By DANNY P. SMITH
The Mississippi State Bulldogs have played Kentucky in football every year since the Southeastern Conference expanded in 1992.
Some games in the series have meant more than others, but as the years pass, it seems the importance of the matchup between the Bulldogs and Wildcats increases.
This year is no different.
Both MSU and Kentucky come into Saturday's 6 p.m. outing in Lexington with overall records of 3-4. The winner of the game will improve its chance of reaching a postseason bowl game, while the loser faces a real uphill struggle to qualify for the postseason.
If the Bulldogs do not beat the Wildcats, they are looking at trying to get three victories in the final four games (UT-Martin, Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss) to become bowl eligible. To be honest, there seems to be only two winnable games on that list.
Evening the mark at 4-4 is priority No. 1 for MSU head coach Dan Mullen.
"We need to get back to .500," Mullen said. "This could jump start the second half of the season and get us in a position for a great bowl game."
The Bulldogs would like nothing better than to follow-up last January's appearance and win at the Gator Bowl with another bowl opportunity somewhere this season.
MSU has had some difficult losses this season to some pretty good football teams that were ranked at some point during the season. It really can't afford a slip up at Kentucky, which started the season with two wins, then had a four-game losing streak before beating Jacksonville State 38-14 last Saturday.
The Wildcats have four games against SEC competition remaining on their schedule with Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Georgia and Tennessee. That's going to be a difficult row for Kentucky.
Everybody in the SEC can't go bowling and there are four squads in the conference that have already staked its claim in the postseason.
Alabama (8-0), LSU (8-0), Arkansas (6-1) and South Carolina (6-1) know it will be playing somewhere after the regular season has concluded, while Georgia (5-2) and Auburn (5-3) will be in that position with one more victory.
Another reason why the Bulldogs need to defeat the Wildcats is to pick up an SEC victory. An 0-5 mark in the league going into the last third of the season will not be very attractive for MSU.
Danny P. Smith is sports editor and columnist for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily News or its staff.