Egg Bowl has rare clout on national level
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott is already a part of Egg Bowl lore, thanks to his unlikely performance in last season's come-from-behind overtime victory.
That win earned the Bulldogs bowl eligibility and bragging rights.
A win this season could mean a whole lot more.
No. 4 Mississippi State (10-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference, No. 4 CFP) travels to face No. 18 Mississippi (8-3, 4-3) at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford. It's just the third time in the past 57 years - and the first time since 1999 - that both teams have been nationally-ranked going into the Egg Bowl.
As always, state pride will be at stake.
But for the Bulldogs, there's also a possible SEC Western Division title and a spot in the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff field. They can also reach 11 wins for the first time in school history.
It won't be easy - the home team has won nine of the last 10 in the series.
''You don't want to get ahead of yourself,'' Mississippi State offensive lineman Ben Beckwith said. ''But there's a lot on the line.''
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has been at his best in this rivalry - winning four out of five since he arrived in Starkville in 2008. The Bulldogs' only loss during that span was a 41-24 setback in Oxford in 2012.
Close to the end of that game, Ole Miss poked fun at Mullen by playing an earlier video on the stadium board that showed the coach in the locker room telling his team that they would never lose to the Rebels during his tenure.
Mississippi State linebacker Christian Holmes said that incident was still fresh in the team's mind.
''We won't lose to them again,'' Holmes said.
Of course, the Rebels will have something to say about that.
Ole Miss started the season with seven straight victories, but has now lost three straight conference games, including Saturday's 30-0 setback to Arkansas. The Rebels had six turnovers in what was easily their worst performance of the season.
Quarterback Bo Wallace sprained his right ankle early in that loss, though he returned to play. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said Wallace's ankle is sore, but improving each day.
''It would take a lot more than that to keep him out of this game,'' Freeze said.
Prescott will have a hard time topping last season's Egg Bowl performance. He didn't play in the first three quarters because of a shoulder injury, but entered the game in the fourth and led the Bulldogs to a 17-10 overtime win.
''It's a game played with emotions and a game played with the heart,'' Prescott said. ''It's a good rivalry and I'm glad to be a part of it.''
Prescott bounced back from a three-interception performance in the team's only loss to Alabama on Nov. 15 by throwing three touchdown passes against Vanderbilt in a 51-0 victory on Saturday.
Now he'll face an Ole Miss defense that's giving up just 13.5 points per game, which ranks first in the SEC.
''They're good up front and they're good all the way around,'' Prescott said. ''We just have to worry about staying sound on offense and taking care of what we've got to do.''
The Bulldogs don't just have pressure to win on Saturday, but to win big. Mississippi State is trying to hold onto the No. 4 spot in the CFP standings with other one-loss teams like TCU, Ohio State and Baylor in close pursuit.
Mullen insists he's not particular concerned about the possible scenarios. He just wants to keep the Egg Bowl trophy for another season.
''Every one of these is as important as the other one,'' Mullen said. ''... This is the biggest game of the year for us. This is one to me - the records never really matter - it's all about winning the game and getting bragging rights in the state for another year.''
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