It's refreshing then to get the viewpoint of an old Dog like senior safety Mitchell. A Mississippi native sought by both schools back in the high school day. A veteran of three Egg Bowls, a winner in two, and someone that takes this rivalry more seriously than just about anyone on either sideline.
"Oh yeah, for me every game is more than a game," said Mitchell. "And then here comes the Egg Bowl, which is much more than that. It gives all our fans and anyone surrounding Mississippi State 365 days worth of bragging rights."
Again, all the usual game-week verbiage. But typed words don't carry the intensity of Mitchell's emotions leading up to his last Egg Bowl. Most obviously because as a senior he really, really needs that leaving-the-field-last-time glow of victory, and the lifetime of bragging rights it will bring. Especially as he can depart with a winning career record in the rivalry, something an increasing number of Bulldogs have been able to do. Mississippi State has won four of the last six meetings, after all.
2011 brings a more unique opportunity, though.
"I think Coach Mullen was saying if we win this it would be the first time in almost 70 years we've won it three times in a row," Mitchell said. "Going on like a thousand days or something like that?" Correct on both counts. So no wonder "It's just a whole bunch of excitement that comes with this."
All the more so for this Clarksdale kid. See, while Mississippi State has had the overall upper-hand since 2005, and Mitchell signed on after the dramatic 2007 comeback…his own first-hand experience in the series in 2008 was one to forget. If only he could.
"Because I played in it and some of those mental errors were on me!" Mitchell rotated in at safety and had no better success that awful 45-0 day than any other Dog defensive back. "The deep ball to Mike Wallace, I watch him in the pros and go gyah!, he's still doing it!" recalled Mitchell, still wincing. He's seen reminders of the same this week, too, in defensive game-planning for the current Rebel receiving corps. Interestingly, he said, "They'll still try to do those type of things, and we've got the stuff in that's going to eliminate all that."
Mitchell survived that brutal baptism of SEC fire, as well as the coaching transition which followed, and has thrived. This will be his 37th-straight start and 49th career game, and he has accumulated 264 tackles along the way. If anything Mitchell has been a little too consistent for four seasons, to the point of being taken for granted by observers who pick post-season honors teams and hand out awards. Maybe media can be excused for overlooking a veteran who just does his job without a lot of spectacular moments, but one would think the coaching fraternity would show more respect to a defensive Dog central to their offensive game-planning.
If Mitchell is worried about lack of outside attention, it doesn't show. Now, his emphasis on maintaining in-state status for the program…that shows. Does it ever. Few Dogs can claim a better perspective on just how much things have changed for Mississippi State over his four years. Changed for the better, that is.
"Yeah, my freshman year it definitely wasn't like this," Mitchell said. "Now we go by a standard, winning this game is a part of that standard and nothing less than that is acceptable. So we're preparing hard and working on eliminating those mental errors that we've been doing." The mistakes that have hurt State's shots at repeating the dramatic feats of 2010 when Dan Mullen's men put together a breakthrough season of nine wins, a New Years Day bowl success, and of course retaining possession of the Golden Egg for another year.
In fact, the greatest compliment to MSU progress can been seen from oddsmakers who have posted the Bulldogs as forbidding favorites this week. Respect to be sure…but actually a bit bothersome to long-timers who know better than lean too heavily on what anyone predicts for an Egg Bowl. Least of all to the participants themselves.
"Yeah, we don't really get into that," Mitchell said. "We just practice and practice hard and try to get ourselves better."
Which does not mean Mississippi State is taking the classic poor-mouth approach to a rivalry matchup. Even Mitchell has caught a little of the fever, such as the unique end-zone art that has garnered national attention. The new gold-trimmed jerseys for this game, now, Mitchell can take or leave; four years in the real school colors mean something to this Dog. As for what it might mean to the guests?
"They can take it however they want, we're going to take it as a big game," he said, adding, "I would think that's the goal, to get under their skin, so I hope it has."
What counts is that Mitchell has been entirely comfortable in his Bulldog skin all four years. Yes, even the first when everything seemed to be spiraling out of control and the future was clouded. Not to him, though. Not with his insider's angle on where MSU was heading.
"When I came in I felt like the program was on the rise and we were getting good recruits," he said. "The guys that didn't come, that went to the other school, I mean they lost." That may read like trash-talk but it's said with sincerity. Mitchell really regrets that many of his 2007 class-mates didn't see the same potential at State, or that other visitors since chose not to sign on. Especially those who opted to ink Rebel papers.
"A lot of them I hosted on visits, I'd tell them this was the place to be, what they doing over there? But they decided to go over there and they're going to face the consequences." Again, said with objective analysis instead of any spite. That would be out of Mitchell's character. Take the case of one younger visitor who now has found his way to the other sideline. Actually, to the other side of the line of scrimmage Saturday.
Mitchell will see a familiar face in the Rebel shotgun.
"(Barry) Brunetti and a lot of them came to my dorm room. We had a good time and stuff, but they made their decision. I'm really not focusing on them too much, we've been practicing hard and we're going to go in and win this game." Focusing on the past choice, he means; the player? That's all business, which includes prepping not just for scrambler Brunetti but pocket passer Zach Stoudt.
"They're totally different from what I see on film," Mitchell said. "Brunetti is a lot like (former starter Randall) Mackey so we can get a feel for what he's going to try to do. Watching the LSU tape we saw him running around a lot, I guess LSU wasn't ready for that or were playing too much man. But we're going to try to stop the run and make him or Stoudt beat us."
Try to, he means. And fail to, is the obvious implication. Mitchell and Mississippi State have come too far these four years to fumble away this shot at history. "It's not just another game," he said.
"We realize we've got a lot riding on it. You know, we have the motto ‘This is Our State' and you're going to really live by that, we practice by that, and Saturday it's going to show."