The Mississippi State Bulldogs begin a stretch of three straight games against top 10 opponents Saturday when they travel to Baton Rouge to take on No. 8 LSU in Death Valley.

Such is life in the SEC West, where five of seven teams are ranked among the top 10 in this week’s Associated Press Poll. For Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs, their path through the west begins Saturday night in Louisiana.

“There is nowhere in the country like the SEC West. I don’t think there is a division in football at any level that is like the SEC West is right now,” Mullen said in his weekly press conference Monday. “When you look at the percentage of the quality teams that are here, I don’t know if you can find anywhere that is like that. … There is great competition in the league and that is why this league has won so many national championships and is what makes it the best football in the country.”

The Bulldogs will have their hands full with a quality LSU team, but they’ll also have a chance to earn a spot in next week’s AP Top 25 with a win this weekend in Baton Rouge. Mississippi State is a perfect 3-0, but the Tigers will be MSU’s first quality opponent of the season, making it imperative the Bulldogs have a good showing in primetime Saturday night.

Mullen brushed aside the notion that playing LSU at night in Death Valley would be a good chance for his program to gain exposure, explaining the SEC West provides plenty of comparable blockbuster matchups each week of every season. However, Mullen seemed adamant about focusing on this particular game, and not MSU’s looming matchups with No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 5 Auburn.

“I can promise you whoever we are playing in the SEC West is a very good football team, regardless of ranking. Right now our focus is on this game and this game only,” Mullen said. “If we win this game we are going to be where we want to be in the SEC race. It is always important to win your first game in conference play because that really gives you a big jump start in the conference.”

Mullen is right about the Bulldogs’ SEC opener. In a West division with seven quality teams capable of taking one another down on any given weekend, the division champ may have two, perhaps even three conference losses by December. Mississippi State’s front seven matches up well with LSU’s potent rushing attack, and if MSU could capitalize with a 1-0 start in conference play, it would put the rest of the division on notice four weeks into the season.

Mississippi State would almost certainly be ranked if it beat LSU, but as Mullen explained Monday, it could also fall right back out of the rankings with a loss the following week. Eight of Mississippi State’s nine remaining games are against SEC opponents, leaving very few opportunities for the Bulldogs to catch their breath and regroup as a team.

All Mississippi State can do is focus on LSU and hope to come out on top. But Mullen knows if his teams is able to walk out of Death Valley with a victory, it’ll have earned much more than just its fourth victory of 2014.

“They are a top 10 team in the country and playing on the road on a Saturday night is a big challenge for us,” Mullen said. “We are going to have to play at a very, very high level to find a way to win.”

Injury note: Mullen announced Monday that cornerback Cedric Jiles will miss the rest of the season with a hamstring injury he suffered during fall camp. Jiles was expected to be MSU’s No. 3 cornerback this season, but did not play in any of the Bulldogs’ first three games. Safety Justin Cox is expected to play against LSU after missing last week’s win over South Alabama with a leg injury.