Mississippi State's first five weeks of the season haven't been terrible, but also haven't gone exactly as planned.
The Bulldogs have already lost two games in the Southeastern Conference and are now a longshot to win the Western Division title. But a manageable stretch of games over the next month might allow Mississippi State to build some momentum heading into a difficult November.
Mississippi State (3-2) hosts Troy (1-3) on Saturday before another non-conference game against Louisiana Tech. Then the Bulldogs host Kentucky before a road game against Missouri.
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That sounds manageable, but coach Dan Mullen believes the immediate challenge for Mississippi State is to figure out a way to play better.
''We have guys that will fight and play hard,'' Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. ''The one thing we have to learn how to do is to go expect to make plays.''
Senior quarterback Dak Prescott isn't getting the same type of hype as last season, when he emerged as a Heisman Trophy candidate, but he's quietly having a very good season with 1,279 passing yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions. He also leads the team with 217 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
The rest of team has been hit or miss. Of particular concern is a running game that ranks just 11th out of 14 SEC teams with 155 yards per game.
''One of the things in college football that you see week-to-week is that if you don't play well you're not going to win,'' Mullen said. ''It doesn't matter if you're the No. 1 team in the country or if you haven't won a game. If you play really well, you're going to have an opportunity to win.''
Things to watch when Mississippi State hosts Troy on Saturday:
MULLEN GOES FOR 50: Seventh-year Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen will try to win the 50th game of his tenure on Saturday. Mullen has a 49-33 record with the Bulldogs and has led the program to five straight bowl games, which is a school record. Mullen would be just the third coach in school history with 50 wins, joining Allyn McKeen and Jackie Sherrill.
PRESCOTT'S STREAK: Senior quarterback Dak Prescott has thrown 225 consecutive passes without an interception, which is the longest current streak in the nation and the third-longest in SEC history. Prescott's streak spans five games and 21 quarters dating back to last season's Orange Bowl.
A CHANCE TO REGROUP: Mississippi State lost its second conference game of the year last weekend, falling 30-17 on the road against Texas A&M. The Bulldogs should now have ample opportunity to regroup, with non-conference games against Troy and Louisiana Tech before a home conference game against Kentucky.
PLAYING WITHOUT MARKET: Mississippi State received bad news this week when it learned that starting safety Kendrick Market would miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL in his left knee after suffering the injury in the second quarter of last weekend's loss to Texas A&M. Said coach Dan Mullen: ''That was probably the last play of his career for a man that's done so much. He's been an impact player in the SEC.''
TROY LOOKING FOR OFFENSE: Troy hired new coach Neal Brown in the offseason. The 35-year-old has an offensive background, with stints as an offensive coordinator at Troy, Texas Tech and Kentucky before returning to the Trojans. So far, the offense has been a work in progress. Troy ranks just 112th out of 127 FBS teams with 21.4 points per game.
Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP . AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org.