Outside, perhaps, of a National Championship, measuring big-picture success in any sport by the outcome of a single game is silly. But, those single games can certainly serve as catalysts or high points over the course of a season.
As Rick Ray and Mississippi State ready themselves for hosting Ole Miss tomorrow afternoon, the memory of their last tilt serves as a reminder of what one game can mean.
“I’m just so proud for my guys,” Ray said after the game that night. “They’ve worked so hard all year, even with the losing, and now they have something to show for their effort.”
The entire week leading up to the game, Ray went across campus, visiting groups and trying to rally support for their last home game of the season, this one against their rival.
“I know it’s been rough,” he told students, “but we need you there. It will get better and we need your help.”
His request was answered with the biggest and loudest crowd of the year for the takedown, following which his players ran to the student section and celebrated with the crowd.
“Hopefully, this is the type of game you can build off,” Ray said afterwards.
And it seems he has, as this season his team matched last year’s win total of 10 before conference play even began.
As his Bulldogs try and position themselves for a potential run to the postseason in 2014, tomorrow’s game against in-state and SEC rival Ole Miss sets up as a big one to be so early in the schedule.
Though, one way or another, it seems all sports end up having important games in the Egg rivalry.
In fact, while each was certainly circumstantial, three of the biggest games in three of MSU’s biggest sports in 2013 were wins over Ole Miss.
Most recently, State’s overtime win in the Egg Bowl was the most meaningful game of the year for Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs. Outside of taking down their in-state rival, it ensured that his team would be in the postseason for the fourth-straight year, clinching bowl eligibility in dramatic fashion.
Going into Oxford last spring, John Cohen’s baseball team wasn’t even sure it would be able to host an NCAA Regional, particularly after losing the first two games of the series against the Rebels that weekend.
In game three against Ole Miss, his Bulldogs came back from being down 6-0 and won 7-6, launching a 15-3 run through the schedule, including the Starkville Regional, Charlottesville Super Regional and ultimately ending in the National Championship at the College World Series in Omaha.
Some will say the importance of the rivalry is overstated, while others feel that “neither can live while the other survives.”
The truth, as it so often does, likely lies somewhere in the middle.
But tomorrow, the first MSU-Ole Miss battle of 2014 takes place in Starkville, 3 p.m.
The game will be big for both, but the good news for each of the participants is that, in basketball, you get a second chance.
Ray took advantage of his in 2013. We’ll find out tomorrow if he needs it in 2014.