State of Mississippi prepares for biggest football weekend this century
The wildly talented SEC fosters marquee matchups every weekend, but for the state of Mississippi this weekend’s SEC action represents the state’s single biggest football weekend in history.
Think I’m caught up in the SEC West hype that’s been created this season? Think I’m not appreciating college football’s decorated history? You couldn’t be more wrong.
Both Mississippi schools in the SEC — Ole Miss and Mississippi State — are ranked in the top 12 of the most recent Associated Press Poll, and both will take on fellow top 12 opponents this weekend. No. 11 Ole Miss enters perhaps the game of the week in its showdown with No. 3 Alabama in Oxford, while No. 12 Mississippi State entertains the unbeaten No. 6 Texas A&M Aggies in Starkville.
The last time both Mississippi schools were ranked in the top 15 and playing top 15 opponents on the same day was 1953. That was 61 years ago. Archie Manning was four years old at the time, and neither team’s current head coach (Dan Mullen and Hugh Freeze) was alive at all.
For both the Rebels and the Bulldogs, this Saturday’s games represent make-or-break contests in what has become a renaissance of college football in the Magnolia State.
The four teams involved in the two games (Ole Miss, Alabama, Mississippi State and Texas A&M) are a combined 17-0 this season and a combined 5-0 in conference play, putting all four in a five-way tie for first atop the SEC West standings (Auburn is the fifth team).
The Rebels are hosting ESPN’s College GameDay for the first time in history, and their game against Alabama will be televised nationally in CBS’s popular 3:30 PM ET time slot, normally reserved for the best SEC game of the week. An Ole Miss victory would not only keep it atop the West; it would elevate the national perception of the Rebels and give them a case for the inaugural College Football Playoff at the end of the year.
The same can be said for Mississippi State’s showdown with A&M. Although the game is scheduled to kick off at noon ET on the SEC Network, which is not usually a time slot or network that attracts much of a national audience, the contest represents an opportunity for State to move into the top 10 in the polls and assert itself as more than just another team in a loaded West division.
Both the Rebels and the Bulldogs have obviously picked up plenty of momentum since the start of the season, and both must be considered legitimate SEC championship contenders if they can keep that momentum going. However, what makes this weekend’s slate of games so crucial is not what can be gained from a win, but instead what can slip away with a loss.
If Ole Miss loses one week after winning an ugly game against Memphis, it’ll plummet in the polls. Heck, the AP already dropped the Rebels one spot because apparently their win over the Tigers was just that ugly. A loss, even to a quality Alabama team, would really set Ole Miss back.
Mississippi State, on the other hand, enters this weekend’s action coming off the biggest win of Dan Mullen’s career as a head coach. The Bulldogs blew past LSU in a night game in Death Valley, something most teams simply cannot do. If Mississippi State can back that win up with another impressive showing at home against Texas A&M, it’ll earn a tremendous amount of respect from the national media and fans alike.
If MSU loses, however, the LSU win will be seen as a fluke and the A&M loss will be considered the Bulldogs’ true identity. Mississippi State can thank Dan Mullen for that, as his reputation as a coach who crumbles in big games precedes him.
Both programs have a reason to be confident this season. Ole Miss boasts the best scoring defense in the conference, allowing opponents just eight points per game, and the Rebels offense is loaded with playmakers like Laquon Treadwell and Jaylen Walton.
Meanwhile, in Starkville, Dak Prescott continues to play like the best quarterback in the SEC, and if he and the Bulldogs continue to click he could be a true Heisman contender. These are not only two good teams, but teams loaded with NFL talent and players who are significant to college football on a national level.
Regardless of this weekend’s results, both Mississippi schools will have a chance to take part in two of the most highly anticipated games in the nation, and that alone reaffirms the Magnolia State’s significance to college football’s national landscape.
Seriously, if Ole Miss and Mississippi State keep up this level of play, the annual Egg Bowl at the end of the year might be an unofficial SEC West title game. It could be the biggest rivalry game in America this year, even bigger than the Iron Bowl — just don’t tell anyone from Alabama that.
The sky is the limit for both the Rebels and the Bulldogs, and it all starts this weekend with the biggest football weekend in Mississippi’s history.