pic via theodysseyonline.com
By Allen Kellogg
Obscured by the smoke and flame billowing from Tallahassee and Knoxville, college football in the proud state of Mississippi has fallen on hard times. The NCAA announced new penalties for the Ole Miss football program stemming from a pay to play cheating scandal. Ole Miss rival Mississippi State, the responsible party for turning Ole Miss in to the NCAA and digging up dirt to get Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze fired, has suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of their nemesis school in the Egg Bowl. Ranked Mississippi State fell 31-28 to the Rebels at home. Within a week of losing to Ole Miss, Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen, who was 7 wins away from becoming the winningest coach in Mississippi State history, left the school to take the head coaching job at Florida.
Like Icarus plummeting to the Earth after flying too close to the Sun, college football in Mississippi (traditionally little more than fodder for schools like Alabama, LSU, and Auburn) had soared to unrivaled heights before its fall. In 2014, Mississippi State was for a brief period the number one team in the nation. Both schools went on to New Year’s Six games that year. In 2015, Ole Miss won a sugar bowl, their first big bowl win in nearly 50 years. Under the guidance of head coach Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss toppled the mighty Nick Saban and his Alabama Crimson Tide twice. Mississippi State did not manage to win a major bowl, but they have been without a doubt the most stable program in the SEC (sans Alabama) since Dan Mullen took over as head coach.
The good times would not last. Speculation and rumors of how a middling SEC program could pull in ‘croots good enough to beat Alabama quickly sparked an investigation into a pay to play scandal at Ole Miss. As it turns out, those rumors were not unfounded and Ole Miss was indeed paying their players. One of the key witnesses in the Ole Miss Scandal was Mississippi State linebacker and former Ole Miss commit Leo Lewis. Lewis told the NCAA everything, including his cash payment from both Ole Miss and Mississippi State, under condition of immunity.
Hugh Freeze vehemently denied all allegations and compared his cheating scandal to the crucifixion of Jesus. Freeze placed all blame for the cheating on ousted head coach Houston Nutt. Nutt responded to Ole Miss blaming him for everything with a lawsuit alleging slander. Mississippi State fan Steve Robertson then decided to look over the phone records for Hugh Freeze. What he found were several calls to hookers using a university issued phone. Even at a school like Ole Miss, using a work phone to call hookers is a deal breaker. Ole Miss promptly fired Hugh Freeze in July.
Mississippi State fans began celebrating the firing of Freeze and the impending punishment of Ole Miss at the hands of the NCAA immediately. Little did the Bulldogs realize that fate was also conspiring against their school. Mississippi State started the season hot; they crushed LSU and looked poised to make a run for a NY6 game. Losses to Georgia, Auburn, and Alabama could easily be forgiven; after all, these three teams are ranked among the best in the country and all had a good chance to make the playoff. However, on Black Friday, Ole Miss came into Starkville to exact revenge for the snitching perpetrated by Mississippi State in the offseason. Tragically, Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald had his leg mangled early in the game. In the resulting chaos, Ole Miss built a large lead that would prove to be insurmountable for the Bulldogs.
Days after the crushing defeat to Ole Miss, Dan Mullen announced he would be returning to Florida, a school where he won multiple national championships as the offensive coordinator. Mississippi State will go to a bowl at 8-4 and while the school made a great hire in ex-Penn State OC Joe Moorehead, doubt still lingers about how competitive Mississippi State will be moving forward in the wake of A&M hiring Jimbo Fisher. Ole Miss finished the year at 6-6, but due to NCAA penalties the Rebels have been banned from post-season play for two years and are on probation with scholarship reductions for 4 years. Only time will tell what the future holds for Ole Miss and Mississippi State, but if the previous 100 years of college football are any indication, both fanbases are in for a rough ride.