early-season schedule. The Golden Eagles also travel to face Alabama on Sept. 13.
"We have to play good football," Monken said. "We have to take care of the football. We have to try to find a way to get explosive plays. We have to find a way to create turnovers and not give up explosive plays. That is really it. I don't know if there is any individual match up that you say, "Ok, that is our advantage." I don't look at it that way. I look at it as we have to play well."
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