Rivalry Reality

I think some who have been around the rivalry for at least a couple of decades or more think Ole Miss is always supposed to beat Mississippi State in football.

I know I do. But it's just not that way anymore and hasn't been for a while. I do miss those days.

When State moved the Egg Bowl back to campus, things changed. That was 1991, Jackie Sherrill's first year as head coach, and the decision to get the finale back to campus had already been made. Sherrill was just the beneficiary.

Ole Miss wasn't about to move it back. The Rebels basically owned State in Jackson. From 1981-90, Ole Miss was 8-2 against the Bulldogs. So State moved it and Ole Miss followed.

Atmosphere like Saturday, which gives the Bulldogs a chance every other year to win it because of home field advantage, was what State hierarchy had in mind.

Saturday's throng was loud and active. And those cowbells; it sounded like the old days when more State fans used to bring them. Talk about an advantage for the home team.

Illegal? Must not be or there are a lot of law breakers among MSU supporters.

But enough of that. It's what happened between the lines that was so devastating for Ole Miss. Who knows how this bowl thing will shake out?

But the Rebels did themselves no favors letting MSU push them around. And the Dogs did that. Embarrassingly so. This was a State team picked to finish last in the SEC West by most.

Improving all season long, the Bulldogs were a well-oiled machine Saturday. And for one reason. They did what little they were capable of doing offensively and they did it well. Dared Ole Miss to stop them. And Ole Miss didn't.

MSU rolled, rushing for 317 yards in the game and only throwing five passes in the second half.

And defensively, former Rebel assistant Carl Torbush had his troops ready. They weren't about to let Dexter McCluster beat them by himself. And they got to Jevan Snead just enough throughout the day to make the Rebel signal-caller look like his old self – the one from earlier this season, not the one from last season.

Fans on both sides want to know how this game will affect recruiting. The answer? Time will tell. But losses normally don't help and wins normally do. Houston Nutt admitted that last week.

"There's nothing like winning," he said. "Saturday will do nothing but help. You have to win that game."

We've heard all our lives that one win does not a season make. Dan Mullen must not have gotten the memo.

The now famous countdown clock worked, as Mullen said after the game. He told his team they'd been watching that clock for months, and now all they had left to do was give him 60 minutes.

But of course, there are those seven losses that prevented any further play this season.

Mullen is going the route of Sherrill. You know the one, where he took the arch-rival and tried to get under its skin, calling it Mississippi, and saying things like they'd never lose to Mississippi as long as he was coach. Sherrill did the same things at Pittsburgh to Penn State and Texas A&M to Texas.

Mullen is falling in line. He's winning his fans over by putting down Ole Miss at every opportunity. And his team backed all the talk up with a victory.

So how does Ole Miss retaliate? The Rebels must be even more prepared for Mullen and his Bulldogs come next November. It could have been worse this time around than 41-27.

But unlike what MSU is doing right now, you truly have to look at the season as a whole. And in its entirety, Ole Miss' 8-4 campaign was a success.

But at some point, a better record must be attained. Had Ole Miss won, it would have only been the third nine-win regular season since 1971. Surely this program, with all it has to offer, is capable of better, at least a few years here or there.

Two SI covers this past summer, the preseason rankings (even up to No. 4 during the season), with some picking the Rebs for the SEC Championship game and then the Sugar Bowl - all those weren't realistic, looking back. The Rebels had too many players to replace from last season and some youngsters didn't grow up as fast as needed.

And the magic of the second half of the 2008 season for Snead was rarely there. Better quarterback play than the Rebels got for at least some of this season might have meant another win or two, most likely.

There were just too many turnovers. Two key losses were to Auburn and to Mississippi State. In both, Snead had a pick six.

And I must say this. Those of you who believe LSU is the Rebels' arch-rival, that is fine. But Mississippi State must have equal attention. It is a much too meaningful game to rate as second class to any team on the Rebs' schedule.

One trip to Starkville for an Egg Bowl and you'll understand the importance of the contest - the importance of winning the contest, that is.

So the Rebels await their bowl fate. It still could be special by being a January 1 bowl, like the Cotton or Outback. Or they could fall farther down the pecking order.

Two things are certain: It has been a successful season. And it has been a somewhat disappointing season.

At this point, you'll just have to decide for yourself. But then make bowl plans and follow the Rebels one more time.


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