November 30, 2010 11:56:00 AM
Few things are less predictable than college football.
In Mississippi, the home team historically wins the Egg Bowl, the annual battle between Ole Miss and Mississippi State. This year, the game was played in Oxford. Yet the Golden Egg is still in Starkville.
For differing reasons, fans of Mississippi State and Ole Miss alike are wondering: What happened this year?
Mississippi State went 5-7 last year (with one of the wins an upset over Ole Miss in Starkville). Ole Miss began last season ranked in the Top 10, ended at No. 20, and went on to win its second straight Cotton Bowl. Traditionally, Ole Miss plays football in January, while State tends to stay at home.
Then 2010 happened.
Ole Miss opened with a devastating, incomprehensible, double-overtime loss to Jacksonville State in Oxford, the same day Mississippi State pummeled Memphis in Starkville. Those two games seemed to set the tone for the rest of the season -- Mississippi State was confident; Ole Miss was unsure and in disarray.
Today, the two teams'' fortunes are reversed, compared to a year ago. The Rebels are 4-8, while the Bulldogs are 8-4 and headed to a bowl game for just the second time in the past 10 years, most likely the Chik-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.
Still, Ole Miss needs to be recognized and lauded for its successes over the past few years. Back-to-back Cotton Bowl wins are a momentous achievement. Houston Nutt is a winning, capable coach, and Ole Miss would be wise to hold on to him.
Mississippi State, however, has found a unique leader in Dan Mullen. In his first head-coaching gig, he brought new energy to the Bulldogs. That was evident in 2009, his first year -- despite the losing record, the Bulldogs kept fighting like classic underdogs. They knew, in 2009, that their only bowl game would be the Egg Bowl, and they made the most of that fact. They rode that wave through the entire 2010 season. Mullen''s leadership is now paying dividends.
The reverse has happened at Ole Miss, where the winning flame of the past few years has seemingly sputtered out. Ole Miss'' 2010 season has been beyond frustrating for its fans, culminating in the disappointment last Saturday in Oxford. The Egg Bowl was Ole Miss'' only bowl this year. And unlike Mississippi State, they squandered their home-field advantage.
We know Ole Miss will be back to its winning ways soon enough. We''re confident that Nutt -- if he remains at Ole Miss -- can build a winning program over the long haul.
But this is Mississippi State''s moment. We congratulate them on their season, and wish them well in their bowl game, wherever it might be.