It’s here, officially. The week Mississippi has been waiting for since her two premier teams tied for third place in the country so many weeks ago. It was a little too perfect, really, that Ole Miss and Mississippi State should be told then “You’re even to us, until you play each other.”
Each season has gone its own way since, as the Bulldogs ascended to No. 1 for over a month, now sitting at No. 4 after losing to Alabama. The Rebels hung around the Top 10 for a while, though the grinding machine that is the SEC West finally ate their title hopes this weekend.
Dak Prescott’s Heisman contention means nothing to Ole Miss, nor does his long night in Tuscaloosa have anything to do with Oxford. That MSU beat all three of the teams the Rebels lost to has no correlation to the game played this Saturday, and there are no assumptions to be made about Ole Miss beating the one team the Bulldogs couldn’t conquer.
This is a column from MSU beating Vanderbilt 51-0, and even these words have quite little to do with that game. When Dan Mullen arrived at the press conference for post-game interviews, the media seemed more interested in events that were seven days away. One might even speculate that Mullen’s flaring temper on the sidelines mid-blowout was his psyche already preparing itself for That School Up North. That’s probably not the case, but it’s easy to assume those in Starkville have had Oxford somewhere in the back of their minds since they got on the bus to leave Tuscaloosa eight days ago.
Vanderbilt just had the unfortunate position of being the last meal before the Thanksgiving bloodbath to come.
“We wanted to come out and show how hungry we are after that loss,” Prescott told reporters. “I think we got back to that team we were earlier in the year.”
Said a proud Mullen, “That was Mississippi State football.”
If by Mississippi State Football he means pounding a team into submission before halftime, then it’s hard to argue. By the time Evan Sobiesk’s 34-yard field goal made it 37-0 in the final second of the first half, both teams would have happily called it a game. The Commodores just wanted it to end, while the Dawgs were ready for a real fight.
“This game is special,” Prescott said. “It’s like no other.”
He didn’t have to specify what this game is referring to. No one in the room thought for a second he was talking about the one MSU just played in, despite the fact that it was, in theory, the contest which they were supposed to have been discussing.
Mullen always gives his team a 24-hour rule. They have one day to celebrate a win or mourn a loss. But Saturday night, they didn’t even want 24 seconds.
“It’s all about this week,” Mullen said before the previous week was even technically over. “It’s all about this game.”
The Egg Bowl is big for a lot of reasons, many obvious, some a little more subtle, brewing underneath the surface of typically calm exteriors. Prescott, as he’s navigated the throng of media following him, questioning him, praising him and downing him, has kept up a smooth front. He’s smiled through it all, answered questions honestly and with a carefully measured amount of emotion. He’s never been inflammatory, incendiary or controversial. He’s opened up while keeping himself healthily distanced from those trying to search every nook and cranny of his life and soul.
But this week is different. He knows it and so does everyone else. This isn’t about Xs and Os or division titles or overall records. They’ll study film before and track the standings after, but on Saturday afternoon, those aren’t the things that will fuel either team.
He’s a Louisiana native, but it only took Prescott until his first Egg Bowl to understand the rivalry. 2012 in Oxford was his first in the series, and it was the only Battle for the Golden Egg Mullen has lost since his winning his first one in 2009. As the night came to a close in that one defeat two years ago, a clip was shown on the video board. It was a portion of a previous post-Egg speech in the locker room in which Mullen told his team they would never lose to Ole Miss again, a highlight received with venomous laughter from the Rebel faithful.
“The way they did the little jumbotron thing after the game,” Prescott said, “that stuck with me, that feeling. I’m ready to go back and take care of business.”
“I don’t like ‘em,” MSU offensive lineman Ben Beckwith said. “Just being honest. They didn’t recruit me. They didn’t even want me to walk on there.”
Not all stories are the same as those, but no one on either side has to manufacture a reason to dislike the other. It’s natural. It’s organic.
“It’s huge,” State receiver Joe Morrow said. “The biggest game of the season. We emphasize that we can’t lose this game. We’ve gotta keep the trophy where it’s at.”
It’s Egg Bowl week. Strap in.
“I’m sure they’re gonna be excited,” Beckwith said with even parts honesty and cockiness. “They’re trying to ruin our season. We’re the top dog in the state.”