Down the Stretch – BAMA, ARK, and TSUN

Every year State gets to November and faces the same stretch: Alabama, Arkansas, and Ole Miss. It is the stretch that typically defines the season, for better or worse. Two of the three (Bama & Ole Miss) are State’s biggest rivals. Sandwiched in between is Arkansas…which may explain MSU’s difficulty in beating the Razorbacks.

When Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992, it immediately became a fixture in MSU’s November schedule. Until 1996, State played the Hogs before they played Alabama. Ever since then the order has been Alabama, Arkansas, and Ole Miss (with 2002 being an exception – Tennessee was played between Bama & Ark).

In ’92, State maintained a national ranking the entire year, helped along by victories over Texas and Florida…but after beating Arkansas they lost to eventual national champion Alabama, then to Ole Miss – who was ranked #24 at the time – ending the season with a 7-4 record and a trip to the Peach Bowl. In ’94 State nearly completed the trifecta, but lost to #6 Bama 29-25. ’95: lost them all. ’96: close, only lost to Arkansas by 3.

In 1999, State was 8-0 and ranked #8 in the country. But Shuan Alexander tore through MSU in Tuscaloosa, then State lost in Little Rock to Arkansas; but finished by beating Ole Miss and completed a 9-2 regular season. In 2000, the Dawgs were ranked #13 going into a home game vs. a mediocre Arkansas team…but lost the game 17-10 and ended up losing the Egg Bowl too.

2002-2004, MSU lost all three games each year. ’05 & ’06: 1 out of 3.  In 2007, beating Alabama and Ole Miss were crucial to getting State back to a bowl game for the first time in seven years. In 2010, State was ranked #17 as they went to Alabama but lost, then lost to Arkansas in overtime…but finished with a victory in the Egg Bowl.

This is State’s 20th year playing this stretch of games, the only year they won all 3 was 1998. That’s right, the only year MSU has ever won the West to advance to the SEC Championship Game is also the only year they ran the table down this stretch. The Dawgs beat Alabama 24-16, then #9 Arkansas 22-21, and finally Ole Miss 28-6.

In 2011, this stretch of games is just as important as any. 3 wins here would turn the season into a roaring success, 3 losses and it would be a complete failure. 2-1 would be cause for excitement, while 1-2 would just be okay.

The first game up: Alabama. A seemingly impossible game to win. Las Vegas says the Tide will win by 17 points. It appears likely since Alabama has better players at virtually every position except defensive tackle. One could make an argument that MSU’s quarterbacks are as good as A.J. McCarron….but it’s no better than tied (with the Tide – a pun).

But some hope can be found – 1. The game is in Starkville…at night 2. Alabama is coming off the ‘game of the century’ with LSU and is undoubtedly emotionally exhausted 3. Perhaps they are physically exhausted as well? 4. The last three weeks for MSU have consisted of a bye week, a horrible Kentucky team, and FCS UT-Martin – none of which the Bulldogs have had to expend that much emotional energy 5. State has also not been involved in the kind of physical play Alabama has, so they should be more fresh.

The plain simple fact is: Alabama is the better team. The other plain simple fact is: emotion is always an ‘x’ factor, especially in college football. This is why we play the games. It is very hard to get up for every game…hence Mullen’s frustration with the effort in the first half vs. UT-Martin. Conventional wisdom would suggest MSU would be in a better position to take advantage of an emotional Alabama letdown if they had beaten LSU. Reason being all the congratulations and ‘thaddaboys’ they’d receive all week being the best team in the country they would over-look MSU and not be mentally prepared for the game. The loss could mean they’ve re-focused and are intent on taking out their frustrations on MSU. But…let’s put on the maroon-colored glasses and hope the items in the previous paragraph and not this one will work to State’s advantage.

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