Nov 28, 2015; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi Rebels linebacker C.J. Johnson (10) celebrates with the Egg Bowl trophy after the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium. Mississippi won 38-27. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
With the home team dominating the Egg Bowl for the last 16 years, is 2015 a sign the road team is about to go on a streak of its own?
Entering the Egg Bowl in 2015, the home team in the rivalry had only lost twice since 1999. Ole Miss won in Starkville in 2003 and Mississippi State won in Oxford in 2010. In a 15 year stretch, those were the only two times a road team was able to walk away victorious in the heated rivalry.
This brought a lot of comfort to Mississippi State fans. The loss to Ole Miss stung in 2014, but we eagerly awaited the game in 2015 because the game returned to Starkville. So when Ole Miss dominated the game from virtually start to finish, many Mississippi State fans were shell shocked.
As much as Mississippi State fans didn’t want to believe it, this team simply didn’t have enough to compete with teams that had stockpiled more talent. And thanks in large part to the recruiting efforts of Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss was one of those teams. The biggest issue was an offensive line lacking the talent or development to handle the sophisticated pass rush of LSU, Texas A&M, Alabama, and Ole Miss. It was the Bulldogs’ glaring flaw, and it cost them dearly in their four losses.
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But Mississippi State and Ole Miss could be doing a role reversal in 2016. Mississippi State had nothing but question marks all over the field. The one thing they had going for them this season was the best quarterback in the league. Ole Miss lost a few players from their 2014 team, but the team appeared to be primed for a big year so long as they received solid quarterback play from their new starter Chad Kelly.
Mississippi State is only losing 8 starters next season, and two of those starters were lost due to injury before we ever got to November. Though I couldn’t find a depth chart, it appears Ole Miss is losing 11 senior starters in 2016. The most difficult losses though would come from the players who are likely to declare themselves eligible for the NFL Draft.
Robert Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell, Tony Conner, and Evan Engram are all projected to go anywhere from the first through third rounds in the draft. If they all go, Ole Miss would have to replace 16 different starters on next year’s team, but they would have the best returning quarterback in the league. It would be a situation very similar to what Mississippi State faced in 2015.
On Mississippi State’s side, the Bulldogs could lose 2 additional starters to early entry in the NFL Draft. But due to the injuries, the Bulldogs are losing only 6 starters for all of last season. The two additional to the draft would bring the number to 8. The biggest issue will be the quarterback position. This is very similar to what Ole Miss was like at the start of the 2015 season.
Ole Miss was the biggest wild card to me in the SEC West this season. They had the talent to achieve lofty goals, but we just didn’t know what to expect from them at quarterback. Though it is way too early to try to assess what the season will hold in 2016, I lean towards Mississippi State being the biggest wild card in the West next season for virtually the same reasons.
The cycle could repeat itself all over again in 2017. I haven’t looked as closely at what the rosters will be in 2016 to see how graduation would impact each team in 2017, but at first glance, it looks like Mississippi State will lose more than Ole Miss in 2017. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the road team to go on a tear like it did from 1994 to 1998 when the road team won all five games played in the series. And this all becomes a moot point if more than 2 of the Ole Miss elite players decide to stick around Oxford for one more year. It will be interesting to see if 2015 is a change in direction for the series or simply a blip on the radar.