STARKVILLE, Miss. - In a season where expectations are high and national preseason rankings are likely, Mississippi State's 31-game schedule features six teams that garnered NCAA Tournament berths and another that won the CollegeInsider.com title.
It's also an action-packed slate that welcomes 15 teams to Humphrey Coliseum, starting with the season opener against Rider at 8 p.m. on Nov. 13 and concluding with SEC foe Tennessee on March 6.
Sandwiched in the middle are eight non-conference games away from the Hump, including the Dec. 22 showdown with Centenary that will unfold at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson, marking the seventh time in the last eight years the Bulldogs have played in the state's capital city.
Mississippi State, which finished 23-13 last year en route to the SEC Tournament title and the program's 10th trip to the NCAA Tournament, also plays at Houston (Dec. 19), San Diego (Dec. 31) and Western Kentucky (Jan. 4).
In addition, the Bulldogs face Richmond in the opening round of the South Padre Island Invitational on Nov. 27, followed by either Old Dominion, which won the CollegeInsider.com crown last spring, or Missouri on Nov. 28.
Then on Dec. 10 in Tampa, Fla., the Bulldogs battle DePaul on ESPN 2 in the SEC/Big East Challenge before traveling to Anaheim, Calif., on Dec. 12 for a much-anticipated showdown with perennial power UCLA in the John R. Wooden Classic.
"No. 1, I think it's very obvious we have a very challenging non-conference schedule with eight of our 15 games away from the Hump," said 12th-year MSU coach Rick Stansbury, whose 231 victories are the most in school history. "But it's also a schedule that will help prepare us for SEC play."
Following the season opener against Rider, MSU welcomes Southeastern Louisiana (Nov. 19), Bethune-Cookman (Nov. 21) and Texas-Pan American (Nov. 24) to Humphrey Coliseum.
In December, St. Bonaventure (Dec. 5) makes the return trip to the Hump one year after the Bulldogs posted a 76-71 victory against the Bonnies in New York. Then on Dec. 16, MSU plays host to Wright State in game televised by ESPN2. The final non-conference home outing has Mississippi Valley State visiting on Dec. 28.
State will also host two exhibition games on Oct. 31 against Oklahoma City and Nov. 7 against Georgetown (Ky.).
"It's a challenging schedule, but one that will make us better," Stansbury said.
As for the SEC portion of the schedule, thanks to the league's new mega deal with ESPN, all of Mississippi State's conference games for the 2009-10 season are guaranteed to be televised, with eight appearing on either CBS, ESPN or ESPN2.
The Bulldogs open on the road at arch-rival Ole Miss on Jan. 9 in a 12:30 p.m. tilt televised regionally by the syndicated ESPN Network. MSU then makes its home debut on Thursday, Jan. 14 against Arkansas on ESNPU.
Two days later, the Dawgs host Georgia on either ESPN or ESPN2. There are also two other games - Arkansas (Jan. 28) and home against Ole Miss (Feb. 11) - that will appear on either ESPN or ESPN2.
Mississippi State is assured to appear on ESPN at home against Kentucky (Feb. 16) for a Super Tuesday showdown, at South Carolina (Feb. 27) and back at home for the regular-season finale against Tennessee (March 6) in a rematch of last year's SEC Tournament final.
Mississippi State will also be on CBS Jan. 23 at Alabama, as well as on Fox Sports Net at the Hump against Auburn (Feb. 13) and on CSS against Alabama (Feb. 24).
As for the remainder of the schedule, MSU has five additional outings on the regional ESPN Network, home vs. LSU (Jan. 30), at Vanderbilt (Feb. 3), at Florida (Feb. 6), at LSU (Feb. 20) and at Auburn (March 3).
"Like always, when you get to conference play, it's always challenging," Stansbury said. "Like most years, the SEC, from top to bottom, will be one of the most competitive leagues in the country. It's also exciting to know with the new TV package, every SEC game will be televised."