Wow. What a weekend for College Football. 3 of the top 4 and 4 of the top 6 teams got knocked off, and the entire state of Mississippi hasn’t been able to reclaim this kind of happiness since before the Battle of Vicksburg. Let’s dwell on that for a second. Ole Miss beat #1 ranked Alabama… Holy Shit.
This is an event of cataclysmic proportions here in SEC country (as it always is when Bama loses), but I couldn’t be happier about it. Before this game the general world consensus was that this game would follow the same course as Georgia vs. Alabama circa 2008. This was right near the beginning of Alabama’s rise to dominance in College Football. However, coming into that game the big story was the Georgia Bulldogs. #3 in the country. The game was a blackout. The crowd was amped up, Matt Stafford was still the QB in Georgia, and Bulldogs fans were ready to take the next big step on their route to a national championship… about that…
Yes Ugga… thats about as well as it went… but hey, didn’t those black jerseys look awesome??
The game ended 41-31 but it wasn’t even close. It was 31-0 at the half, at which point Alabama completely took their foot off the gas and went into cruise control to secure the victory. Now, before the weekend’s slate of crazy games this is the fate people were predicting for Ole Miss (I heard it from Ryen Russillo on the SVP and Russillo Show, and I totally agreed, which shows how much I know about college football I guess). That was clearly incorrect.
Not only did Ole Miss win, but they won in spite of controversial calls going in Alabama’s favor. The number one team in the country, and perennial SEC bully just got knocked off by a school which has been perceived as a perpetual bottom feeder in the conference since Eli Manning left. This game was such a big even for the school, the state, and the conference, that not only did they tear down the goalposts, but the fans then started a fund to help the school pay for new posts, as well as the SEC fines for storming the field. And they raised more than the necessary amount in just a couple days time.
Now, all that is INCREDIBLY impressive and I was thoroughly stunned to see it happen (we watched it on the giant TV monitors in Commonwealth Stadium before the UK South Carolina game kicked off) but the more interesting story to me was the case of the cowbell-shaking fans of Mississippi State and their bulldogs this weekend.
Ole Miss may be an SEC bottom feeder of sorts, and they may be a little brother to the likes of Alabama and LSU, but Mississippi State is the little brother to Ole Miss… meaning they could not possible get any further down the foodchain, right? Well apparently not because one week after crushing SEC powerhouse and #8 ranked team LSU [IN BATON ROUGE!!!] they proceeded to beat down #6 Texas A&M like Chong Li murdering Ray Jackson in Bloodsport.
THIS DOESN’T HAPPEN!!!!!!! So its one thing for Ole Miss to pull off an upset now and then, and Ole Miss has even been hailed as a program on the rise the last couple years because of stellar recruiting, but MISSISSIPPI STATE?!?! Now, I won’t dwell on Kentucky’s big win this weekend here, but its amazing to me that these 3 schools who have all circled the drain together the past half decade or so and all pulled off massive wins in the same weekend (Mississippi State is so seemingly poorly thought of that their semi-permanent cross conference rival [SEC East vs. West] has been Kentucky. Thats the esteem with which the SEC holds State. They think they’re equivalent to Kentucky football which, as a UK fan, I can tell you has been no great shakes until these last 2 seasons). Ok… anyway… a short aside for a little backstory on why the State win is so shocking even if the Ole Miss win is fairly believable…
The two Mississippi Schools, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt have been, in large part, bottom feeders for the majority of the SECs reign of dominance in college football. For Vanderbilt this is generally because they’re a “smart kid school” of sorts with a relatively underdeveloped fanbase, respective to other SEC programs, and more importantly its because any and all good recruits in the state of Tennessee go to UT. For Kentucky its generally been because well the top 3 or 4 recruits in the state of Kentucky have always been really solid players, they often haven’t chosen to go to Kentucky, and even when they have, 3 players does not a team make. And in the state of Mississippi the problem has generally been that there are enough solid recruits in the state to fuel ONE big college football team, but never two, and the two schools have traditionally fought each other to death, only to split the total number of recruits between one another anyway.
Now, around 5 years ago, State got the upper hand in this recruiting relationship, which became a major factor in 2 Ole Miss coaches (Ed Orgeron and Houston Nutt) getting fired before the school finally found Hugh Freeze. In the last couple years, however, Ole Miss has dramatically and radically turned this around, as mentioned above. Not least of which included a top 10 class in 2013 and a top 20 class in 2014 as well as the #1 player in the country in 2013. Outside observers were starting make make comments to the tune of “if Will Muschamp gets fired at Florida, Dan Mullen (Mississippi State Coach and former Florida Assistant) better hop on that job while the getting is good” and “Ole Miss has grabbed every player worth playing in the state, so Mullen better get his resume ready.”
So you can see why it would be extremely surprising to see Ole Miss at number 3 in the country right now, but not totally unbelievable. They’ve finally found the right couch. They’re locking down all the top talent in their state, including some of the best talent in the nation, they have a solid and historic tradition and passionate football fans. They have plenty of building blocks for this to happen. Even last year they had already shown signs of this growth, hopping into the top 25 poll multiple times through the season (#21 once, and #24 a couple times) on the backs of their rebuilt defense. So although it still seems insane for them to knock off #1 Alabama and rocket to #3 in the country, we could see this kind of growth was coming.
State on the other hand? They’ve made a bit of a habit of starting off hot, before collapsing in hilariously cataclysmic fasion. I’m thinking specifically of the 2012 season where they came roaring out of the gates, winning their first 7 games and screaming to #13 in the country before losing 4 of their last 5 games (including the season finale against rival Ole Miss), losing their bowl game to NORTHWESTERN of all schools, and ending the season unranked. THATS the Mississippi State that we’ve been expecting. Thats the Mississippi State we got last year when they went a completely bland 6-6. And that is NOT the Mississippi State we have this year. This year we have a school with Dak Prescott, THE FRONT RUNNER FOR THE HEISMAN TROPHY!!! FROM MISSISSIPPI STATE!!! I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW DAK WAS A NAME!!!
This year we have another #3 ranked school in the state of Mississippi.
And how picture perfect is that? The AP just decided “screw it” and ranked both Mississippi schools #3. “We don’t know… lets just call’m both 3 and wait till one, both, [or neither] of them starts losing.”
That could very will be this week, as Ole Miss now has to play a pissed off, embarrassed, and motivated Texas A&M team IN College Station. State has to play Auburn who… y’know… no big deal, but they’re #2 in the country and look like the best team in football. They could both lose this weekend. Or maybe they could keep shocking us all, win their games, and go into the season finale both undefeated, playing for the SEC West Title, a chance to win the SEC overall title, and a chance to play in the first ever College Football Playoff. Wouldn’t that just be perfect for two teams with great fanbases, great traditions, and far too little reward. Ole Miss has tailgating in The Grove and Mississippi State has those incessant cowbells.
Together they form this spectacular rivalry and old southern aristocracy and class blended into new south traditions of college football for Ole Miss versus the rough, uncut, farm folk and redneck feel of Mississippi state. A class of sub-cultures within the greater culture of the South, all trapped within a Mississippi microcosm. Thats why it would be so damn lovely if these two schools kept this up and ran the table. Probably won’t happen… in fact it almost definitely won’t happen… but hey… this sure is fun while it lasts. Here’s to hoping they give us a show for the rest of the season, and make that final game as big as it has ever been. Meanwhile, I’ll just be over here takin’ mah crazy pills and living life.