Cleveland: Magnolia State Football

Hugh Freeze
Hugh Freeze

Two years ago, this time of the year, the Mississippi State Bulldogs ranked No. 1 in the nation for five straight weeks of the national college football poll.

For two of those weeks, Ole Miss ranked as highly as No. 3.

There the Mississippi teams were, ranked above Alabama. Above Ohio State. Above Michigan and Florida and LSU and Southern Cal and Texas and Notre Dame and the rest.

Our teams were on the cover of Sports Illustrated, hosting all the national networks and big-city sportswriters.

Some of us walked around in a daze, didn’t quite know how to act.

Now seems a good time to bring this up.

Two years later, Ole Miss is 3-3, just lost for the third straight time to Arkansas, and has LSU and Auburn coming up next. Mississippi State is 2-4 and still has games to play against undefeated Texas A& collegeM, undefeated Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss.

All together: What a difference two years can make…

To which Mississippi State fans might add a chorus: Where have you gone Dak Prescott, Bulldog Nation turns its lonely eyes to you…

For that matter, these aren’t the rosiest of times for any Missippi College football team. Southern Miss, one year removed from playing in the Conference USA championship game, is 4-3 and has lost back-to-back games by a total of 58 points. Jackson State is 2-4. Alcorn State is 3-3. Mississippi Valley State is 0-6. Delta State is 4-3. Mississippi College is 2-5. Belhaven is 1-5. Millsaps is 2-4.

Collectively, our teams are 23-40. That’s aa whole lot more losing than winning.

Dare we say: Mississippi, the state, is going through a rebuilding season? Or, worse, our football teams are living down to our economy.

Better to remember that these things run in cycles.

Granted, we are not likely to have two of the top three teams in the nation in mid-to-late October often. But neither are we likely to be a collective 23-40 headed into late October often, either. Our feeder programs, Mississippi high school and junior college football, are too good for that.

Two years ago, Mississippi State had knocked off LSU, Texas A & M and Auburn, all Top 10 teams, in succession to reach No. 1. The matchup with Auburn was No. 1 vs. No. 2. State won big.

What has happened in 24 months?

Turn on the Dallas Cowboys on any given Sunday and you will see. Those 2014 Bulldogs were led by a remarkably special player, Dak Prescott, who not only played the sport’s most important position at a high level but made those around him play at a much higher level as well. Blockers didn’t have to hold their blocks as long with Dak back there. Running backs had more running room because defenses worried so about Dak keeping the ball himself. Receivers often caught the ball in stride because of Dak’s passing. The State defense wasn’t on the field nearly as long because Dak kept the offense on the field longer. His teammates rallied around him, much like soldiers around a great general. He gave them hope and confidence.

There are other less significant differences, but Dak’s the main one. Clearly, players and leaders such as Dak Prescott do not come around often.

Ole Miss?

It says here there is not that much difference between the Rebels of 2014 and these Rebels. The 2016 schedule, which already has included Florida State, Alabama and Arkansas on the road is significantly harder.

The Rebels led FSU by 22, lost to No. 1 ranked Alabama by five, could just as easily won at Fayetteville.

In football, the line between winning and losing is often razor thin. In 2016, against a brutal schedule Ole Miss has been on the wrong side of that line.

Best to remember, there’s still plenty of football to play, both in this season and beyond.


Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email address is rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.

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