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Cleveland: On Ole Miss and MSU Facing LSU and Alabama

If a lifetime of covering sports in Mississippi has taught me anything, it has taught me this: There’s never really a good time to play LSU or Alabama in football.

Most of the time, the Tigers and Crimson Tide will have bigger, faster, more talented players than you do. They will have more of them, too.

That said, if there ever is a good time to play LSU and Alabama, then Ole Miss and Mississippi State will have it this Saturday when Alabama plays at Mississippi State at 11 a.m. and then LSU plays at Ole Miss at 6.

Both LSU and Alabama should have killer hangovers after their titanic struggle last Saturday in Tuscaloosa that resulted in No. 1 LSU’s 46-41 victory. By hangover, I mean football’s version of a hangover. Football hangovers are both physical and mental in nature. Both teams had such an emotional investment in the game, which accounts for the mental part. Both teams, particularly LSU, suffered injuries throughout the game. Bet on this: Ice was at a premium – and the whirlpools were filled – in both Alabama and LSU training rooms on Sunday.

First, about the LSU-Bama game: The Tigers played better and deserved to win. Joe Burrow outplayed Tua Tagovailoa. That said, Tagovailoa was valiant in defeat, clearly playing with a gimpy ankle that had required surgery only three weeks earlier. If they play again – and they might – and Tagovailoa is healthy, the result could be quite different.

But back to my original point: If you have to play LSU and Alabama – and Ole Miss and State have to do it every year – there may never be a better time than Saturday.

While LSU and Alabama were busting one another up, Mississippi State had an open date and Ole Miss required little more effort in crushing winless New Mexico State. Add to that the fact that both Mississippi teams will be playing at home. Add to that the fact that both the Bulldogs and Rebels badly need to win to aid hopes of playing in a bowl.

As is usually the case, LSU and Alabama will have bigger, faster and more talented players – and more of them – but all other factors this week favor the Mississippi teams. And, you are right, that probably won’t be enough.

After all, LSU leads its series with Ole Miss 62-40-1. The State-Bama series is even more one-sided with the Crimson Tide having won 81 times, State 18 times and three ties.

The State-Bama series is often called The Battle of Highway 82. Tuscaloosa and Starkville are about 90 miles apart on Highway 82. State and Bama are the two SEC teams closest to one another. But there hasn’t been anything close about the rivalry. State success stories have been few and far between with the Bulldogs’ 6-3 victory in 1980 standing out above all others.

But you must remember that what made that 1980 stunner so stunning was that Alabama had defeated State 22 straight times before that day, mostly by wide margins.

One of my favorite Jack Cristil stories: State was playing at Tuscaloosa. Bama led 35-0 at halftime. Comedian Bob Hope was in the press box that day before he was to do a show in Tuscaloosa that night. Somebody tapped on the door of the State radio booth, opened the door and told Cristil, “Bob Hope is available for a halftime interview if you want him.”

Replied Cristil, with no hesitation whatsoever: “Fellow, I could use some hope right now…”

The LSU-Ole Miss rivalry is known as the Magnolia Bowl, because the magnolia blossom is the state flower of both Mississippi and Louisiana. The series is 125 years old; the Magnolia Bowl Trophy is just 11, having been created in 2008, the year after Ed Orgeron was fired at Ole Miss..

This year, the Orgeron Bowl seems a more fitting moniker. Who would have figured that a coach who went 10-25 in three years at Ole Miss, would be 34-9 in his fourth year at LSU? Not me.

Both Orgeron and Nick Saban face difficult tasks getting their teams emotionally ready to play after last week’s Game-of-the-Century-type buildup. Oddsmakers aren’t swayed. Both Bama and LSU opened this week as 21-point favorites.


Email syndicated columnist Rick Cleveland at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.

Adam Brown
Adam Brown
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