Mississippi State, Ole Miss look to salvage season

By David Brandt

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Nov. 21 2011 4:51 p.m. MST

STARKVILLE, Miss. — Mississippi State's had a disappointing season. Ole Miss has been an utter disaster.

When the two teams meet on Saturday in the annual Egg Bowl, they'll bring a combined 1-13 Southeastern Conference record into the game.

The good news for fans in the Magnolia State? Somebody has to win when the Bulldogs (5-6, 1-6 SEC) host the Rebels (2-9, 0-7) in the Egg Bowl on Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium.

"This is the one they remember," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "This is the one our fans remember, our students remember, and the people of Mississippi remember. This is the game we have to win every year and we certainly believe we're going to win it every year."

The Bulldogs have more at stake, needing a win to become bowl eligible for the second straight season. They're also trying to win three straight in the series for the first time since 1942.

It's no coincidence that Mississippi State's Egg Bowl success has coincided with Mullen's arrival in Starkville. The third-year coach has had a near-obsession with the rivalry, only referring to Ole Miss as "The school up north" and making fun of the Rebels at every opportunity.

So far, he's backed up all the talk, winning 41-27 in 2009 in Starkville and 31-23 last season in Oxford.

A Mississippi State victory would partially salvage a season that hasn't lived up to expectations. The Bulldogs were nationally-ranked in early September — rising as high as No. 16 — before a string of losses sent them tumbling out of the polls and near the bottom of the SEC Western Division.

Even with bowl eligibility at stake, Mississippi State players and coaches said simply beating Ole Miss is much more important.

"We're not even thinking about this like we're trying to get to a bowl," MSU offensive lineman Addison Lawrence said. "We've got to win the Egg Bowl. We're concentrating on beating Ole Miss."

If recent history is any indication, that might not be too difficult. Mississippi State's troubles pale in comparison to the upheaval at Ole Miss, which is dealing with a lame duck coach and a conference losing streak that's reached 13 games and spanned more than 400 days.

The Rebels have lost six straight games, including last week's 52-3 debacle to No. 1 LSU that marked a new low in a season full of them. The Tigers were winning so badly that coach Les Miles opted to have his offense take a knee on four straight plays rather than score another touchdown — and that was with more than five minutes remaining in the game.

Coach Houston Nutt will be spending his final game on the Ole Miss sideline. Nutt's resignation was announced on Nov. 7, effective immediately after the Egg Bowl. He has a 6-17 record over the past two seasons and lost two of three to Mississippi State.

Now he'll try to avoid being the coach of the first 10-loss team in program history.

"Despite how the season went, we can end on a high note and be able to bring a trophy home," Ole Miss senior defensive end Kentrell Lockett said. "I think it would be a good morale booster for the young guys — guys who are coming back and playing next year. It will be something to build on."

The Rebels will be playing without starting quarterback Randall Mackey and leading rusher Jeff Scott for a second straight game after both were suspended for violating team rules. Sophomore Barry Brunetti is expected to start in Mackey's place after rushing for a team-high 74 yards and completing 5 of 10 passes for 30 yards against LSU.

Though the Rebels have no postseason hopes, they can still play the role of spoiler.

"This is really huge," Ole Miss defensive tackle Bryon Bennett said. "We just want to send the seniors and coaches out the right way and doing that, defeating State and ruining their season and just ending the season on a good note."

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