July 11, 2019 9:36:44 AM
STARKVILLE - After earning its first NCAA Tournament berth in program history, Mississippi State soccer will return to the field for its 25th season on Aug. 22.
MSU has 18 regular-season contests on tap in head coach James Armstrong's first season, with 11 of those scheduled at home. The schedule features nine NCAA Tournament teams from last season, including five that finished in the top 30 of the final RPI.
"We are very excited to announce our fall schedule," Armstrong said. "The diversity and challenge of our non-conference schedule will certainly prepare us for what is always a tough SEC schedule. We cannot wait to get on the field to face these opponents, especially for those games in front of our awesome fans in Starkville."
Before opening the season, State will play two exhibition matches. The Bulldogs will take a trip to Columbus, Georgia, to face Georgia Southern on a neutral pitch at 2 p.m. CT on Aug. 15 before closing the preseason against Southern Miss in Starkville on Aug.17 at 4 p.m.
State revives a long-dormant series with Alabama A&M to open the year at home on Aug. 22 at 6 p.m. Sitting at 99 home wins in program history, MSU will look to open the Armstrong era with two milestones in that contest. MSU has won their opening game in each of the last three years.
The Bulldogs will then play three of their four first-time opponents in a row when they host BYU the following Saturday, Aug. 24 at 7 p.m. The Dawgs then hit the road for their only non-conference away games.
After an Aug. 30 matchup at Eastern Washington, MSU will be the first SEC team ever to travel to Moscow, Idaho, for a single-game meeting with the Idaho Vandals. The Bulldogs will play indoor soccer in the 16,000 seat Kibbie Dome on Sept. 1.
To round out the non-conference slate, MSU hosts UT-Martin (Sept. 5), Memphis (Sept. 8), South Alabama (Sept. 12) and Boston College (Sept. 15).
The Skyhawks had the largest year-to-year improvement in win-loss record in 2018. The Bulldogs defeated both Memphis and South Alabama on the road last season. The Tigers finished the year ranked No. 15 in the RPI, highest among MSU's opponents outside the SEC. Boston College was No. 28 in the final RPI.
While State gets a year off from reigning SEC Regular Season Champion Vanderbilt and perennial powers Florida and South Carolina, the conference slate will not start out easily. Texas A&M, a program MSU has never beaten, visits Starkville on Sept. 19. The Aggies were No. 11 in the final RPI and advanced to the Sweet 16 last year.
MSU will hope to write a positive chapter in the Magnolia Cup rivalry when Ole Miss visits on Sept. 26. The Bulldogs last claimed the trophy outright in 2012, but battled to a draw in 2017.
State travels to Kentucky on Sept. 29 then makes the short trip to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to meet the Crimson Tide on Oct. 4.
Four of the final six opponents made the NCAA field last year. The first of which comes to town on Oct. 10 when State hosts Auburn, Armstrong's former team. That match is followed by a trip to Arkansas after MSU and the Razorbacks played to a scoreless draw a year ago.
A battle of the Bulldogs awaits in Starkville on Oct. 20 against Georgia. MSU then travels to LSU on Oct. 24. After losing a heartbreaker in the final minutes in Knoxville, Tennessee, last season, the Bulldogs will welcome the Volunteers on Oct. 27. Tennessee advanced to the Elite Eight in 2017 and finished with the No. 8 RPI.
State closes the regular season campaign at Missouri on Halloween at 7 p.m. on Oct. 31. The SEC Tournament will be played in Orange Beach, Alabama on Nov. 3-10. MSU is looking for its first appearance in the conference tournament since 2004.