Saturday is setting up to be one of the more entertaining Egg Bowls in recent memory — which is saying something.
For starters, both teams are feeling pretty good, with Mississippi State blocking Arkansas and Ole Miss rolling LSU.
Then there’s that whole scoring virtually at will thing. Ole Miss is lighting up the scoreboard to the tune of 40.5 points per contest, and MSU is scoring at a 33.5 clip.
And though bragging rights are always on the line regardless of how the teams are doing — isn’t the Battle for the Golden Egg so much better when both teams are good? — there’s a chance a rare Sugar Bowl bid is also hanging in the balance. Just one more thing to make an already stressful weekend more nerve wracking, no matter your allegiances.
2. What if?
Let’s play the what-if game for a second. Sure, No. 12 Florida is riding a four-game winning streak, but the Gators haven’t had the same chomp without QB Will Grier — hello, OT against FAU.
The Sugar Bowl will take the second-ranked SEC team, so let’s assume Alabama wins the Iron Bowl and then dismantles Florida in the SEC Championship game. It’s quite possible the winner of the Egg Bowl jumps the tail-spinning Gators in the final College Football Playoff rankings to snatch their ticket to the Big Easy.
For No. 18 Ole Miss, there’s also the chance — albeit microscopic — Auburn upsets Alabama, which would land the Rebels a rematch with UF and a clearer shot at the school’s first Sugar Bowl berth since 1970. An invite for the No. 21 Bulldogs would be a first for the program.
3. Elsewhere in the region
It appears the Mad Hatter has lost his magic in the Bayou.
Following Saturday’s loss, LSU’s Les Miles was particularly soft-spoken while fielding questions about his job security. It’s hard to imagine a guy who is 110-32 overall at LSU and 60-27 in conference games with a national championship on his resumé being run out of town, but here we are. Expectations are high at LSU and after collapsing in recent weeks, the Tigers could end the season unranked for the second-straight season — an unfathomable disappointment considering the talent. ESPN is reporting a decision won’t come until after the Texas A&M game. Though I think the Tigers get one last win for their coach — see No. 9 below — I think the powers that be in Baton Rouge are ready for a new regime. That means spending $15 million to tell a guy, “Thanks, but you’re not Nick Saban.”
4. A time not that long ago
It’s funny. Prior to Saban’s arrival in 2000, bowling wasn’t a given for the Tigers. If anything, there were more gutter balls than strikes as LSU went to just three bowls in the 1990s (two Independence Bowls and a Peach Bowl). Saban came along and made the program an instant winner, boasting a 48-16 overall record with two Sugar Bowl victories and a national championship in five seasons. When Miles came to Louisiana from Oklahoma State he was entrusted with the keys to the purple and gold Lamborghini and, until recently, kept it tuned up relatively. But he was always chasing Saban’s legacy.
Now it looks like the Tigers will be on the prowl for their next coach, which brings me to thought No. 5...
5. Mullen a fit at LSU?
How would Dan Mullen (54-34 overall; 18-6 in last two seasons) look in Mardi Gras beads? Before you outright dismiss the thought, chew on it a bit.
One of the biggest knocks on Miles is his aversion for developing QBs. In his time in Starkville, Mullen has done a phenomenal job developing players, chief among them being Heisman hopeful Dak Prescott, a three-star recruit from Louisiana. Mullen has had success recruiting regionally, pulling standouts from Louisiana from time to time, and with LSU on his chest he can expand his recruiting base beyond Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and the Florida panhandle.
Mullen has resuscitated Mississippi State and, with the money coming into the SEC, schools like Ole Miss and MSU can now compete financially — to a point — with most schools not named Texas or Alabama ... or LSU.
LSU — and Georgia, should the Dawgs cut Mark Richt loose — would be steps up on the national stage and Mullen would likely do well there.
All that being said, Mullen hasn’t had success against Alabama. We see what a current 0-5 streak has done for Miles. The coming months could be particularly interesting in Starkville.
6. Going the other way
Ole Miss’ final score Saturday came on a trick play of sorts, as QB Chad Kelly rolled to his right and flicked the ball back across the field to TE Evan Engram, who had drifted back behind the line of scrimmage. With the blocks in place downfield, the junior weaved his way through the Tigers for a 36-yard touchdown.
“I was surprised we really called it. It just worked,” Kelly said. “We’ve worked on it a few times but (you never know) until you can get a real live game situation. Everyone is flying around the whole game and then you pull out one of those, that’s really where the execution comes into play.”
But, has the play looked that good in practice?
“Sometimes,” Kelly said. “There always happens to be one stranded guy over there who just knows it’s coming.”
7. Bet on Betz
TE Chase Rogers has been QB Myles Brennan’s go-to target again this season. A phenomenal pass catcher, the junior has hauled in 17 touchdowns and leads the Coast with 1,330 yards and 71 receptions. One Rockachaw who has been overlooked a bit is senior Owen Betz. He’s a phenomenal soccer goalkeeper who’s drawn interest from Clemson and other programs, but he could also play football at the next level. At 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, Betz catches some teams by surprise as SSC’s deep threat. According to his Hudl page, Betz runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash and leads SSC with 24.1 yards per reception. SSC coach Bill Conides said Betz and his fellow seniors are eager for Friday’s game at Lawrence County.
“I think all of the seniors realize time is fragile and it will be over like that,” Conides said. “They see the end of the tunnel. They’re trying and will do whatever it takes to make sure it’s a memorable one.”
8. Successful season
Moss Point’s season came to an end Friday at the hands of St. Stanislaus. Despite the 44-20 score, coach Willie Brown said he was proud of what his team accomplished. Prior to the Class 4A third-round defeat, the Tigers (7-6) defeated West Lauderdale and North Pike in the playoffs.
“No one was expecting us to get here,” he said. “We had a few kids who were hurt early, but I’m proud of the kids. We’re trying to take the next step and in order to do that we’re going to have to go through St. Stanislaus. You can’t go around them, you’re going to have to go through them. Right now we’re going to have to go back to the drawing board and do what we need to do to improve.”
Expect Moss Point to contend for a Region 8-4A title in ’16 with quarterback Romello Leggins and Mr. Everything Omni Wells back for their senior seasons.
9. The (Other) Patrick’s Picks
For entertainment purposes only ... Arkansas (–14, according to MGM Resorts International) shouldn’t have a problem bouncing back to top Missouri. Hogs by 17. ... Sure, Kentucky cruised past Charlotte, but Louisville (–4) should come away victorious in the Blue Grass State showdown. Cards by 10. ... Vanderbilt lost 25-0 to Texas A&M but held the Aggies to six field goals. Expect the Vols to break through for more than just one touchdown. Tennessee by 21. ... FSU (–11/2) shouldn’t have any problem with a Gators squad that had to go to OT to defeat a terrible FAU team. ’Noles make it three in a row — perhaps in Jimbo’s last rivalry game at FSU? — with a 10-point win. ... Is this the saddest “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate” as both Georgia and Georgia Tech limp into the rivalry game? UGA wins the pick ’em game, but I don’t feel great about it. ... Texas A&M will need a better showing to win at LSU (–5 1/2) in the John Chavis Bowl. RB Leonard Fournette bounces back to form in 10-point win. ... Alabama is only a 14-point favorite? Please. Tide crush an Auburn team that allowed 34 points to IDAHO. Nick Saban names his score. ... Likewise, so does Clemson (–17) against South Carolina. ... And, in the Egg Bowl (drum roll, please...) Ole Miss (–1) with a potential spot in the Sugar Bowl on the line can’t handle the Dak Attack. Field goal wins it for the Dogs to keep the home streak in the series alive.
Patrick Ochs, Sun Herald sports reporter, can be reached at email@example.com or followed on Twitter at PatrickOchs.