Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) – The state of Mississippi is the
birthplace of many famous personalities, including Elvis Presley, Bo Diddly,
B.B. King, Jim Henson, James Earl Jones and Oprah Winfrey.
Football has a rich tradition in the state as well, with notable legends like
Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, Brett Favre and Archie Manning getting their starts
Despite individual triumphs on the gridiron in the state over the years, team
achievements have been few and far between at the college level.
In its 115 years of football history, Ole Miss has won just six SEC titles and
shared its only national championship with Minnesota in 1960. The team claims
two others in 1959 and 1962, but those are not recognized by the NCAA.
Mississippi State’s 100+ years of football has produced even less, with one
SEC crown (1941) and one divisional title (1998).
The two teams would like nothing more than to add to their respective football
lore in 2014. They are both well on their way to doing so, coming off perhaps
the greatest football day in the state’s history.
After huge wins this past weekend, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are a
combined 10-0 and are tied for the third spot in the AP Poll.
Both Hugh Freeze’s Rebels and Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs are now real contenders to
play in the first-ever “playoff” come season’s end.
The Rebels’ ranking is the team’s highest since being ranked No. 1 in 1964 and
well earned. Freeze’s squad trailed 14-3 at the half against the mighty
Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday. Instead of the Tide rolling over the Rebels
in the second half, it was Ole Miss that turned things around, much to the
elation of the hometown crowd in Oxford. In the end, the scoreboard read Ole
Miss 23 and Alabama 17. It was the Rebels’ first win over the Crimson Tide
“I’m just so proud of our young men,” Freeze said after the game. “You can’t
lose a game in 30 or 45 minutes. You have to play for 60 minutes and that is
something we’ve preached since we’ve been here.
“At the end of the day, you get in this job to mentor young men, first. I
preach that to our staff. I have the best staff of men that you want your kids
around. These are great life lessons. Sometimes you’re on the other side of it
and it stings and hurts. We’ve had our share of those. We have tremendous
respect for Coach (Nick) Saban and Alabama. It’s a huge win for our program
and our fans. It’s been a tremendous day.”
The Rebels are getting it done on both sides of the football. The team is
fueled by a defense that ranks second in the nation in scoring defense (10.2
ppg), fifth total defense (277.6 ypg) and ninth in pass defense (152.4 ypg).
The offense is led by a veteran signal caller and a stable of capable
Senior quarterback Bo Wallace (6-4, 217) has completed nearly 70 percent of
his passes thus far, for just over 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has
spread the ball around with the top vertical threats being Laquon Treadwell
(25 rec, 362 yds, 4 TDs), Cody Core (20 rec, 315 yds, 4 TDs) and Vince Sanders
(20 rec, 302 yds, 3 TDs).
Oxford and Starkville are just under 100 miles apart, but there is a similar
scenario playing out at Mississippi State.
Like the Rebels, Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs are also sitting at 5-0 on the year.
They are coming off back-to-back wins over top tier SEC programs, first edging
out LSU in Baton Rouge back on Sept. 20, followed by last weekend’s 48-31
thumping of Texas A&M.
It marks the first time in school history that MSU has beaten a pair of top-10
teams in the same season.
“When I got here, we said that to build a winning program, the fans have to
start it,” Mullen said following win over the Aggies. “Everyone bought in to
what we needed to do to build a program and it’s so rewarding to see that.”
The Bulldogs have a similar game philosophy as they rely on excellent
quarterback play and timely defense.
Mississippi State does a nice job against the run, ranking 11th in the nation
at a mere 98.2 ypg, while being extremely aggressive in upfield pursuit with
41 TFL and 18 sacks through five games. The team is led defensively by All-
American candidate Benardrick McKinney (36 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks), who
is regarded as one of the nation’s best linebackers.
However, the Bulldog that gets all the headlines these days is junior
quarterback Dak Prescott, who threw for 264 yards and two touchdowns and ran
for 77 yards and three more scores in the win over Texas A&M. With it, he
upstaged Heisman hopeful Kenny Hill and moved towards the top of most Heisman
rankings as a result.
Prescott has been outstanding, completing almost 64 percent of his passes, for
1,232 yards, with 13 touchdowns against just two interceptions. He has also
found time to rush for 455 yards and six more scores, cementing himself as one
of the nation’s premier dual threats under center.
Despite the fast start there is still plenty of work to be done according to
“All we are is 2-0 in the SEC,” Mullen said. “Getting two SEC wins was not our
goal this season.”
The road to the postseason “Promised Land” winds through SEC country and while
Ole Miss and Mississippi State have passed their first few tests, the two
teams must remain sharp.
The Rebels still need to play Texas A&M, Tennessee and Auburn at home and LSU
and Arkansas on the road.
The Bulldogs play Auburn and Arkansas at home and must travel to Alabama.
If both team remain undefeated, it will set up the greatest matchup in state
history in the season finale, when Mississippi State makes the trip to Oxford
to take on Ole Miss on Nov. 29 in the Egg Bowl.
If that happens, there will be much more than a Golden Egg on the line.