Mississippi State, Sun Belt power? Breaking down a fantasy realignment scenario

Joel Coleman

There's been a lot going on in the state of Mississippi recently. From the coronavirus pandemic to the arguments over the state flag, a ton of serious stuff has been happening. So let's all take a break and have some fun shall we?

On Monday, Sports Illustrated's Pat Forde wrote a fantasy piece in which he essentially blew up college football as we all know it and realigned the whole thing geographically. READ FORDE'S FULL ARTICLE BY CLICKING HERE.

In Forde's scenario, he divided the country into 10 different conferences with 12 teams each. The schedule for each team would consist of a round-robin against all in-conference teams, then one non-conference game per year.

The conferences are all a mixture of current Power 5 teams and lower-level teams. Again, Forde realigned things geographically, which would lower travel costs and such. The 10 conference champions and two at-large teams would then advance into a 12-team playoff to determine a national champion. There'd still be bowl games for non-playoff teams, but fewer of them. Here are all the highlights of this entire idea, as outlined by Forde in his original article:

  • A 120-school ecosystem, with 11 current FBS members relegated to FCS and one elevated from that level. Congratulations to North Dakota State; condolences to UTEP, Texas State, UTSA, South Alabama, Louisiana-Monroe, Bowling Green, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Coastal Carolina, Troy and Liberty. (Relegation/elevation can be revisited every three seasons.)
  • Ten leagues, each with 12 members, each designed to maximize proximity and reduce travel demands and costs. All current conference structures are broken and reassembled. There are no more than eight Power 5 programs in a single new conference, and no fewer than four. And there are no independents—yes, Notre Dame is in a conference.
  • In football, each school will play a full round-robin schedule plus one nonconference game (no FCS opponents). The nonconference opponent will be locked in for a minimum of four seasons before there is an opt-out to schedule someone different. There will be no conference championship games.
  • All 10 conference champions, plus two at-large teams chosen by a selection committee, advance to the expanded College Football Playoff. The teams are seeded by the committee. The top four receive a first-round bye, while seeds 5–8 host seeds 9–12 at their home stadiums the first weekend of December. Quarterfinals are played the next week at the home stadiums of seeds 1–4. The semifinals and championship game are conducted under the current CFP format.
  • There still will be bowl games for the teams that don’t make the CFP. Just fewer of them, which nobody should mind.
  • The conferences will work for basketball and other sports as well—in fact, it will be better for nonrevenue sports in terms of travel cost savings. The 230-odd non-FBS programs that are part of NCAA Division I will remain aligned pretty much where they already are, with a few exceptions.

Before we get to how Mississippi State would fare, let's go ahead and take a look at how Forde aligned all 10 conferences:

So what chances would Mississippi State have in Forde's make-believe situation? Well, the Bulldogs would likely face a similar uphill climb to what they battle now. 

Why is that? Just take a look at where Forde placed the Bulldogs (and who he placed them with) in his new-look Sun Belt Conference. The team in parenthesis would be that team's non-conference opponent:

Sun Belt Conference

–LSU (Florida)
–Auburn (Georgia)
–Alabama (Tennessee)
–Mississippi State (Texas A&M)
–Arkansas (Texas)
–Mississippi (Vanderbilt)
–Tulane (Rice)
–Memphis (UCF)
–Arkansas State (Tulsa)
–Louisiana Tech (Baylor)
–Southern Miss (North Texas)
–Louisiana-Lafayette (Texas Tech)

As you can see, there's a tremendous amount of current SEC West flavor in this league. The only team from the SEC West of today that isn't included in Forde's Sun Belt is Texas A&M. And wouldn't you know it, that's the team Forde has the Bulldogs battling in their non-conference game.

So a fantasy MSU schedule in this scenario might look something like this:

  • Game 1 - MSU vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
  • Game 2 - MSU vs. LSU
  • Game 3 - MSU vs Southern Miss
  • Game 4 - MSU vs Auburn
  • Game 5 - MSU vs. Louisiana Tech
  • Game 6 - MSU vs. Alabama
  • Game 7 - MSU vs. Arkansas State
  • Game 8 - MSU vs. Arkansas
  • Game 9 - MSU vs. Texas A&M
  • Game 10 - MSU vs. Memphis
  • Game 11 - MSU vs. Tulane
  • Game 12 - MSU vs. Ole Miss

Basically, it appears MSU would have a schedule that could almost pass for the one it currently plays yearly, just with no Kentucky or the rotating opponent from the current SEC East. Given the fact Kentucky has built itself a strong football program under Mark Stoops, and sometimes the rotating opponent can be a power like Georgia or Florida, a good case can be made MSU's schedule lightens up in Forde's version of college football.

As for the exact order of the games or which contests are at home/on the road, who knows? This is just for fun after all. So lets just run down the schedule and project how the Bulldogs might do against such a slate if this kind of thing happened in the upcoming season:

  • Game 1 - MSU vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (WIN)
  • Game 2 - MSU vs. LSU (LOSS)
  • Game 3 - MSU vs Southern Miss (WIN)
  • Game 4 - MSU vs Auburn (TOSS-UP)
  • Game 5 - MSU vs. Louisiana Tech (WIN)
  • Game 6 - MSU vs. Alabama (LOSS)
  • Game 7 - MSU vs. Arkansas State (WIN)
  • Game 8 - MSU vs. Arkansas (WIN)
  • Game 9 - MSU vs. Texas A&M (TOSS-UP)
  • Game 10 - MSU vs. Memphis (WIN)
  • Game 11 - MSU vs. Tulane (WIN)
  • Game 12 - MSU vs. Ole Miss (TOSS-UP)

If this projection is right, State would win at least seven games on this schedule, lose at least two and then comes the three toss-ups that would make or break things. It's a very similar situation MSU seems to frequently find itself in. 

The Auburn game, which on a yearly basis feels like a tipping point to MSU's season, would again be just that. If the Bulldogs were to win that one, it'd seem likely they could also at least win the Egg Bowl. Boom, there's a nine-win season for head coach Mike Leach and company (or a 10-win campaign if they swept the toss-ups and beat Texas A&M). Conversely it's not unreasonable to think a loss to Auburn might mean State also loses to Texas A&M and possibly Ole Miss. So maybe it's a 7-5 year, or 6-6 if MSU slips up somewhere else.

And remember, there are fewer bowls with this realignment, so a six-win year might mean no postseason at all.

What about beyond one season? What would be the long-term impact on Mississippi State if this realignment was actually a real thing?

The question likely comes down to figuring out if schools like Louisiana-Lafayette and Tulane and Southern Miss start recruiting at a higher clip than they currently do, given that they'd be on somewhat equal footing in a conference with the big boys. It feels pretty safe to say Alabama, LSU and Auburn will probably remain consistently competitive. For Mississippi State's longterm well-being, they couldn't afford to have the games in this new-look league that are against current lower-level teams become toss-ups. If MSU could simply maintain superiority over Louisiana-Lafayette, Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech, Arkansas State, Memphis and Tulane, the Bulldogs are sitting on at least a .500 season each year.

The guess here is that overall, little would change from the present for Mississippi State if all this were to actually be a reality. The Bulldogs would probably consistently be a middle-of-the-pack group in Forde's Sun Belt, finishing anywhere from fourth to sixth most years and hoping Alabama, LSU or Auburn had down years on occasion so State could possibly climb higher. And keep in mind, two at-large teams would get into the new-look, 12-team College Football Playoff. If MSU could just find a way to finish second in a division with Alabama, LSU and Auburn, seems like that might give the Bulldogs a good chance to get in.

So what say you? How do you think Mississippi State would fare if this all came to pass and was a real thing? Let's talk about it either in the comments below or in Cowbell Corner's community section!

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Comments (2)
No. 1-1

Where is Vanderbilt in this scenario?