JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One word crossed the mind of Mark Ouimet when he saw the 2011 Gator Bowl matchup.
"Ironic is how it felt to me," Ouimet said. "It's a unique thing to play a school I'm obviously very familiar with and then it hit me that I'll be seeing a lot of friends at this game."
The Bulldogs first-year assistant recruiting coordinator is likely the only person in the Jacksonville area that knows both programs that will meet Saturday. Before accepting the job in Starkville this past offseason, Ouimet worked with the University of Michigan program as both an assistant recruiting coordinator, special teams assistant and as a coordinator of player development for Wolverines head coach Lloyd Carr.
“I came to work for Dan Mullen and it's really that simple," Ouimet said. "It's obviously been a great year and it's been a great opportunity to come in and help make this a consistent winner at Mississippi State."
One of the reasons Ouimet thought he’d be a perfect fit for the MSU program was he saw similarities in style and personality with Mississippi State’s second-year head coach compared to Michigan legendary coaches Bo Schembechler and the recently retired Carr.
“There's an age gap there but I think there's a lot of similarities between Coach Mullen, Coach Carr and Coach Schembechler in philosophy," said Ouimet, who remains close with the Carr and Schembechler families today. “In terms of the style I grew up loving at Michigan and plan on building something – they’re all very close in how they handle things.”
Ouimet referenced his current job in being part of MSU’s recruiting plan as a major circle of similar interest in what he did for the program in Ann Arbor for four seasons.
"Specifically in recruiting all of those guys are intent on closing off the border of the home state,” Ouimet said. “18 of our commitments this year will likely be from the state of Mississippi."
Run the ball, stop the run and don't turn it over - these are the philosophical qualities normally associated with Michigan teams of the past. These are the qualities State (8-4) has developed during the 2010 season and a style Ouimet was looking for.
"Our rushing attack speaks for itself," Ouimet said. "I'll say this - we're [MSU] more of a Big Ten team than them. We're more Michigan than them."
While he laughed at the notion initially, Mullen agreed that the 2011 Gator Bowl matchup (12:30 p.m., ESPN2) will be a distant contrast in styles despite running versions of the spread-option offenses.
"Yeah, they're a high-powered, explosive spread-the-field offense and we kinda like to grind out up front on both sides of the ball," Mullen said. "Maybe it's just a sign of the times right now. It should make for a fun matchup."
State has a tailback in junior Vick Ballard that has set a new school record with 17 touchdowns for the Bulldogs this season in his first season since transferring for Gulf Coast Community College.
Ouimet told the Starkville Daily News he knew during the 2007 season that Carr would retire and once the UM administration hired Rich Rodriguez as head coach the plan surrounding the program was going in a different direction.
"Not to say they are doing things a right way or a wrong way now but Rodriguez is recruiting a type of kid (physically) that Coach Carr would never even look at in a place like Michigan," Ouimet said.
It’s clear that Rodriguez’s stamp on the program is being felt on this 2010 Wolverines squad with 10 total starters on both sides of the ball being freshman or sophomores.
“We kind of took it upon ourselves as veterans to bring these guys along,” said Michigan junior defensive tackle Ryan Van Bergen, who was recruited to the UM campus by Carr. “There’s no reason a freshman can’t play. There’s guys that have played their best seasons as freshmen.”
After a 15-21 start to his three-year career at Michigan and this season representing the first bowl game his regime the growing speculation of Rodriguez’s job security continues to hang around the Michigan players this week in Jacksonville.
“We’re not only playing for ourselves but playing for our coaching staff too,” fifth-year senior defensive tackle Greg Banks said.
Ouimet, who is an Ann Arbor native, declined to discuss the growing speculation surrounding Rodriguez's job status but did say the discontent of the fans of the maize and blue program could be simply a philosophical difference of what they want to see.
"Like a lot of people from the area, I have a passion and excitement for a certain style of football and I'll put it this way - (what they're doing) is not Michigan and their not Michigan on defense," Ouimet said.
Ouimet was confident however that Michigan - the team he grew up rooting for every Saturday - would be back to competing for Rose Bowl bids soon.
"Michigan football will be back to winning Big Ten championships whether it's with Rich Rodriguez or not," Ouimet said. "That's a decision (UM athletic director) Dave Brandon, who I've known for years as well, will have to make but the future of Michigan will always be winning football games."
It just so happens Ouimet’s hope is first season in Starkville ends with a victory over his childhood team.
“It's obviously been a great year and it's been a great opportunity to come in and help make this a consistent winner at Mississippi State,” Ouimet said. “Make no mistake about it – I want to beat Michigan this week no doubt about it.”