By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Mississippi State and Ole Miss need each other to be good in football, and we saw a good example of why on Wednesday.
It might be for one year only, but ESPN and the SEC saw fit to move the Egg Bowl back to Thanksgiving this fall, the first time in a decade the Bulldogs and Rebels will meet on this treasured holiday. In recent years, this game had been relegated to ESPNU, one of many dumping sites for non-marquee games that, due to the SEC’s fat TV deal with ESPN, have to be shown somewhere.
MSU won three consecutive games in this series (2009-11), which of course Bulldog fans loved, but the Egg Bowl itself continued to suffer from a lack of exposure. ESPN dropped the Egg Bowl the year after Eli Manning left Ole Miss and at the beginning of the Sylvester Croom era at State.
That made for an unattractive TV matchup.
Ole Miss has been up-and-down since then, but Hugh Freeze came to Oxford last year, beat MSU, and got Ole Miss back to a bowl game.
Suddenly, the Rebels are respectable again, and with MSU having reached three consecutive bowl games, the Egg Bowl now carries more import.
“We’re synced up again, we both have our programs going in a good direction,” MSU athletics director Scott Stricklin said. “And I think as long as that’s the case, whether it’s Thanksgiving or another special window, we’re going to have opportunities to help this game stand out.”
Part of the reason ESPN is turning to the Egg Bowl is because the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry has, for now, died due to conference realignment. That was ESPN’s Thanksgiving primetime game from 2008-11. ESPN showed TCU-Texas last year, but that’s not a true rival game.
Spotlighting the Egg Bowl is good for the rivalry. I know MSU fans like to see Ole Miss football suffer, and vice versa, and that’s a natural part of the rivalry. But to have a truly healthy rivalry, both teams need to be competitive, with neither dominating the other year after year.
That is what makes for compelling television, and ESPN spokesman Mike Humes cited each team’s recent success as a reason the network wanted to move the game.
The way things look, MSU and Ole Miss ought to again be vying for bowl bids this year, and there will likely be more than just pride on the line come Nov. 28.
ESPN would love that, and so should the rest of us.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at DJournal.com.