Yes, the 2014 edition of the Battle for the Golden Egg could be just that. Perhaps this year’s renewal of the intrastate feud was dimmed just a little bit for some, with the home team’s hopes of back-dooring into title contention dashed. Or splashed rather in that big pigpen of the SEC’s northwest precinct. So instead of two teams contending for a potential playoff berth, now only Mississippi State’s ambitions are alive.
Which is unlikely to matter as much during this week’s build-up. For either ball team.
Am I implying that the possibility of using its own back-door path to the SEC Championship Game, or the still-strong percentages of winning a place in the inaugural College Football Playoffs, won’t be on all Mississippi State minds this week? I am. True, it will be on most minds; just hopefully not those that matter most, they being the Bulldogs themselves. Because all happy hopes could come crashing down by Saturday evening without attending to the immediate and only matter: winning the next and last regular season game.
I’m not saying anything Dan Mullen doesn’t himself. Something we’ve all seen since his first Starkville season was obsession with the immediate. Oh not that this coach isn’t taking care of the entire program, present and future alike. It’s just that when a new game week rolls around, the past is set aside as soon as prior game video is evaluated and a next opponent shows on screen. And pity the pup who would dare say, even breathe a word about matters beyond upcoming kickoff.
It’s just alllllll the rest of us who spent about 98.4% of our talking time between Tuscaloosa and today suggesting SEC scenarios and Playoff possibilities to Bulldogs. No exaggerating, I’ve seen more and longer message board threads about spring scrimmages than about Vanderbilt. Of course as things turned out a scrimmage would have been more competitive.
But not more beneficial. Mullen made an interesting admission after the game; that during practice he was encouraged with how State rebounded from Alabama…but even he had to see it for himself in a real game. The Bulldogs delivered; offense, defense, even (with a couple of nagging exceptions) kicking, everything. Yeah it was Senior Night but that could have been mid-September and how State prepped and performed was entirely satisfying.
Not to mention an ideal tune-up for this week. State even heads to the Egg Bowl remarkably healthy for late November, and if De’Runnya Wilson clearly wasn’t happy about sitting out the evening he’ll get to run a lot of routes in Oxford to make up for it. Plus now the Rebels know they have to scheme for any and all receivers, as well as runners, Mullen puts on the field.
The offensive line is as sound as can be by game-twelve, and Dak Prescott’s ankle isn’t a concern. Not that he’d care if it were of course. The over/under on how often his heroic overtime touchdown tote last meeting replays this week is, oh, about a half-squillion (re: Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy). Ditto probably for what happened to his Rebel counterpart in their overtime, as media just won’t be able to resist turning this into a quarterback controversy of sorts.
It’s much bigger than that of course. The Rebels have hit their pot holes of late but remain a legit top-15 or so outfit from this perspective. And if they are out of the Playoffs picture with three losses, beating a top-four Bulldog bunch could get them back in the CFP’s bowl assignment scenarios. So they have plenty to play for beyond any revenge factor, which is sorta overrated anyway during games and only surfaces afterwards with the winners.
Which brings up another neat balancing act Mullen manages yearly. Seriously, one must respect a coach who keeps the rivalry idea simmering 51 weeks inside his locker room before turning it to ‘boil’ in the 52nd; yet still manages to have State focused for each and every game. And more so, to treat actual preparation for the Rebels routine in X-and-O terms. Mullen doesn’t burn the Bulldogs out emotionally before kickoff, is what I’m saying.
But then he hasn’t had an Egg Bowl week like this one, either.
Not with the sort of stakes available, or losable. State certainly should go to Oxford at least #4 in the CFP standings or maybe even #3, as if it matters. OK, it matters in the FINAL rankings since those are seedings and thus sitings. For this and next week’s rankings release as well though, it’s pretty much for discussin’ and cussin’ only.
I’ve said before what impresses about how the committee has gone about regular-season business is their use of the what-is and not the what-ifs we media and fans obsess over. This twelve-member jury is not ‘tying itself’ to any position that would require defending in the next or final rankings is what I mean.
That’s good for now…and worrisome for the future since obviously it does not account for conference championships. We can and likely will spend the next six days speculating on that score, listening to the national talking heads bloviating the opinion du jour, and wasting our energy and bandwidth alike. We just do not know…
…so we oughtn’t fret it. Because what we DO know with 100% assurance is this: no Golden Egg in Starkville next Sunday, no Playoff possibility. A very nice bowl trip, sure. And as Scott Stricklin and I discussed yesterday, ain’t it a sign of changing Bulldog times that fans are openly worried right now about having to ‘settle’ for a trip to Miami or Orlando for New Years? I can speak for generations of State folk who’d have hocked Grandma’s china for the Orange or comparable bowls.
Speaking only for my own self, I’d nigh-bout cut down every pine on my property to cover one Bulldog Sugar Bowl. Even told the rest of the press corps that should this team make it to New Orleans, they can buy me a drink of their choosing. Now that is serious stakes, people.
All depending upon winning the 12th game of what already is an all-time Mississippi State season. Further greatness awaits these Dogs of course. It’s just that this squad has won its way within sight of legendary status. And say what one will about the CFP (just don’t say it around me if you want it expanded beyond four teams, this has been just about perfect in magnifying the regular season); the potential to make a four-team format without playing in Atlanta is a Bulldog boon. Well, it will be as long as A) the Dogs do their duty this week and B) the SEC packs enough committee clout to earn half those slots. People whose opinions I respect are almost equally split on that, for what it’s worth.
But here I am, the one getting ahead of the real deal. Maybe I should listen to Mullen more and keep my own focus firmly fixed on the Egg Bowl, something that has never ever been an issue before (another sign of changing times, huh?). Why speculate on what may or not happen in the Iron Bowl, until the Egg Bowl is won. Or, lost, and yes that is clearly possible.
I haven’t looked at the early ‘line’ yet nor care to because it doesn’t matter. Proof? Look at last year when a home team without a healthy veteran quarterback just out-gutted a visiting rival which arrived on a roll. I’m sure you see the comparison by now. Games like this one often are decided as much by character as by characters.
Like young Mr. Beckwith said, it’s going to be awesome for one side…and awful for the other. That’s why these rivalry games stay on the bitter-or-better end of our schedules, after all.