It will be a battle of the Southeastern Conference’s few remaining unbeatens playing out on Scott Field this Saturday, with a 2:30 kickoff for CBS. Mississippi State brings a 5-0 record back to the home field after yesterday’s 48-31 whipping of Texas A&M, and are off to a 2-0 start in SEC play. With, it needs noting, both victories at the expense of Western Division rivals.
Auburn is also unscathed at 5-0 and 2-0, coming off an even more decisive beating of LSU by a 41-7 final. Two weeks ago the Bulldogs won at Baton Rouge 34-29 when those Tigers were ranked #8. Auburn’s edition of Tigers own a win over Arkansas too so both competitors are 2-0 in the West.
For today at least rankings are as much as SEC minds as standings. With a slew of upsets, or at least what looks like such, in the past weekend, room near the top of the polls was left open. And three Western Division clubs have surged into the vacancies. Auburn has moved up from 5th in the Associated Press poll last week to the #2 spot today, right behind still-#1 Florida State.
But in a twist even Hollywood wouldn’t try, two Mississippi teams have burst into the elite air of the top-three. In fact, they share that status now. Ole Miss’ win over Alabama has pushed the Rebels from 11th to third place…where they are having to make room for Mississippi State. Coach Dan Mullen’s club is tied in poll votes for #3 overall, and in fact drew two first-place votes which the Rebels have yet to score.
So not only has Mississippi State jumped into the A.P.s’ top-ten for the first time since 1999 when a 8-0 team was 8th going to Alabama. These Bulldogs just claimed the highest ranking ever for the program, surpassing easily the #7 status held back in 1981 when that team also went to Tuscaloosa and lost.
This time though, Mississippi State owns a top-ten, make that top-five ranking in time for a home game. And as best records show, the only other time a Bulldog team had a single-digit number in front of the name for a true home game on Scott Field was in 1999. Those #8-ranked Dogs kicked a last-chance field goal to knock off Kentucky and stay top-ten another week.
With a matchup of #2 and one of the #3s pending, and pace-setting place in the country’s dominating football Division at stake, selection by CBS was as automatic as anything. The last time the SEC’s prime-slot partner came to Scott Field was in 2005 to watch Alabama (them again) win. The 2013 Dogs did play at Texas A&M for one of the CBS slots.
But these Dogs will want to duplicate what some predecessors did for CBS’ viewing pleasure way back in 2000. That team stunned #3-ranked Florida for the national audience, so a week later CBS returned to watch State beat #15 Auburn.
This ball club has maybe more impressive momentum though, coming off consecutive wins over top-ten (at the time, neither are now) victims LSU and A&M. That’s a program-first, but so is playing three-straight top-ten teams as State goes for the trifecta this weekend.
And if the coming weekend won’t be epochal enough, one other factor will arrive to fuel further campus frenzy. For the first time ESPN’s popular ‘Gameday’ show will broadcast from State, only a week after their first-ever trip to the entire state. The show airs from 8:00-11:00ct and stage-setting will take a couple days, likely shutting down a whole corner of the campus.
Also, Bulldog fans a little late wanting to join the bandwagon might be out of luck this week. State has announced all the usual tickets have been sold for Saturday, though standing-room admission is being made available in limited quantities. Meaning, for the next five days the wheeling, dealing, begging and borrowing and favor-calling-in across the state will be at all-time levels.
This echoes what Mullen said following Saturday’s win and the start-to-finish crowd involvement as the Bulldogs beat the Aggies: “That’s what big-time football is all about.”
Mullen and team are having a Sunday practice, altering the normal game week schedule in a move already set before today’s news. They will not practice Monday.