Hype surrounds both Ole Miss, Mississippi State entering SEC Media Days
2014 is somewhat of an anomaly year for two SEC West teams who are bitter rivals. On any ol’ regular year, only one of the Magnolia State teams is up, while the other is down.
But this season, both teams are looking to play spoiler in the SEC West and have momentum heading into the season.
On Tuesday, Mississippi State will invade The Wynfrey Hotel, and along with head coach Dan Mullen, the Bulldogs bring safety Jay Hughes, linebacker Benardrick McKinney and quarterback Dak Prescott to start the journey of the 2014 season, one of the most interesting and promising seasons, well, ever.
Prescott is the most intriguing of the three players. Many say he’s a dark-horse Heisman contender, and he’s a bully in the running game and has shown he can make every throw on the field. Don’t question his leadership, either, as it was plain to see when the team rallied behind him last season after his mother passed away and when he led the Bulldogs to a come-from-behind victory in the Egg Bowl, only after entering the game in the fourth quarter. The most intriguing aspect of Prescott may be that we haven’t even seen him play a full season yet. He is the team’s unquestioned leader, and he’s a force to deal with on the field. He’ll be one of the more popular players in attendance this week at media days. Let’s see how he handles the exposure; I bet he passes with flying colors.
Benardrick McKinney may be the best linebacker nobody’s heard of in college football. Passing up the draft to return for his junior season, McKinney gives the defense an attitude and leadership, along with a nose for the football, and he can stack numbers on a stat sheet with the best of ’em. He could blow into the conference’s best linebacker, and he’s had two big-time seasons in a row for Geoff Collins’ underrated defense.
While the Bulldogs look loaded on both the offensive and defensive units, the schedule actually works in their favor, too. SDS ranked MSU’s schedule as the 11th toughest the SEC has to offer. In other words, it sets up sort of a perfect ride for the Bulldogs to become a real player in the country’s toughest division.
Mullen’s struggles to beat ranked teams still haunt him. LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn, Alabama and Ole Miss all will likely start the season ranked in the AP Top 25, and his success — or failure — against those teams will ultimately decide his ball club’s fate.
And then you have rival Ole Miss, who heads to SEC Media Days with Hugh Freeze, defensive end CJ Johnson, safety Cody Prewitt and quarterback Bo Wallace, looking to become a national contender with experience and one of the most talented rosters — player for player — in college football.
After Freeze hauled in one of the country’s top recruiting classes in 2013, 2014 was the year everyone circled for the Rebels to make some serious noise.
Wallace is the conference’s leading career passer with 3,270 yards more than the closest contender in Kentucky’s Max Smith. The Rebels hope Wallace has saved his best for last, and if Ole Miss is going to play spoiler and make some serious noise in the West, Wallace has to be on his game, every game. The problem has been consistency. He looks like an All-SEC passer sometimes, fitting it through tight windows and putting throws on a dime, and then other times the lack of consistency and gunslinger mentality catches up to him. Let’s see how much he’s learned in two full seasons.
Breakout stars in receiver Laquon Treadwell, defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche and safety Tony Connor — none of whom are attending Media Days — are ready to take their games to the next level and become premier talents in college football, much like MSU’s Chris Jones. All-American safety Cody Prewitt, CJ Johnson, Serderius Bryant and Denzel Nkemdiche are other seasoned veterans ready to help take the Rebels’ defense to another level, with Bryant perhaps being the most important player on the unit.
Like MSU, the Rebels play a favorable schedule overall compared to other programs, ranked as the conference’s 10th toughest schedule. With no Big Five conference opponent on the schedule, and with Vanderbilt and Tennessee from the East, it almost sets up perfectly. The Rebels even host both Alabama and Auburn, largely figured the two best teams in the West.
We have been holding judgement on Hugh Freeze since he was hired. He turned around Ole Miss’ team — from 2-10 to 7-6 — in remarkable fashion in just his first year, and steps were taken last season, too. However, this is Freeze’s best opportunity yet to truly do something special.
Whether or not the hype surrounding both Mississippi State or Ole Miss is warranted, we’ll find out in a few short months. But it makes for an interesting year and pours more gas on the ever-burning Egg Bowl fire.
Could the Egg Bowl help decide the SEC West in 2014? Now, I’m just jumping to conclusions…