By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Mississippi State is not just battling the No. 1 college football team team in the country today. It’s also battling perception and conventional wisdom.
The No. 13-ranked Bulldogs, who at 7-0 are off to their best start in 13 years, meet Alabama (also 7-0) in an SEC Western Division showdown rife with national implications.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. – but it’s sure to start a bit later – on ESPN.
Oddsmakers have made the Crimson Tide a 24-point favorite, a mighty large spread for a game featuring a pair of top-15 teams. But Alabama is the reigning national champion and hasn’t been challenged by anyone, winning by an average of 32.7 points.
But MSU believes it can pull off the upset, and so do its fans. In fact, the collective optimism of the Bulldog fan base has been made very apparent on social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
The phrase “We Believe” caught fire starting Wednesday night after Shelby Balius, president of MSU’s student association, used the Twitter hashtag #WeBelieve. Other fans started using it, and it spread quickly on Thursday and Friday.
Fans from all over the country, and even a few overseas, posted pictures of handmade signs that said “We Believe, 8-0.” One such sign was even hung on the statue of current Alabama coach Nick Saban, just outside Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Balius said she saw #WeBelieve tweets from Shanghai and Washington, D.C.
The MSU players have noticed the phenomenon.
“I know some football players personally,” Balius said, “and you can kind of see an extra spring in their step, because everywhere you look on campus you see a new ‘We believe’ sign going up between (Thursday and Friday).”
One fan got his sign on national television – the Today Show, which often has fans of the show in the background. The trend caught the attention of ESPN, too, with director of communications Keri Potts noting it on her Twitter page.
Over in Alabama, well, the expectation is normal: A big win. There appears to be little fear of an upset among the Crimson Tide faithful.
“Really, no one here expects that, so it would be a complete shock,” said Andrew Gribble, who covers Alabama for AL.com.
Maybe so, but MSU fans seem to have found a new confidence in their team and their fourth-year coach, Dan Mullen. Where hope once resided, there is now expectation.
“You can even see it in the differences of the attitudes of the fans that go around to the Dawg rallies and to the Dawg walks at a home game and the attendance at the pep rallies that we put on,” Balius said.
“It’s amazing to see that when you have a really great leader like coach Mullen or (athletics director) Scott Stricklin to kind of lead the charge, you can see the fans old and new come together.”