Dec 30, 2013; Nashville, TN, USA; Mississippi Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze, offensive linesman Emmanuel McCray (70), defensive back Ontario Berry (35), punter Chris Conley (94, and tight end Justin Bigham (48) accept the winners trophy after defeating the Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket 25-17 at LP Field. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Can Mississippi Have Two Great Teams?

Well maybe great is a strong word. How about very good? Can Mississippi State and Ole Miss be very good at the same time? Can both programs challenge for 10 wins or even the SEC West at the same time? Or does one of the two have to be down so the other can benefit off their misfortune to rise up?

For a long time I’ve held the belief that there are only 16 wins available for MSU and OM combined. We could both go to bowl games but it would be like the last two years where they are lower-tier games and we combine for just 15 wins. Or if one team were to go 10-3 like Ole Miss did in 2003, it would require a State team to go 2-10 like we did. Or MSU’s 9-4 season in 2010 saw Ole Miss at 4-8….just the opposite happened in 2008 and nearly again in 2009, although MSU had 5 wins that year.

It’s uncanny how when MSU is up, OM is down and vise versa. The only year in which both combined for more than 16 wins was in 1999: MSU (10), Ole Miss (8). And that is probably the most memorable Egg Bowl for most State fans. In 1992 the teams combined for 16 but that’s at close at it gets. Lots of 15’s but plenty more years with much less. OM was down for MSU’s golden years in the 40s – MSU was down for OM’s golden years in the 60s.

But is it possible for both teams to find another level of success, together? When you look at South Carolina and Clemson, then Alabama and Auburn, you have to think it could be.

The winner of the Iron Bowl has played for the national championship in each of the last five years. USC/Clemson has progressed from a matchup of unranked teams to a top 10 game. The Battle for the Golden Egg has elevated itself back to where it was in the late 90s/early 00s – a matchup of two bowl teams. That’s why it was back on Thanksgiving night this year. After a decade of dreadful years by both programs, we are both on the rise.

One thing that helps is Southern Miss falling off a cliff. Now there’s almost no chance of a player choosing USM over MSU or OM. In addition, both schools are locking down the borders and keeping about 90% of the top talent in the state of Mississippi. In years past Auburn, LSU and Alabama poached some the best athletes. What’s more, Hugh Freeze and Dan Mullen are quality coaches.

I’ve heard many people over the years say they would like to see the Egg Bowl be played for the West championship, like the Iron Bowl was this year. I’ve always thought that was a pipe dream because one school had to be down. Well maybe not.

If there was ever a year for State and Ole Miss to take a leap forward into the top half of the SEC West it could be 2014. The division has a lot of attrition,but  both the Mississippi schools don’t have near as much. The youth of both programs has gotten experience and could be poised to make some noise this fall. There are a lot of ifs and buts here, and it still may be a pipe dream for both schools to be so good, but door is cracked.

The Iron Bowl rivalry seems to feed off one another. The Palmetto state was well. Instead of slinging mud they are both ensuring that they get better themselves, and the result is two elite teams. In the past Mississippians have torn each other down and thrown enough mud until we are both left lying in the gutter. Maybe it’s time we focus on making ourselves better, and the potential for winning that exists despite the winning our rival is enjoying.

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