Dan Mullen is big on rivalries. He made a promise to State fans that we would never lose to Ole Miss under his management. He is 2-0 so far. In fact, throughout his Division 1-A assistant coaching career (since 1998) the only time his team lost to their chief rival was at Bowling Green in 2002. Mullen has a chance to start his MSU career 3-0 against the Rebels, something that’s not been done since Allyn McKeen started 4-0 from 1939-42. McKeen was 65-19-3 in nine seasons. That was also the last time State won more than two in a row in this series.
For the first time in 21 years, the Egg Bowl will decide whether the Bulldogs play in the postseason. MSU opened as an 18 point favorite, their largest margin in the history of the Egg Bowl. Ole Miss’ loss to LSU last week was their largest margin of defeat since 1974. MSU coming off its 2nd largest margin of defeat in the Dan Mullen era.
Mullen announced on Sunday that Tyler Russell will start the game. That is somewhat surprising considering he has rarely announced a starter at all, especially early in the week. Also, it’s Senior Day and one might think Chris Relf would get the start. Russell passed Relf last week in passing yards for the season (1,089 to 1,013).
Ole Miss QB Randell Mackey will be suspended for the second straight game and Barry Brunetti will start. Brunetti was the starting quarterback for the first game of the year vs. BYU, but did not play again until last week vs. LSU. Many people thought he might try to obtain a red-shirt for this season, but that is no longer an option. He is 7 of 13 for 34 yards in 2011.
Ole Miss has had a miserable season. Not only have they fired Houston Nutt and Pete Boone, but they are in jeopardy of going 0-8 in the SEC for the second time in 5 years. If the Rebels lose this game, it will be the worst year in their history as they have never lost 10 games in a season. Ole Miss is 11th or 12th in the SEC in every major offensive and defensive category. Here’s how they stack up nationally:
Scoring offense: 114th (17.3)
Total offense: 114th (288.5)
Scoring defense: 96th (32.2)
Total defense: 94th (428.6)
Kentucky, who is 11th where Ole Miss is 12th and 12th where Ole Miss is 11th, beat them by 17 points. Their only wins have come against FCS Southern Illinois and a 4-7 WAC team (Fresno State). Louisiana Tech beat the Bears by 20 points in Oxford. They are getting beat by an average margin of 24.4 points in SEC games.
All that said, throw out the record books for this one. Ole Miss could muster every ounce of intestinal fortitude they have and make this a very close game. On the other hand, they could completely fold like MSU did in ’08 and get whipped. This game is of the utmost importance for Mississippi State. 1. Win the Egg Bowl and get bragging rights 2. Win the Egg Bowl for the third straight year establishing MSU as the dominate team in the state of Mississippi 3. Go to a bowl game.
2011 has been a disappointment for State. They’ve not been able to beat any good team (depending on your feelings about WAC Champ LA Tech). But this game is for all the marbles. Lose the game and Ole Miss suddenly has a win to hang their hat on and momentum with a new coach in 2012. Win the game and keep the program moving forward, keeping Ole Miss down in the process. Recruits may not want to walk into the situation in Oxford, but if MSU can’t win the Egg Bowl they will not want to come to Starkville either. The Egg Bowl is huge, a must win for Mississippi State.
“[The Egg Bowl] can make a good season a great season or a bad season good,” Mullen said. “It’s that type of game and it sticks with you for a long time walking around the state of Mississippi, the most important game of the season no matter what season it is.”