From Mississippi Mayhem to Mississippi Misery in three years
In 2014, Sports Illustrated graced its cover with a split image of Ole Miss and Mississippi State. For good reason: Mississippi’s two SEC football teams were a major storyline in college football.
Ole Miss was 5-0, the fifth win coming over Alabama. Mississippi State was 5-0, the fifth win coming in an equally unexpected drubbing of Texas A&M. The Bulldogs were ranked No. 3. Ole Miss was a spot back at No. 4.
Even a week before the Bulldogs beat Auburn and climbed to No. 1 in the country for the first time in school history, Mississippians were already thrilled to be near the top of the college football world, a pair of actual SEC contenders, maybe College Football Playoff contenders.
SI labeled its cover “Mississippi Mayhem.” The two teams ended the year with bowl losses to TCU and Georgia Tech, but those losses came in the Peach and Orange Bowls – unheard of simultaneous success.
Three years later, the picture is painted a very different color. Ole Miss lost Saturday 66-3 at No. 1 Alabama. Mississippi State, ranked No. 24 at the beginning of the day, lost 49-10 at Auburn. Neither team was ever in either game. Neither just lost. They didn’t compete and were humiliated.
A game earlier, Mississippi State didn’t score a touchdown in a 41-3 loss at Georgia. That one wasn’t competitive either. Ole Miss laid an egg in a 27-16 loss at Cal.
The Rebels and Bulldogs lost Saturday by a combined 115-13, a whopping 102-point differential. You have to go back to 2011 to get anywhere close to that type of dismantling of the two teams on the same weekend. On Nov. 19, 2011, Mississippi State lost 44-17 at Arkansas. Not to be outdone, Ole Miss, at home nonetheless, lost 52-3 to LSU. That was a menial difference of 76 points.
Ole Miss finished 2-10 that season, winless in the conference. Mississippi State won seven games, two of them in the SEC, and beat Wake Forest in the Music City Bowl.
After such a disastrous Week 5 this season, where are things headed for these two? Ole Miss can’t go to a bowl game, no matter how the year turns out. Mississippi State can, but will it? ESPN’s FPI has the Bulldogs favored in six of the remaining seven games. Two of those are at a 52 percent and 67 percent chance to win, but both are on the road — at Texas A&M and Arkansas. Lose those, and there’s still a good chance to have seven wins and a decent bowl invite.
Ole Miss, according to ESPN, has a greater percentage chance than its opponents to win only once more this season – Nov. 11 against Louisiana Lafayette. The only other game the FPI predicts to even be close is a 45.5-percent chance to beat Arkansas. Outside that, computers give the Rebels a 35 percent chance or less to beat anyone else, including only a 5-percent chance Saturday at Auburn and a 13.2-percent chance in the season finale Egg Bowl at Mississippi State.
From the NCAA hauntings to Hugh Freeze’s resigning, Ole Miss’s downfall hasn’t been totally unexpected. Mississippi State was picked to finish sixth in the West at SEC Media Days, but no one in their camp thought that would happen, so expectations remained decently high from the inside.
Ole Miss may well get its explosive offense together and put enough stops together on defense to win more games that anyone expects. Mississippi State may wind up in the Texas Bowl or Independence Bowl.
But don’t talk to MSU fans about FPI. Those numbers are meaningless to fans who have watched the product their team has fielded the last two weeks. The Bulldogs haven’t just lost the last two games, they haven’t been on the same field as the opponents. The only fanbase in more shambles than Mississippi’s two SEC teams may be LSU’s disgruntled bunch. Mississippi State felt really good about demolishing LSU three weeks ago. Who know LSU was that bad?
Three years ago, each Mississippi team had a realistic shot at overturning the SEC’s applecart, heck, overturning the NCAA applecart. Just two weeks ago, Mississippi State was climbing the rankings with a bullet. Take away the 198 points the two scored against South Alabama, UT Martin, Charleston Southern and Louisiana Tech, and now even the analytics look grim.
Three years removed from Mississippi Madness: Mississippi Misery.