Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, October 14, 2014 at 7:00 AM
The sports world was pretty much in shock when it was announced Sunday that Mississippi State was the new #1 team in the college football world. Sure, they have been playing great ball. But, it’s rare for the pollsters to let a #3 team leapfrog #1…particularly when that #1 team is undefeated and the defending national champions themselves!
And, that doesn’t even account for the fact that Mississippi State as a co-#3 with Ole Miss. And, Ole Miss was impressive Saturday Night winning on the road at Texas A&M. What the voting tells you is that a lot of pollsters are old guys who didn’t want to stay up late to see if Ole Miss matched Miss. State!
Anyway, the polling is relative trivia right now because so much of the season is left. And, a four-team tournament will ultimately determine who wins. Maybe neither of the Mississippi schools will ultimately qualify for the Final Four. Maybe they BOTH will if they play a great game against each other in the Egg Bowl and the winner takes the SEC crown soon afterward.
For now, let’s concern ourselves with the question of whether or not Mississippi State is a legitimate #1 team. The airwaves are full of protesters who think the team played a soft pre-conference schedule (which they did), and that the SEC is overrated (which is has been demonstrably insane for almost a decade but people still believe it), or that the Bulldogs have been getting lucky and their luck is about to run out.
Mississippi State has three “signature” wins on their resume. Let’s take a closer look at those.
Mississippi State (+7) beat LSU 34-29
This was actually more lopsided than the score makes it sound. Though, Mississippi State had to sweat the ending because they took their foot off the gas too early. State had a huge lead until late. And, even with a garbage-time that heavily favored LSU, State won total yardage 570-430 and rushing yardage 302-89. They held LSU to just 2 for 13 on third downs! And, remember, this happened in Baton Rouge…a historically strong home field.
Everyone would probably agree that this isn’t a vintage LSU team. But, they haven’t suddenly become a doormat. State was dominant until thinking they had it won a bit too early. The stats were consistent with what a national championship contender would do on this field vs. this opponent.
Mississippi State (-2.5) beat Texas A&M 48-31
The Bulldogs jumped out to a 28-10 lead on their way to an easy win. The Aggies scored some garbage time points to make it misleading close, just like LSU did. State led 48-17 early in the fourth quarter. That also helped them even up the yardage. State would win total yards 559-526, but rushing yardage by a commanding 289-161. This team is great at the point of attack! The Aggies were only 5 of 17 on third downs. So, Mississippi State held LSU and A&M to an astonishing 7 of 30 on third down tries!
Again, this is consistent with what a national contender would do at home against Texas A&M…at least through the bulk of the matchup. Mississippi State doesn’t yet have the BENCH of a national champion! We’ll grant that Ole Miss was also impressive against the Aggies, and that came at College Station. But, that’s just evidence suggesting BOTH schools from Mississippi are for real. There’s nothing so far showing Mississippi State is lucky, or overrated. Have both LSU and Texas A&M become doormats?
Mississippi State (+2) beat Auburn 38-23
Remember here that Auburn was national #2 at the time of kickoff, and were national runners-up last year after just missing an upset over Florida State in the title tilt. You only have to MATCH Auburn through 60 minutes to prove you should be on the short list of championship hopefuls. State coasted on the scoreboard (up 28-13 at the half) and played a fairly even game statistically vs. a proven power.
Yardage: Mississippi State 469, Auburn 441
Rushing: Mississippi State 223, Auburn 232
Turnovers: Mississippi State 4, Auburn 4
Mistakes were definitely a concern if you’re a Bulldogs fan trying to foresee a championship run. But, Mississippi State was also forcing them! And, there was some heavy rain and wet field conditions through much of the afternoon. Not to make excuses…we’re not going to endorse a turnover prone team as a championship lock. But, this was a statistical dead heat with a proven powerhouse…which pretty much solidifies the fact that Mississippi State is now a powerhouse.
Can they keep it up? Can they adjust from being the hunter to being the hunted? Can they maintain focus week-in and week-out through another month and a half? And, will the lack of depth that’s shown up in garbage time become a major issue if fatigue sets in or a couple of playmakers get hurt?
Frankly, even if Mississippi State was an absolutely, positively TRUE #1 team, the odds would be against them surviving unscathed through the SEC West, the SEC Championship, and the Final Four. For now, the evidence suggests that they have earned what they reaped. Maybe both Mississippi schools should share the top spot until one gets separation. Maybe Florida State will snap out of cruise control and re-establish themselves as the best in the land. And, just because Auburn lost a road game to a tough team doesn’t mean the Tigers are out of the mix.
If you’re one of the skeptics saying Mississippi State is a pretender because of their soft non-conference schedule, you haven’t been paying close enough attention. Given what’s happened thus far in the historically tough SEC, you would have to try to make the case that LSU is extremely overrated (possible), AND Texas A&M is extremely overrated (maybe), AND Auburn is extremely overrated (no way). All three? Can’t get there from here.
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