By MATTHEW STEVENS
It’s Dan Mullen’s favorite week of the year.
The Mississippi State head coach began his week of preparation for the annual Egg Bowl matchup with Ole Miss by doing last year’s verbal routine.
The Bulldogs second-year leader has gone back to calling Saturday’s rival not by its university name but the name he created in the upcoming week before last year’s 41-27 victory in Starkville to end the 2010 season for Mississippi State.
Asked how many times he’ll refer to the Rebels (4-7, 1-6) as ‘The School Up North,’ a phrase that has become popular on the message boards and talk radio since he brought it out last year, Mullen was stubborn saying that tradition will continue.
“As many times I’m asked who we’re playing this week,” Mullen said. “We’re trying to build long term success here and one of the ways we can do that is by keeping the Egg Bowl trophy here in Starkville.”
Mullen claimed last year he began the tradition of that phrase as a tip of the hat to the 10-year war between Ohio State’s Woody Hayes and Michigan’s Bo Schembechler from 1969-78 where Michigan held a 5-4-1 record in that span. During the rivalry between the Buckeyes and Wolverines, neither of the two legendary coaches would say the name of the opposing school throughout the week.
“It means an awful lot to the people in the state of Mississippi. I can promise you this,” Mullen said in July during SEC Media Days. “I have got a lot of thanks from people in the state of Mississippi for winning that football game last year, the pride they get to carry with themselves for the next 12 months. That is a tremendous thing for people all around the state. It's an important thing for us to stress to our players, our coaching staff, our administration, that that is a very, very important game to the Mississippi State fan base and all of our alums and Bulldogs everywhere.”
After the double-overtime loss to Arkansas Saturday night, State officials showed video of the countdown clock to the Egg Bowl, which means the most important game in the Magnolia State has arrived.
“We have a big game next Saturday and we have a big chance to get eight wins,” senior defensive end Pernell McPhee said after Saturday.
Ole Miss (4-7, 1-6) is highly unlikely to be invited to a bowl with an under .500 record for the 2010 season after losing a last-minute game at LSU this Saturday 43-36 and come in with the league’s worst defense and second-worst third-down conversion rating in the Southeastern Conference.
However, It was at this point last year that State salvaged a non-postseason season by beating Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl and now the situations have become completely reversed as the Rebels are the team at home hoping to find a little bit of light in what has become a regrettable season in Oxford.
“This is the biggest, biggest game of the year,” Rebels head coach Houston Nutt said. “It’s huge. It’s really huge. I can tell in this state, in different parts of the state I go to, even in the summertime, you know, it’s not talking about the LSU victory last year, the Tennessee victory, this summer it’s all about, ‘Hey, what about Mississippi State now?”
Mullen likely would’ve gone for two in double overtime
In his Sunday teleconference, Mullen expressed that if his squad had been able to match Arkansas’ touchdown in the second overtime, going for the two-point conversion and subsequently the victory right then was “on my mind."
“It’s something that was certainly on my mind because we wanted to win the game right there on that possession,” Mullen said. “We certainly would’ve tried to win it on that possession.
After Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett found Knile Davis with a 7-yard dump-off touchdown pass to make it 38-31 in double overtime, Mississippi State was stopped on four consecutive downs in the red zone ending with a sack of MSU junior quarterback Chris Relf to end the game.
After Mississippi State tailback Vick Ballard fumbled the ball out the back of the end zone resulting in a turnover, Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino admitted to extra conservative play-calling in the first overtime.
“We were going to kick the field goal to win it,” Petrino said. “I thought Davis might pop one through and run it in the end zone. That’s how much confidence we have in our kicker.”
Mississippi State remains ranked
Despite back-to-back losses to Alabama and Arkansas, Mississippi State maintained a spot at 25th in the latest ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ poll.
Mississippi State (7-4, 3-4 in the Southeastern Conference) fell three spots and received 68 points in the week 12 version of the coaches’ poll that was released Sunday morning.
Mississippi State was also placed 25th the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll released after the coaches’ poll was announced.
The coaches’ poll is part of the BCS formula used to determine the national champion.
The Bulldogs weren’t the only four-loss team in the Top 25 poll as Iowa was placed one spot ahead of them after losing at home to Ohio State this past weekend.
Six Southeastern Conference teams (Auburn, LSU, Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina and MSU) were a part of the new poll, which was the most of any other league.
The only SEC Western Division team not ranked in the poll is State’s next opponent Ole Miss (4-7, 1-6), which it plays in the 2010 Egg Bowl matchup this Saturday night in Oxford (6 p.m., ESPNU).
Oregon kept the top spot in the coaches’ poll by getting 48 of 59 possible first place votes. Auburn maintained the second spot as the Tigers received four first-place votes. Boise State stayed in the third spot receiving five first-place votes while fourth-ranked TCU had a pair of top-spot votes. Wisconsin rounded out the top five after the Badgers won at Michigan this Saturday.
Mullen is among the 59 head coaches in the voting process in 2010. The second-year head coach hinted he voted Auburn with the top spot in his ballot this week but the coaches’ individual ballots aren’t released until the end of the season.
Oregon was also top-ranked in the AP poll followed by Auburn, Boise State, TCU and Wisconsin has leapfrogged LSU for the No. 5 ranking.