Finish Line Looming

They all count the same, so they say, and in simple numbers, that's true. But who is really buying the theory beyond that? Some games just mean more. It's that way in every rivalry.

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Outside the borders of Mississippi this weekend, few likely care that it's a matchup of instate rivals Ole Miss and Mississippi State playing baseball in Oxford. The out of state players' families and alumni from each who don't live in Mississippi care. But that's about it.

Do people who are score-watching with loyalties to South Carolina or Arkansas or Florida really care that it's Rebels and Bulldogs playing in Oxford? Gamecocks, Razorbacks and Gators fans, all whose teams have records that could improve to be host-worthy, are watching, but not because any of you in red and blue are sitting next to someone in maroon and white this weekend.

Ole Miss and State, and a host of Southeastern Conference schools, are trying to position themselves for postseason. That's where the emphasis is for players and coaches the next three days.

Teams that don't have 12 SEC wins at this point are likely out of any NCAA hosting conversation with two SEC weekends remaining. Who are those? Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Florida in the SEC East; LSU, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Ole Miss in the SEC West.

RPI certainly has something to do with hosting and seeding. Remaining schedule also has something to do with how a team will finish these next three weekends.

For Ole Miss (12-12), it's at home with MSU (13-11) and then at LSU (19-6). The Tigers lost Thursday night at Texas A&M. They play two more games this weekend in College Station before hosting the Rebels next weekend.

For Mississippi State, it's at Ole Miss and home against South Carolina (13-10), which is hosting Georgia this weekend in Columbia.

Vanderbilt, so far running away with the league at 21-2, is playing at Kentucky this weekend and closes its season hosting Alabama.

Florida (12-12) appears to have a chance to make a move this weekend and next, hosting Auburn and playing at Georgia. Same goes for Arkansas (15-8), which hosts Tennessee this weekend and winds up at Auburn next weekend.

So there are seven of 14 SEC teams with 12 league wins or more at this point. It doesn't matter who you love or hate, who your rival is, or where the games are played this weekend, it's all about winning as many of the games remaining in the 30-game war that you can.

Mississippian Austin Knight
Bruce Newman

It was that way at the beginning of the conference season, and it remains that way today. But who is really buying that it doesn't mean more in Oxford than just nine innings (with potential extras) the next three days?

MSU is trying to win its third straight series in Oxford (2009, 2011) and its third straight in the series (2011, 2012).

Ole Miss, whose teams struggled with MSU during the early years of the new century, is trying to recapture the dominance its program had over MSU from 2004-2010 when the Rebels won five of the six series against the Bulldogs.

The MSU roster has a few more Mississippi players on it and a few more Mississippi players who take part in most games. If there is an edge in that department, it goes to MSU.

And the Bulldogs won the only encounter so far this season, a 5-1 win in Pearl in the annual Governor's Cup game.

But all that really matters is what happens for a few hours between the lines tonight and the rest of this weekend as both teams try to improve their postseason chances and whatever opportunities could come their way.

State comes in on a bit of a roll in league play, having swept Alabama at home last weekend – the same thing the Rebels had done to the Crimson Tide a few weeks earlier in Oxford.

The weekend before that, however, Vanderbilt swept State in Nashville, just like the Commodores had done to the Rebels earlier, but in Oxford.

So the stage is set for the renewal of the rivalry, this time in a three-game baseball set that means a lot to both teams as far as their standings and their futures this season.

But isn't it always that way? And doesn't it always mean a little more than the average SEC series for these two schools, no matter what they say?

Play ball.

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