Published October 31, 2012 - 9:32am
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Roughly 100 miles separate one of the biggest rivalries little known to the rest of the country between Ole Miss and Mississippi State, and when each other’s program is on the rise and finding success, the other team’s fans won’t hear any of it. In fact, they will shun you. Write anything good about TSUN (the school up north), and you will get hate mail from Mississippi State fans. Trust me.
Outside of the heated rivalry and banter between the programs, we have two of the biggest up-and-coming coaches in the country in Dan Mullen and Hugh Freeze architecting brilliant seasons for each team for totally different reasons.
But which one has actually done the better job this season up to this point?
Dan Mullen got his veteran-laid squad off to a 7-0 start and was ranked #11 in the country before falling in a very expected way on the road to Alabama. MSU was outmatched against the Tide. Hell, everyone is. So, Mullen sits 7-1 and ranked #15 in the country. His quarterback is fifth in the SEC in passing yardage with 1,742 yards and 15 touchdowns to go along with just two interceptions. Mullen took a 7-6 2011 team and equaled their wins in as many weeks.
State fans and their program all wanted respect from the rest of the country for a team that had proved little before last weekend. The Bulldogs’ three conference wins have come against Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee. Those three programs’ records are a combined 5-20 for the year. However, State has taken care of business in the games they are supposed to.
Dan Mullen is a fantastic coach who puts his players in a position to succeed on the field with his type of offense. And he’s done a nice job elevating the play of his defense, too, with the likes of Johnthan Banks, Darius Slay and Cam Lawrence, among others.
Before the start of the season, we knew MSU would have the opportunity with a weaker schedule to play Alabama undefeated. That happened.
Current State: 7-1 overall, 3-1 SEC
Nov. 3: #16 Texas A&M
Nov. 10: at #5 LSU
Nov. 17: Arkansas
Nov. 24: at Ole Miss
Buzz: The best-case scenario for the remainder of the season is finishing 10-2 with wins against Texas A&M, Arkansas and Ole Miss. The worst case finish is losing three of the last four games. A 10-win season in the SEC West is a major accomplishment, and Mullen would make some noise for accomplishing such a feat.
Roughly100 miles North in Oxford, Hugh Freeze is already getting serious recognition for Coach of the Year honors for transforming the Rebels from a 2-10 team that lost 14 SEC games in a row into a viable contender and competitor against anyone in the SEC. Don’t look now, but the Rebels have won two SEC games in a row and played #16 Texas A&M down to the final minute to only be Manzieled late. In fact, the Rebels’ three losses have come against ranked opponents – Texas, Alabama and Texas A&M.
Freeze’s up-tempo offense has scored 259 points in eight games, compared to a total of just 193 points in 2011. The defense is making strides, too, and are right in the middle of the pack at ninth in the SEC in total defense after finishing dead last in 2011.
The only team to run the Rebels off of the field in ‘12 was not Alabama – it was Texas, earlier in the year. The Rebels gave Alabama their toughest test to date on the road in Bryant-Denny Stadium, punching in two touchdowns.
Current State: 5-3 overall, 2-2 SEC
Nov. 3: at #6 Georgia
Nov. 10: at Vanderbilt
Nov. 17: at #5 LSU
Nov. 24: Mississippi State
Buzz: Sitting at five wins entering week 10, Ole Miss has a chance to win two of the last four, only needing one for a bowl berth now. Georgia and LSU will be very tough games indeed, and Vanderbilt should be a win for the resurged Rebels. The Egg Bowl could be the deciding factor from a great turnaround and a bowl berth with six wins to a fantastic season beating their fiercest rival in their home stadium.
Neither school would trade their coach for the other one, as MSU has created an identity with Mullen, and Ole Miss is stoked about the life Freeze breathed back into an exhausted program and fan base. That’s what’s beautiful about this rivalry. Each fan base thinks they really have their coach to lead them into many future seasons of success.
However, Mullen has owned the state for the last three years, beating Ole Miss by a combined 103 to 53 since 2009. And I’m not sure Freeze could be awarded the SEC’s Coach of the Year unless he beats his rival in the Egg Bowl. I am already looking forward to this game.