It’s the time of year where people who write about college football search desperately for things to write about. We often do preview pieces, evaluations on certain groups, or just off topic stuff. A lot of writers also like to do Power Rankings and Rank the college towns of the SEC. And that brings me to my topic today.
The new site that covers the SEC on the FanSided Network conducted a poll of some of the editors of our SEC sites to rank the college towns in the SEC. Starkville was voted last. Oxford was voted second. Athlon Sports did one too, which had Starkville last and Oxford 3rd. Barrett Sallee of the Bleacher Report did his way too early Power Rankings back in January. He had Mississippi State 10th and Ole Miss 3rd.
Perception is a funny thing. The way we perceive things is not always an honest reflection of the way things really are. Starkville has changed quite a bit in the last 15 to 20 years. The number of places there are to eat has increased drastically, the night life of the city is 10 times better than it ever has been, and the city has done a lot of things to improve the aesthetic appeal. When I went there in November with my son, it was virtually a different city than it was when I was there 14 years ago.
Oxford is a nice small Mississippi town as well. But what is there in Oxford that there isn’t in Starkville? Bars? There are plenty of those in Starkville. The Cotton District has made that so much better. Restaurants? At one time, there weren’t very many good places to eat in Starkville, but now I have to choose between Restaurant Tyler, The Veranda, Stager In, and countless other places to eat. The only difference in the two is the Square. Oxford has the Square which gives Oxford more places to shop. Despite that, there is a perception that Oxford is the Heaven of College towns and Starkville is the Hell. Both places are great college towns with two very different perceptions.
Does this perception carry over to the football teams? I would argue that it does. Mississippi State is never picked to do much in football. Even in years when the football team is being projected to be better than it normally is, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who will ever predict the Bulldogs to win more than 8 games in a season. Much of it revolves around the players the Bulldogs bring in. One of the things that is said when evaluating State’s recruiting classes is that it hard to convince players to come to Starkville. The recruits of Mississippi State are often described as raw and unpolished. When Mississippi State exceeds expectations (like last year), Mullen is always credited with finding “diamonds in the rough”.
Ole Miss was picked as a trendy SEC West contender last year and dark horse national championship contender. They started 2014 ranked 17th in the AP Poll and that is exactly where they finished. That’s probably the very definition of meeting expectations. The Rebels will likely be ranked higher this year entering 2014. Much of it will be based on the shiny recruits Hugh Freeze has brought in.
I predicted State to win the West and Ole Miss to finish 6th. I got called all kinds of things by Ole Miss fans, but there was logic behind it. I like the offense of State. Many think Mississippi State will take a major step back because they lose a ton of experience on defense and three offensive linemen and the starting running back. I counter with they have the best JUCO lineman coming in to help, a stable of talented backs ready to step in, and oh yeah, a quarterback that finished 8th in the Heisman Voting. People love the recruiting classes of Ole Miss, and think it is going to translate into a breakout year. Thye think Laquon Treadwell will be enough offense to get them over the hump and the defense will be just a s solid as it was last year. I counter that the schedule is brutal, and the quarterback situation really makes me wonder just how much they will score.
Starkville’s reputation of being awful is just that, a reputation. It is much better than it ever has been. I really don’t care that it gets voted 14th, if there are 13 other cities better, so be it. But to say that it is some godforsaken place with nothing to offer is foolish. It’s changed, and it is time the perception of it to change as well, just like our football team. The team has talent and it is getting better. Mullen just recruited his highest rated class. And if you aren’t willing to give Starkville a chance or do the research on our team, then we’ll be more than happy to pass you by.