Can Rebels, Bulldogs match 2014 success? Clearly, the goal is to finish better
Eight years ago this week, Mississippi State and Ole Miss had climbed to a tie for No. 3 in the Associated Press college football poll. Both had begun the season unranked.
It was wild.
Remember? Ole Miss had just knocked off Alabama. State had cold-cocked Texas A&M.
We hadn’t seen anything yet. It was about to go from wild to crazy.
State proceeded to clock No. 2 Auburn 38-23 and move to No. 1. Ole Miss dispatched A&M 35-20 and remained at No. 3, just two votes behind No. 2 Florida State. Both the Bulldogs and Rebels were a perfect 6-0. Two measly votes kept State and Ole Miss from being 1-2 in the land.
This football-crazed state was nuts.
The college football nation was astonished. Indeed, even the talking heads at ESPN began to correctly distinguish between Ole Miss and Mississippi State, two teams they had often mixed up in the past.
Eight years later, we’re not to 2014 level — at least not yet — but college football in Mississippi has rarely been better than it is at this juncture.
Could this be 2014 all over again? Ole Miss, 5-0, has moved to No. 9 in the AP poll. State, 4-1, moved up to No. 23 after last Saturday’s 42-24 trouncing of the Texas Aggies. There’s more to celebrate in Mississippi. Jackson State, 4-0, has moved to No. 8 in the FCS rankings. The Tigers appear to be the head and shoulders above the rest of the SWAC. Southern Miss is a much more modest 2-2, but has now won four of its last six games over two seasons and finally has something to hang its hat on after a huge road victory over otherwise undefeated Tulane.
In Division II, surprising Delta State moved to 5-0 with a 70-31 run-away victory over 13th ranked Valdosta State last Saturday. Meanwhile, Mississippi College stunned No. 15 West Georgia 39-38.
So back to the question: Could 2022 be 2014 all over again?
State’s lone defeat, 31-16 at LSU, makes a repeat of 2014 with both the state’s SEC teams ranked in the top 3 highly unlikely. But Ole Miss clearly has a navigable road to move much higher in the polls.
If the games were played today, Lane Kiffin’s Rebels would be favored in each of their next four: at Vanderbilt, Auburn at home, at LSU and at Texas A&M. At this point, Kiffin probably would borrow from his former boss Nick Saban and tell his players not to read the rest of this rat poison. But here it is: Ole Miss could conceivably be 9-0 with Alabama coming to Oxford on Nov. 12.
Now that would reach 2014 levels of Mississippi football craziness. It could happen.
State’s immediate schedule is exceedingly more difficult. The Bulldogs first play Arkansas at home, then at once-beaten Kentucky, then No. 1 Alabama, then Auburn, and then No. 2 Georgia. Oh, the joys of competing in the SEC…
So much is still to be determined, but the stakes could be much higher than usual when State plays Ole Miss at Oxford on Thanksgiving night.
Back to 2014: You will remember that Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs, led by Dak Prescott, held their No. 1 ranking for five consecutive weeks until Alabama popped the Dogs’ bubble 25-20 at Tuscaloosa. State then crushed Vanderbilt before losing both the Egg Bowl and the Orange Bowl (to Georgia Tech) to finish at No. 11 in the AP poll.
Ole Miss? The Rebels did win the Golden Egg, but dropped all the way to No. 17 after being trounced by TCU 42-3 in the Peach Bowl.
Important to remember when comparing 2022 to what happened eight years ago: Starting strong is merely good; finishing strong is epic.
In 2014, the start was epic, the finish not so good.
That’s where 2022 could be far, far better. We’ll see. That’s enough rat poison for one day.