The Record Does Matter

The Egg Bowl usually does not gain much attention outside of the state of Mississippi, but this year, it may be the marquee game of the week, with as much interest as the often acclaimed Iron Bowl.

"Throw out the records."

For years, that has been the battle cry headed into the annual Egg Bowl clash between Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

Why? Simple - usually one team or the other, sometimes both, have little to play for but state pride and while that is important, it's the reason the game has hardly ever gained much national attention or exposure.

While "throw out the records" rings true with every rivalry game, how often have Rebel and Bulldog fans wished for an Egg Bowl of relevance? A game of national import?

It would be hard to count the number of Rebels and Bulldogs alike who, when both were undefeated earlier in the year, were pulling for both teams to be unblemished when the 2014 Egg Bowl rolled around.

That sounds odd, I know, because both schools relish when the other school loses, but in the back of a lot of fans' minds, there was a smidgeon of "what if that game had national championship ramifications?"

Alas, that has not played out for the Rebels, who have suffered three straight SEC losses, two heartbreakers and one head scratcher, and Mississippi State's hopes, while still alive, seem to be hanging by a thread because of their lone loss to Alabama and the distinct possibility they won't be in the SEC Championship game regardless of the outcome of the Egg Bowl. (The expectation here is for Bama to beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl and gain that opportunity.)

But this matchup still has a great deal of relevance.

For the Rebels, it's an opportunity for a shot at double-digit wins in the third year of Hugh Freeze's program. A win in the Egg Bowl and a win in a postseason bowl gives the Rebels that high-water mark for the first time in over a decade, when one Eli Manning was at the helm.

Even though Reb fans can play the coulda-shoulda-woulda game with the losses, a 10-win season would certainly erase any disappointment of the late-season hiccups to most.

And rightfully so. . .

If any fan had put their hand on a Bible and were asked before the season began "would you be happy with 10 wins?" the answer would have been a resounding yes.

These Rebels have, even though more briefly than we would have liked after the 7-0 start, drawn national attention to Ole Miss.

For the first time ever, Game Day was here and proclaimed it "the best ever."

The Rebels defeated a then number one team in Alabama, the Tide's only setback. They cakewalked Texas A&M on the road and an improving Tennessee at home.

For ten weeks, they kept the spotlight on our university, even after two losses.

Certainly, last weekend in Fayetteville - still unexplainable - took a lot of the luster off the season, but there's no denying the Rebels were/are nationally relevant again to more than just its loyal followers.

A 9-win regular season would certainly elevate their postseason standings.

Having said that, there's still a lot of work to do to gain those 10 wins and the first roadblock is a very good Mississippi State football team.

Those words come from my brain through my fingertips like bile from the liver. To actually admit they are good brings my Thanksgiving dinner all the way up to my throat, but truth is truth.

Led by QB Dak Prescott, a good running game, better than competent wideouts, a nasty veteran offensive line and a stingy run defense, the Bulldogs have not backed down from any challenge this year and their only blemish is to Bama there, as tough a venue to play in as there is.

Their hallmark is that they are a physical team, like LSU and Arkansas, who both dethroned the Rebels with that style of play, and Alabama, who the Rebs got the better of. Finesse is not in their vocabulary on either side of the ball and they are experienced with 12 senior starters and seven junior starters.

Like every team in college ball, they also have holes. Dak has been known to put up a duck or two when pressured. Their pass defense has been susceptible at times. They are not infallible by any stretch of the imagination, but to deny their prowess would be foolhardy at this stage of the season. The proof is in their 10-1 current record.

For the Rebels, it's not complicated.

Number one, stop the run, which, for the most part, the touted, stubborn Rebel defense has been pretty good at. Even though Prescott is a better passer than he has been in previous seasons and his receivers appear to be better as well, the choice is to make him throw the ball under duress. The Rebels have to keep the Bulldog offense in awkward down-and-distances and when they do drive, the Red Zone defense must be spot on.

Number two, be themselves on offense. We all remember the offense against Auburn, A&M, UT, Vandy, even Bama. The Rebels have proven they have playmakers and, while they are one major one short in WR Laquon Treadwell and QB Bo Wallace may be a little hobbled, there's still enough there to get the job done.

Number three, clean special teams. Good decision-making, good execution. The rest will take care of itself.

While this Saturday's Egg Bowl has lost a little bit of the sheen that was anticipated a month ago, it's still immensely significant.

And nobody is saying, "throw out the records."

An Egg Bowl that is more significant than state pride.

It's been a long time coming and it tastes sweet.

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