COLUMN: On Polls Then and Now

Some thoughts on the second Sunday in October during a football season with Mississippi front and center.

Ben published a column Sunday on this year’s Ole Miss football team with some help from his dad. Not literally, but in their interaction last week and this season. And for Ben’s whole life, really.

We all do that with those we share a common bond, in this case growing up with Ole Miss football. I did. Many of you did.

I’ve known Ben’s dad since college. So we share basically all the same reflections of Ole Miss football, from the most recent to sometime around Archie.

But my interaction with my own dad goes way back farther than that because of his time growing up with Ole Miss football. In some way, shape, or form, my family has been affiliated with Ole Miss football for more than 80 years.

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This week’s rankings are out. The Rebels are still way up there.

Ole Miss is ranked No. 3 in this week’s Associated Press poll, same as last week. This week they are No. 3 in the Coaches’ poll. That’s one spot higher than last week.

Let’s roll it out there. Mississippi State is No. 1 in both polls. Now let’s move on to talk about the Rebels, at least mostly.

This is new territory for an old program. New as in hasn’t been here in more than 40 years and hasn’t been ranked this high in 50 years.

The surprise really isn't that Ole Miss is highly ranked and a championship contender. The wonder is that it hasn't been for much of the last half a century.

It kinda got stuck.

I was on a Fox Sports national radio show Saturday (those things come along more when the team you cover is nationally ranked) with former Florida State quarterback Chris Rix as one of the hosts. I’d been on there the week before, too. They have people who cover the ranked teams on there each Saturday. I was able to listen in to the Alabama writer who spoke with the hosts prior to me joining them before the Rebels and Crimson Tide played.

That guy said the difference wouldn’t necessarily be coaching or talent. He thought the difference was that Bama had been there before and Ole Miss had not. New territory for the Rebels.

So much for that evaluation. Rebels 23-17 over the Tide.

Last week I saw a mature team that was ready for the next challenge. It wasn’t just talk. It was real. They had put Alabama behind them and were focused on the Aggies.

I told Chris Rix and his co-host that this Saturday when they called me. I told the nation, those who were listening to Fox Sports national radio, that this team was ready again – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Don’t ever discount that last one, either. Not with this group of coaches and players.

Final score: Ole Miss 35-20 over Texas A&M.

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The Associated Press college football poll began in 1934. My dad was nine. By then he was already keeping up with college football from Pontotoc, 30 miles from Oxford.

Isn’t every town in Mississippi 30 miles from another?

My dad and his dad, who would bring him to Ole Miss games, traveled north Mississippi many afternoons delivering the Memphis Press-Scimitar. Like a lot of afternoon dailies in major cities, it finally ceased publication years later in 1983.

In the paper would be the AP poll. Mississippi State and Ole Miss might have found their way in there by 1941 when they played a Battle for the Golden Egg in Oxford and the Maroons were victorious, claiming to this day their lone Southeastern Conference title in football.

Pearl Harbor was days later.

My dad joined the Navy after high school but before he left, he went to Mississippi State. He and some friends. They knew they were going to war soon. He was there one semester.

The whole nation was going through the same thing. Ole Miss and State didn’t even play football in 1943 because of war. When it was over, it was Ole Miss which would have sustained football success.

State was good in some years, not so good in others. Ole Miss was good, sometimes great, almost every year. State changed coaches every few years. John Vaught got here in 1946 and stayed the rest of his life.

From 1946-63 Ole Miss never lost to Mississippi State. In 1964, 18 years later, the Rebels finally lost, the first for Vaught to the instate rival and the only time they’d lose to MSU with him on the sidelines.

My dad got his degree from Ole Miss and before that had been sent by the Navy for a two-year stint to Tulane and a year at Cornell. That 1964 Egg Bowl, as had 1962 and 1963, meant just a little more than most to him. His sister’s son, who also had been one of the quarterbacks the previous two years, was the Rebels’ starter by 1964.

The quarterback and his teammates still carry with them to this day some of the weight of that loss on their Rebel shoulders. Ole Miss didn’t lose to State in those days. Tied a few. But never lost.

Ole Miss had started the 1964 season No. 1 in the AP poll, won their opener 30-0 over Memphis State, got upset by Kentucky in week two, had some injuries, lost all their close games, and wound up with five losses, including a Bluebonnet Bowl loss in Houston to Tulsa.

What if there had been internet message boards?

Teams lose five games all the time. But not at Ole Miss in that era. Those five were more losses than all Rebel teams had suffered in the past six years combined.

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Who knows what is ultimately building for the Rebel football program now? Tennessee is up next.

The Volunteers aren’t quite up there with the Rebels at this point. But they pose a threat.

In one respect that’s where the maturity and experience of this Ole Miss program might come in handy. They won’t overlook Tennessee.

Because they can’t afford to overlook Tennessee.

When we talk to the coaches and players beginning Monday, we’ll likely hear the same things we heard last week. It’s what championship-contending programs say and then do.

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We’ve all lived side by side forever, Ole Miss and State folks in Mississippi. A season like this isn’t only rare but arguably there’s never been another one like it in this state for the people who follow college football.

Essentially all of us have family and friends on both sides.

The night before the Alabama game, several of our family gathered for a birthday celebration for my dad’s brother. He’s a Mississippi State alum. All of his grandchildren were there, three of them current students at Ole Miss.

One Sunday afternoon years ago, the mayor of our town, a State man, called my dad and asked him how his teams did that weekend.

“Pontotoc lost, Baldwyn lost, Ole Miss lost, State lost, and Tulane lost. Not sure about Cornell,” my dad said.

Later the mayor called back.

“Got good news. Cornell tied.”

And so it goes. Ole Miss and State people all in this together but always have been.

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My dad has been coming to Ole Miss football games since FDR was president. His dad brought him and other family members to Oxford for games. A couple of times there was a family member, a cousin, on the team.

He watched Senquez Golson’s interception against Alabama from the other end of the stadium in the south end zone club. Then he did what men, women, and children of all ages did. He grabbed his phone and started videoing, just like he’d have done years ago had there been cell phones when he was growing up.

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Mississippi State has an open date Saturday while Ole Miss hosts the Vols. If both keep winning, this year’s Egg Bowl could be the most important ever.

Ole Miss has the historical edge in those; Mississippi State the recent edge.

I tweeted this Sunday morning:

“Good Sunday to you. All in Mississippi repeat after me: "Love Thy Neighbor." Repeat this daily, early & often. Thanksgiving weekend is soon.”

Actually not that soon. This regular season is only halfway over. Six games down, six to go.

As Chuck has been known to write, “Hold on to your hats. It’s going to be a great ride.”

For all Mississippi, it already has been.

Bring on Saturday.


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