November 22, 2017 5:24:10 PM
The relevance of the Egg Bowl, now back on Thanksgiving Day, has evolved in the past few years. It's a game where home-field advantage and point spreads have nothing to do with which team takes the trophy home. The rivalry gives the winner a year's worth of bragging rights.
While those things might be true, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said earlier this season that the Battle for the Golden Egg isn't as big of a deal as it used to be. When Mullen arrived in Starkville in 2009, he placed an Egg Bowl countdown clock in the locker room. He spent weeks mocking and taunting "The School Up North."
MSU beat Ole Miss 41-27 at Davis Wade Stadium, even though few anticipated it would. The Bulldogs won five games in Mullen's first season, but most fans felt winning back the Egg Bowl trophy meant a successful season.
That was the standard for MSU for a very long time. Regardless of what the Bulldogs had accomplished earlier in the season, many believed a successful season included a victory against their archrival. But Mullen has raised the expectations by building a program that is capable of beating the perennial powers of the Southeastern Conference. While most fans view winning the Egg Bowl as a necessity, just winning that game doesn't determine the success of a season. MSU fans anticipate having eight wins a season -- something older Bulldog fans only dreamed of. Mullen's work has helped change the expectations of MSU fans. The Bulldogs have delivered by becoming bowl eligible for a program-record eight-straight seasons. MSU's seniors also have won 33 games, which ties the 2000 senior class for the third-winningest class in school history.
Seasoned MSU fans never were used to these high expectations. Mullen has had two losing seasons since taking over in 2009. He has proven his program can compete against Alabama. He has shown he can absorb those losses and push the Bulldogs to more wins.
This year, the Egg Bowl will mean a lot to both teams. Ole Miss interim coach Matt Luke has a chance to finish 6-6 after taking over following the resignation of Hugh Freeze. A victory would help Mullen reach nine wins in a season for the fourth time in his tenure. The other three years were in 2010, 2014, and 2015. The only other nine-win seasons before Mullen came to campus were in 1940, 1980, and 1999.
More importantly, a victory by MSU would increase its shot at playing in a New Year's Day bowl game and give it an opportunity to reach 10 victories.
The result also could affect the decisions of some of the state of Mississippi's top high school recruits. Some of those players have been known to watch the Egg Bowl and to make their college choice based on which team wins.
Thanks to Mullen and his coaches, the Battle for the Golden Egg is just one more game for MSU to play to raise its national profile. For MSU this season, the Egg Bowl is a game that stands in the way of a more important game. Winning is important, but unlike 20 years ago, a successful season doesn't depend on it because another game will be played after today.
Mullen and his coaches have worked hard to make sure the Egg Bowl isn't MSU's last game of the season. He has raised the sights of his program and MSU's fans to the College Football Playoff, the SEC Championship Game, and a spot in one of the Power 5 Conferences' bowl games. A win today could move MSU closer to the top 10 in the national rankings and in the CFP rankings. That's where MSU fans have come to expect to be.
The Battle for the Golden Egg hasn't been MSU's final game in seven years, but it still matters. It's just different.
Mary Pollitz, a customer service rep at The Dispatch. She has been an avid sports fan her entire life. Her email address is [email protected]
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