Only 98 short miles of Mississippi highway separate Starkville and Oxford. Both cities lie in rural counties, have populations of roughly 21,000, and the schools share student bodies of about 20,000. Despite these similarities, we all know there is no love lost between the schools and the hatred within this rivalry is deep and abiding. It's a land-grant agricultural university versus a state-chartered liberal arts school. Maroon versus red. Bulldog versus Rebel. Good versus evil.
Mississippi State versus Ole Miss.
Earlier in the season when both teams cracked the top 10 and the college football world was briefly revolving around Mississippi, everyone in the Magnolia state tried to act like they were happy for the success of their oft-hated foe. Saying things like "I'm just happy for the state of Mississippi" through gritted teeth. But that façade is gone now, replaced by annual feelings of vitriol and contempt. And that's how it should be, there's no rivalry without hate.
This past Saturday, I sat in the ballroom of MSU's student union eating lunch with about 100 other State fans before the Vanderbilt game watching The School Up North get embarrassed by an Arkansas team that was 1-13 in its previous 14 SEC games going into last week. With every fumble recovery, pick-six, and touchdown that the Razorbacks managed, the MSU faithful cheered as if they were already watching the Egg Bowl. Taking pure joy in the misfortune of the Rebels.
Let's just admit it, rivalry week never really begins or ends in Starkville. Hate for Ole Miss is year-round.
And as much as Rebels' fans might like to think this is true, no one at MSU resents Ole Miss because they think Oxford is a better town than Starkville and they're jealous of its heightened sense of self. MSU fans are hateful towards the Rebels because Ole Miss fans think that MSU fans are jealous of them.
Don't flatter yourselves. No one could care less about how great you think Oxford is than MSU fans, especially this year with so much on the line.
Usually, the Egg Bowl is only played for state pride, bragging rights, and a golden trophy shaped like an egg. This time the nation will be watching as the Bulldogs have a chance to grab a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff and, if God still has a soft spot for Auburn, a chance to claim the SEC West and play in the SEC Championship game.
Just a few weeks ago, many, including myself, thought the Egg Bowl could be a #1 versus #2 grudge match for the ages but football is a funny game (and Ole Miss is not as good as everyone thought) and now MSU is ranked 4th while Ole Miss sits at 18th. It's the first time since 1992 that both teams have been ranked in the top 25 coming into the Egg Bowl. Even though the game might not be as gargantuan as we had hoped, it is still very much an historical event.
So, prepare accordingly, MSU faithful. No matter how bad Ole Miss got whipped by the Razorbacks, they'll bring their best this Saturday, and I'm certain that Ole Miss fans will bring their worst.
They can talk until they're blue in the face about how they think Oxford is the "Cultural Capital of the South" and how they never lose a party but the fact is that MSU has claimed four of the last five Egg Bowls and Saturday isn't about William Faulkner or the Grove, it's about football. Pure and simple.
We'll let Ole Miss keep winning the parties and we'll just keep winning the football games.