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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, September 15, 2011 at 10:23 AM

Week Three of the 2011 college football season kicks of Thursday Night with what might be one of the best Thursday Night matchups EVER for ESPN. It’s the LSU Tigers visiting the #3 LSU Tigers visiting the #25 Mississippi State Bulldogs in Starkville. And, frankly, these teams may be more closely matched than those rankings would suggest.

*The final AP rankings from the 2010 season had LSU at #8, Mississippi State at #15.

*Both teams returned 8 offensive starters and 7 defensive starters before LSU had to deal with some suspensions. But, LSU has such depth that they were able to upset Oregon even with those suspensions in play. We’re talking about two very good teams here.

*The Preseason AP rankings of the 2011 season had LSU at #4 and Mississippi State at #20. State’s road loss at Auburn knocked them down a few pegs. But, losing on the road against the defending national champion is far from a big negative. And, multiple respected computer rating systems have the best five teams in the SEC West up amongst the best 15 teams overall in the nation right now. Pollsters have to penalize Mississippi State for the loss. YOU don’t have to!

What’s most striking to us heading into this game isn’t how these teams are currently rated nationally…it’s what happened LAST YEAR when they played each other. You’ve probably forgotten the game because it didn’t loom large on a national scope. These were solid teams all year. Both won high profile bowl games by big margins. People remember the highlights…people remember Auburn rallying to beat Alabama in the biggest game all season in the SEC West…nobody remembers Mississippi State at LSU on Saturday September 18th.

Here are some raw stats from that game…

MISSISSIPPI STATE AT LSU
Total Yardage: Miss. State 268, LSU 264
Rushing Yardage: Miss. State 152, LSU 167
Passing Stats: Miss. State 10-18-116, LSU 10-16-97
Third Downs: Miss. State 53%, LSU 50%
Yards-Per-Play: Miss. State 4.3, LSU 4.8

A real slobberknocker as the wrestling announcers would say. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more evenly matched boxscore all season in those five particular stats. Very little percentage-wise separated the two teams. LSU did have a slight edge in rushing yardage and YPP…which we certainly respect. But, they were playing at home…and home field certainly counts for something in Baton Rouge.

Now, we left out a couple of things:
Turnovers: Mississippi State 5, LSU 0
Final Score: Mississippi State 7, LSU 29

Everything was even except TURNOVERS, which created a blowout for the hosts because they scored so many cheap points off field position. In terms of the pure nuts and bolts of power football, this game was a wash…even in a season where LSU was perceived as the better team…and even in a game played in Baton Rouge. Mississippi State lost because:

*They were still figuring out their quarterback situation. Tyler Russell and Chris Relf split time at the position, creating problems with continuity.

*They were still developing the confidence and swagger that would be so prevalent in their 52-14 bowl blowout of Michigan. Note that Mississippi State would only lose one more game in regulation the rest of the season…and that was on the road against powerful Alabama. The very week after this game, Mississippi State beat Georgia by double digits. A month later, they would beat Florida outright in Gainesville as a 10-point underdog.

As you handicap tonight’s game…be aware that:

*Mississippi State is now confident in its quarterback position.

*Mississippi State now has some swagger. They basically hired Florida’s swagger away from the Gators in the form of head coach Dan Mullen!

*Mississippi State is playing at HOME this year…in front of a crowd that you know is going to be rowdy in this national TV showcase.

*LSU has already had its message-sending game in the upset of Oregon, and may not be as focused as they need to be against a revenge minded home underdog.

This game clearly has upset potential. But, sometimes it takes an up-and-coming team awhile to get that breakthrough victory they need to earn national respect. The big win in Gainesville last year didn’t mean that much because it was a down year for Florida. Now…a #3 team comes to visit amidst TV hoopla…we could see a hometown choke job just as easily as a big upset. Georgia sure didn’t look very good when the world was watching them play Boise State in the Georgia Dome. They couldn’t bounce back on their home field the next week against South Carolina either.

Is Mississippi State just another Georgia? Georgia and Mississippi State were 18th and 19th respectively in the AP Preseason poll. Or, is Mississippi State the next big thing in the SEC West? They can’t be this year’s Auburn because…they already lost to this year’s Auburn! But, they certainly still have time to come back and win this very tough division if this really is a breakout season. Alabama is a home game. Knock off LSU and Alabama in the same year and you’ve accomplished something (and you’re looking good in any tie-breakers too!)

We can’t tell you here in the NOTEBOOK who JIM HURLEY is going to release to his clients. We can tell you that we’re looking very closely at the mindset of both teams…checking in regularly with our on site and SEC sources. Clearly the point of attack battle is going to be even. We expect this game to once again come down to turnovers. Whoever gets the most cheap points is going to win and cover. Will nerves get the better of Mississippi State? Will overconfidence get the better of LSU? Answer those questions and you have the winner.

Given the nature of last year’s game, we’ll also think about the Under too. LSU-Oregon and Mississippi State-Auburn were fairly wide open though…so this may be a game where we only release the team side.

You can purchase our Thursday Night winner right here at the website with your credit card. Then, come back tomorrow for our best shot in Boise State-Toledo and Iowa State-Connecticut. We have a great weekend package available right now that starts tonight and takes you all the way through Saturday (with potential plays on Oklahoma-Florida State and Michigan State-Notre Dame), Sunday, (with San Diego-New England, Chicago-New Orleans, and Philadelphia-Atlanta among the possibilities), and Monday with the St. Louis/NY Giants weekend finale.

If you have any questions, or you want to include Pennant Race baseball in your package, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Tampa Bay visits Boston this week in what may be the most important regular season series left on the calendar. We hope you won with us Tuesday Night when we went 3-1 in the bases.

It’s rare to get a Thursday Night game this good to start off a week…and the college schedule is really kicking into gear now that many of the tune-ups are out of the way. You’re going to be parked in front of the TV almost around the clock from now through Sunday Night! We didn’t even mention Tennessee-Florida, Ohio State-Miami of Florida, Texas-UCLA  and probably a half a dozen other games that would have been at the top of the news in prior weeks. Don’t just watch…WATCH AND WIN WITH JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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