MSU's upset path over LSU

QB Chris Relf will get much of the spotlight, but the Bulldogs' D is the key against LSU. Mark Zerof/US Presswire

The SEC West is the toughest division in college football, and the Mississippi State Bulldogs know it all too well. Coach Dan Mullen took a nice step forward with the program in 2010, winning nine games, including a blowout victory against the Michigan Wolverines in the Gator Bowl. This season presents an opportunity to keep the momentum going for the Bulldogs, if they can just get a breakthrough in the division.

But Mississippi State is 2-9 against the SEC West under Mullen, and both wins came against rival Ole Miss. The Bulldogs fell to the defending national champion Auburn Tigers on Saturday, and the first of three games against SEC West top-10 teams comes Thursday night against the LSU Tigers.

In almost any other conference, the Bulldogs would be a strong contender for a BCS bowl berth. Mississippi State ranked 15th in the final Associated Press poll last year. That would have placed the Bulldogs fourth in the Big Ten, third in the Pac-10 or Big 12, and first in the Big East or ACC. Instead, the Bulldogs finished fifth in their own division.

If the Bulldogs are going to break through, it will take a victory over a team like LSU. And though they may not have the better overall team, the blueprint for victory is clear: Win the field-position battle against LSU, and win the game on value drives.