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Saturday Marks 364 Days Mississippi State Has Been Undefeated

Dak Prescott
Dak Prescott

When No. 1 ranked Mississippi State plays at No. 4 Alabama Saturday, the Bulldogs will have been undefeated for 364 days.
The multi-million dollar question: Can they make it an entire year?
To do so, they will have to beat the team that has owned them for the better part of a century. The Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs have played 98 previous games. Bama has won 76.
That’s just part of why this is biggest football game in the 119 years the maroon and white have played the sport. Don’t just take it from me. “Biggest for sure in my lifetime,” says Scott Stricklin, the State athletic director, still a young pup at 44.
Even the oldest ‘Dogs must know there’s never been a bigger State game than this on. Yes, State played Ole Miss in 1941 with the SEC Championship on the line. Yes, the Bulldogs played Tennessee in the 1998 SEC Championship Game. Those weren’t this: National Championship, SEC Championship and Heisman Trophy implications, galore. Seems almost prophetic that Alabama stands in the way. With few exceptions — most notably State’s 6-3 triumph over No. 1-ranked Bama and Bear Bryant in 1980 — Bama has been the windshield and State the bug. Remember 2012? State, 7-0, headed for Bama, many fans wearing “We Believe! 8-0” T-shirts. Final score: Bama 38, State 7. Oddsmakers apparently have studied the history, making Bama a 6.5-point favorite, despite the fact that Tide running star T.J. Yeldon suffered a twisted ankle at LSU and his availability for Saturday is at-best questionable.
A victory over Alabama would not only give State a two-game lead in the SEC Western Division, it would be State’s fourth victory over a Top 10 foe this season and all but guarantee State a spot in college football’s new four-team playoff and a chance for a national championship trophy. And then there’s that other trophy, the one with the stiff-arm. Dak Prescott will have the CBS afternoon slot, college football’s biggest stage. This is Dak’s best chance to sway voters away from Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.
Important to note: Should Bama, as usual, defeat State, it would by no means be the end to all State championship hopes, SEC, National, or otherwise. What State has achieved thus far has afforded the Bulldogs a cushion, albeit thin. It has provided State a whole lot more.
“Our licensing revenue is up 20 percent,” Stricklin said. “Our private giving is up 35 percent. And those figures don’t take into account the last few weeks. We know it has gone up even more.”
Probably the biggest increase of all: free publicity.
“There’s no way to put a dollar value on what it’s done for us in that regard,” Stricklin said. “Everywhere you look, whether it’s the scroll at the bottom of your TV screen, the cover of Sports Illustrated or the front page of ESPN.com, there’s Mississippi State. You can’t buy that.”
Earlier in the week, on the front page of ESPN.com, there was an adidas ad peddling, of all things: Stark Vegas apparel. Imagine: Stark Vegas, USA, gone international.
No doubt, Ole Miss has experienced similar increases with it remarkable season, which includes a victory over Alabama and marred only by two heartbreak losses to LSU and Auburn.
“If we and our sister school have achieved nothing else this season, finally the rest of the nation now knows the difference between Ole Miss and Mississippi State,” Stricklin said. “We’ve always had our own identities, but now the rest of the nation knows. We’re not lumped together any more. That’s a pretty big accomplishment right there.” A bigger one could come Saturday. Looking for a sign? Again, go back to 2012. The last time Alabama won at LSU, the Crimson Tide returned home and lost to Texas A & M. The A & M quarterback, Johnny Manziel, went on to win the Heisman Trophy. It took a superhuman performance from Manziel to do it. Dak?
••• images-1Rick Cleveland rcleveland@msfame.com is executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.

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