COLUMN: Whoever the next Ole Miss coach ends up being, one of the most important things he and his staff have to correct is the outcome of the annual Egg Bowl game with Mississippi State.
I know some Ole Miss fans may not agree with me writing that the annual game is the most important game on the schedule, but it really is. Yes, there are bigger goals for the Rebels to aspire to than just beating the Bulldogs, but before this program can walk and run again, it has to learn how to crawl.
That means focusing on the singular goal of beating MSU, a team that has now won three straight in the series. It has to be the main objective, or right at the top of the list, anyway you want to slice it. Houston Nutt understood the rivalry was important, but not early enough in his stay at Ole Miss. In a lot of ways the 45-0 win over MSU in 2008, as well as the success he had at Arkansas against MSU, gave him a false sense of security about the rivalry and just how big it really is to both sides.
I agree with his statement that losing to Mississippi State in 2009 and 2010 wasn’t the only reason he wasn’t retained as coach, but winning in 2009 and even 2010 would have helped his status going into this season. The losses allowed those seeking a change to, as Nutt said, pile on.
Dan Mullen has focused a considerable amount of attention on the yearly rivalry. He has a clock that counts down to the game, he uses the wins in recruiting better than any coach in recent memory and his success against the Rebels helped garner him a contract extension as much as anything.
When you live in a state that is as in tune to college football as much as Mississippi is, the school that wins the Egg Bowl matters. It sways recruits, it often times decides bowl destinations like it did this year and of course, it helps with boosters who are seemingly more ready to give money when they can walk around their respective towns with bragging rights under their belts for the next 364 days.
Proof in the stats
I know it still may be hard for some fans to really grasp why beating the Bulldogs has become more important than ever. After all Ole Miss, for many years, used to dominate the series.
Johnny Vaught had an incredible 19-2-4 record against MSU during his 25-year tenure. Billy Brewer, the next longest tenured coach at Ole Miss, was 8-3 against the Bulldogs. Brewer won his first four games against MSU, a stat only matched by Vaught.
That memory of supremacy is ingrained in many followers, but Ole Miss has not produced such a bad stretch of games against MSU since before World War II. I think that stat says all that needs to be said about the state of the program at Ole Miss.
MSU is ahead of Ole Miss currently, but the gap between the two schools isn’t too great. It can be corrected, but not without wins and a consistent, positive win-loss ratio. That has to be the goal for the next coach, whoever it is. (November 29, 2011, Page 6)