August 28, 2014 10:44:43 AM
It is here.
If you are a college football fan, that is all that is necessary to distinguish what makes this week exceptional.
For those who are not quite so consumed with college football, "it" refers to the 2014 college football season. The "here" is the week when virtually all of the nation's college football teams begin play.
In Mississippi, Ole Miss gets the distinction of being among the first teams to kick off its season. The Rebels, coming off back-to-back bowls seasons, play Boise State tonight at Atlanta's Georgia Dome. Mississippi State, which has played in a record four consecutive bowl games, will host Southern Miss on Saturday night in what will likely be the most celebrated season-opener in the school's history.
Also on Saturday, perennial powerhouse Alabama meets West Virginia in a game that will also be played at the Georgia Dome.
The Rebels and Bulldogs are both comfortable favorites in their openers and both are perceived as teams on the rise.
In Starkville, the anticipation for the season-opener is enhanced by two other factors.
First, the Bulldogs will use the game to unveil a $75 million expansion of Davis-Wade Stadium. It will mark the 100th year of football at Davis Wade, which is the second oldest campus football stadium in major-college football.
The expansion, which encloses the north end zone, will increase seating by a little more than 6,000 seats to 61,337, but the renovations go far beyond seating alone. Also included are new elevators, restrooms, concessions and a new concourse on the west side of the stadium.
The new enclosed north end zone will add what MSU officials call a field level premium area called "The Gridiron." Columbus fans should note the large marble in-lay of the state of Mississippi was fashioned by Columbus Marble Works.
Saturday's opponent, Southern Miss, is also a reminder of just how far the MSU football program has advanced in the almost quarter-century since these teams last met (a 13-10 Bulldog win in 1990).
Until the late 1980s, MSU and Ole Miss regularly played Southern Miss and the Eagles "gave as good as they got." Ole Miss decided to end its rivalry with Southern Miss first and MSU soon followed.
Over the intervening years, the Bulldogs and Rebels have flourished, thanks primarily to their ties with the powerful Southeastern Conference, while Southern Miss languished, comparatively-speaking. While the MSU and Ole Miss athletic budgets have grown through its lucrative ties to the SEC, Southern Miss has struggled to maintain relevance at the top level of college football. Its much smaller athletic budget reflects that struggle.
Saturday's game, then, will bring an Eagles' team fueled by a chip on its shoulder against an MSU team that is expected to be one of its best.
It should be fun. It almost has to be, given all that will be celebrated Saturday.
Even if you are not a die-hard college football fan, it's pretty easy to get swept up in the excitement that the new college football season brings. Certainly, it is a boon to restaurants, hotels and other businesses that cater to the college football crowd.
But for the rest of us, it's just another good thing we associate with the arrival of fall.
It's here. 'Nuff said.
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