Thanks to Recent Coaching Hires SEC Basketball No Longer A Two Team League

SEC basketball courtWhen most fans think of the Southeastern Conference football immediately comes to mind, and justifiably so.  After all, the SEC did go on that seven consecutive year tear where they won seven straight BCS Championships from 2006-2012 .  Also, it seems like the mighty SEC always leads the other FBS conferences with ranked teams at the end of every football season (they tied with the Pac-12 this year as both conferences had six teams to end the year in the AP Poll).

Billy Donovan has contributed to the basketball success of the SEC. He is the fifth highest paid college basketball coach in the nation and has led the Florida Gators to four Final Four appearances in his 19 years as head coach. He is also one of two coaches to reach 500 career wins before the age of 50.

Billy Donovan has contributed to the basketball success and prestige of the SEC. He is the fifth highest paid college basketball coach in the nation and has led the Florida Gators to four Final Four appearances in his 19 years as head coach. He is also one of two coaches to reach 500 career wins before the age of 50.

Yet, for some reason basketball has not had the same type of success (or at least it does not have the same perception) as football the past decade or so.  One reason may be that the conference RPI has been down the past five years.  According to, the conference is fifth in RPI this year behind the Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, and ACC.  That is the highest RPI the SEC has managed since 2011-2012 season when they finished third, and in the last five years 2011-2012 was the only season that the conference finished in the top three nationally in RPI.

Even though the confernce RPI is down, the SEC does fare well in postseason play.  The conference has three National Championships and seven Final Four appearances in the last ten years.  That is pretty good, especially when you consider that the Big Ten has 10 Final Four teams and no National Championships, the Pac-12 has just three Final Four teams and no championships, and the Big 12 has 2 Final Four teams with one championship in that span. Even the mighty ACC only has five Final Four teams and three championships in the last 10 years.

So why does basketball not garner the same type of reverence that football does in the Southeastern Conference? Probably because just two teams make up those seven Final Four appearances, Kentucky and Florida.  Moreover, in the last ten years there are just two coaches, John Calipari and Billy Donovan, who account for the most (if not all) of the success the conference has.

Compare that to the four different BCS Championship teams (led by four different head coaches) that were a part of that historic seven year run, and you see that football has something that basketball does not have in the SEC. Depth.

Since coming to Kentucky from Memphis in 2009 Coach John Calipari's Wildcats have run the SEC.  They have three regular season championships, three conference championships, five Elite Eight appearances, and four Final Four appearances.

Since coming to Kentucky from Memphis in 2009, Coach John Calipari’s Wildcats have run the SEC. They have three regular season championships, three SEC Tournament Championships, five Elite Eight appearances, and four Final Four appearances.

Kentucky and Florida have been regular season champions eight times while winning the SEC Tournament seven times in the last ten years.  In fact you have to go back six years to find a team other than the Gators and Wildcats that won the regular season crown, seven years to find a SEC Tournament Championship game that did not feature at least on of those two teams, and 19 years to find a SEC Final Four team that was not named Kentucky or Florida (Mississippi State in 1996 ironically Kentucky won the National Championship that year).

However, there will be some changes at the top of the conference real soon thanks to the additions of some high profile coaches the last couple of years.  From Auburn’s Bruce Pearl to Frank Martin in South Carolina, the SEC is now full of exceptional coaches who are more than capable of taking down the Gators and Wildcats.

Now there is this report from Gary Parish about the Alabama coaching situation, and with Tennessee hiring Rick Barnes and Mississippi State snagging Ben Howland it is beginning to look like the conference will have some much needed parody soon.

CJ Hurt is the producer for Cerrito Live and he covers college basketball for MemphiSport. You can hear him on the Playing Hurt Podcast and follow him on twitter @Conradicalness for live tweets from games.


Will this year’s Egg Bowl be for the SEC West crown?

Golden-eggFrom Alabama vs. Auburn to Notre Dame vs. USC,  rivalries drive the mania that is college football.

Every rivalry puts pride, respect, and bragging rights on the line.  However, the truly great rivalries catch the eye of the casual fans because they usually have national implications.

Why do folks who may not be Ohio State or Michigan fans pay attention to “The Game”, because it is usually (historically speaking) for the Big Ten Championship.  Why do people in California watch the “Red River Rivalry”?  They watch for the same reason we all watch, because that contest usually determines the winner of the Big 12.

Now there are some lesser rivalries that hold regional interest like “Clean Old Fashioned Hate”, the “Backyard Brawl”, and “The Civil War” all of which matter to their fan bases, but leaves something to be desired from a national perspective.

You can place “The Battle for the Golden Egg”, which Mid-South fans know is between Mississippi State and Ole Miss, in the category of rivalries that get regional interest, but lacks national luster.

Traditionally speaking, the two SEC schools that reside in Mississippi are not very good.  Over the past twenty years, Ole Miss has finished the season ranked in the AP poll only five times.  Mississippi State has not faired any better finishing the season ranked in the AP Poll four times since 1994.  Just once since the SEC added a championship game in 1992 has either school played for the SEC Championship (that was the Bulldogs in 1998). Also, the two schools have managed to get a share of the SEC West crown just twice in that time span (Mississippi State split with Arkansas in 1998 and Ole Miss split with LSU in 2003).

However, this season appears to be different for both schools, as they seem to be poised for a historic run through the SEC, which would set up the biggest Egg Bowl ever.

It is not outside of the realm of possibilities for this year’s Egg Bowl to be for the SEC West crown, and a chance to play in the SEC Championship.

Ole Miss has one of the nation’s best defenses.  They are holding opponents to 248 total yards (fourth in the nation) and allowing just 8.5 points per game (third in the nation) so far this season.  The emphasis Hugh Freeze’s staff has put on defense has the Rebels off to their first 4-0 start since 1970.

Meanwhile in Starkville, Dan Mullin has one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in all of college football, Dak Prescott.  After an injury plagued season last year, Prescott has returned healthier and better.  He accounts for 335 yards of total offense, and led the Bulldogs to their first win in Tiger Stadium since 1991.

An Egg Bowl for the SEC West crown would be exciting and well deserved for the fans of these two programs. No two programs have fans more deserving of a relevant rivalry than Ole Miss and Mississippi State.  They are every bit as rabid and crazed as the best schools in the SEC, and they do this while consistently residing in the SEC dweller. These are two fan bases that show up yearly in support of their programs, regardless of how well the Rebels and Bulldogs are doing. There are few programs that can say that.

It is easy to support programs that are always ranked and competes for conference championships year in and year out.  Those programs get bandwagon fans on top of their real fans along with the adoration of the national media.  ESPN College Gameday has never been to the state of Mississippi for anything, except to drive through it on their way to LSU, Auburn, or Alabama.  They have been to North Dakota twice!

Okay insert random SEC West school fan here I understand that neither Mississippi State nor Ole Miss has a winning record against you (except Texas A&M, the Bulldogs lead that series 4-3).  It is a rare occurrence for either Mississippi school (let alone both) to beat you in a season, but this might be the year.

If that happens, then the nation will have no choice but to pay attention to “The Battle for the Golden Egg”.



CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him 
@conradicalness for live tweets from games.


Former Vols basketball star Tony Harris earns degree, gives back to community


GOD'S FACILITATOR --- For years, Tony Harris graced Memphis with his basketball prowess, a trend ultimately led to him earning a full fledge scholarship to the University of Tennessee. Today, the former East High star is giving back to the community as founder of the Tony Harris Basketball Academy. (Photo submitted by Tony Harris)

GOD’S FACILITATOR — For years, Tony Harris graced Memphis with his basketball prowess, a trend ultimately led to him earning a full fledge scholarship to the University of Tennessee. Today, the former East High star is giving back to the community as founder of the Tony Harris Basketball Academy. (Photo submitted by Tony Harris)

Tony Harris decided to call it a career after playing professional basketball overseas for approximately seven years.

It didn’t take long for the former University of Tennessee standout to return to Knoxville to complete the final 36 hours of his undergraduate studies.

Harris, a native Memphian, earned his degree in Psychology with a minor in Childcare within six months after his professional career ended.

He has former Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl to thank.

Pearl, who recently replaced Tony Barbee as Auburn’s head coach, coached the Vols from 2005-2011 before he was fired in March 2011 for lying to school officials regarding NCAA allegations.

As Harris tells it, Pearl’s contributions to the university far outweighs the NCAA sanctions that ultimately led to his firing. Among the reasons is that during Pearl’s tenure at Tennessee, he established a program in which ex-Vol players could return to campus and finish their degree requirements.

Harris, who starred for the Vols from 1997-2001, deemed it a forgone conclusion to finish school. “Man, it was very relishing,” Harris, in a recent interview, said of finishing his undergraduate requirements.

“I look back at it as a pivotal point in my life. I knew that I couldn’t play basketball the rest of my life. I knew eventually the crowd would stop cheering. I knew getting my degree would open doors for me.”

Harris is grateful to Pearl for helping him exhibit to renewed sense of assertiveness in the classroom.

“Believe it or not, Bruce Pearl played a big part in that,” Harris said. “He created a program where he actually wanted to bring former players back. He reached out to me and I said, ‘I have to do that.’ I definitely sensed a reconnection with him. I really wished I had played for that guy right there because he cared. My hat goes off to him.”

A little more than five years removed having a earned his degree, Harris, a former McDonald’s All-American and Tennessee Class AAA Mr. Basketball who starred at point guard for East High from 1994-97 is now dishing out assists to youngsters who aspire to journey through the basketball ranks much like he did more than a decade ago in this hoops-crazed town.

Harris, 35, is the founder of the Tony Harris Basketball Academy (or THBA), which is currently housed at STAR Academy Charter School in Northeast Memphis where he teaches physical education. According to Harris, THBA was organized to teach youths various fundamentals and mechanics as they prepare for competitive play.

ROCKY TOP TONY --- Harris, a former Mr. Tennessee Class AAA Mr. Basketball starred at point guard for the Vols from 1997-2001 before playing professionally for seven years overseas. (File photo courtesy of UT Athletics)

ROCKY TOP TONY — Harris, a former Mr. Tennessee Class AAA Mr. Basketball starred at point guard for the Vols from 1997-2001 before playing professionally for seven years overseas. (File photo courtesy of UT Athletics)

Also, THBA has its own strength and conditioning coach to teach athletes about speed and agility as well as the importance of staying in shape on the court. In addition, the academy offers after-school tutoring and frequent sessions in which athletes are taught how to become media savvy.

“A lot of kids get in front of the news media and don’t know how to talk,” Harris said.

An organization that is comprised of about 120 individuals, Harris also conducts a midweek Bible study in which he shares with athletes stories that are parrarelled to his life. In return, athletes are encouraged to offer feedback from the messages given.

Earlier this year, Harris was installed as an ordained ministered by his pastor, Stephen Brown, and preached his first sermon just weeks later at Brown’s LOGIC Church in the heart of downtown Memphis.

“About a month before my sermon, I didn’t know what I was going to talk about,” Harris said. “And God told me to talk about where He brought me from. And so when I preached that sermon, I tied those experiences to my own life.”

Besides Pearl, Harris attributes his success on and off the court to fellow Memphian Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, a former Memphis Treadwell and MemphisState star.

Drafted with the third overall pick by GoldenState in 1993, Hardaway played 14 seasons in the NBA and made four All-Star appearances before retiring in 2007 following a brief stint with the Miami Heat.

“Man, I just looked at his life and his career and how he came back and impacted the whole (city),” Harris said of Hardaway. “He really inspired me. He’s really had the biggest impact on me. And it helps to have a personal relationship with him. I’ve watch him. And what better guy to have as an example than Penny Hardaway?”

Looking ahead, Harris said his primary focus is to upgrade his staff at THBA, considering he has taken on additional athletes in recent months. Also, plans to build a new facility are in the works while he continues to train athletes at STAR Academy, a project he anticipates will be complete within the next year.

“It was four years ago,” said Harris, explaining his motivation for starting a basketball academy. “I was trying to figure out what direction I wanted to go and God gave me a vision. He said, ‘I want you to start a basketball academy.’ And then I talked to my pastor about it and then he told me to make the vision plain and clear. One thing I wanted to do was reach out to kids and not be restricted to a school.”

Much like Pearl reached out to him.

 Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at [email protected]. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist. 


Jackson Trinity Christian star rusher James Bond selected to Rivals Camp Series

RISING STAR --- Jackson (Tenn.) Trinity Christian Academy running back James Bond's stellar display this past season earned him an invitation in the upcoming Rivals Under Armour Camp in Hattiesburg, Miss. March 15. (Photos submitted by Trinity Christian Athletics).

RISING STAR — Jackson (Tenn.) Trinity Christian Academy running back James Bond’s stellar display this past season earned him an invitation in the upcoming elite Rivals Under Armour Camp in Hattiesburg, Miss. March 15. (Photos submitted by Trinity Christian Athletics).

Among the key attributes Trinity Christian Academy football coach Blake Butler deemed commendable about James Bond entering the 2013 season was his willingness to upgrade his mechanics at the running back position.

His continuous progress, to his credit, has benefited him mightily heading into what figures to be a memorable senior campaign.

Bond recently was chosen to showcase his skills in the Rivals Camp Series Presented by Under Armour March 15 at Hattiesburg (Miss.) High. The two-day camp, which would be the sixth in a series that will take place in more than a dozen cities around the country, will feature several of the Mid-South’s elite high school players for the Class of 2015. For Bond, a three-year starter, the news of being selected to what has become one of the most well-publicized camps for college prospects was a testament to his stellar display this past season for Trinity Christian.

In helping the Lions to an 11-2 mark, including running the table (5-0) in District 15, the 6-foot, 175-pound Bond started each of TCA’s 13 games, generating 858 yards on 107 carries and nine touchdowns. As the Lions’ featured back, he was the catalyst of a potent offensive unit that amassed 186.4 rushing yards per games.

His contributions ultimately earned him TCA’s Most Improved Player during the team’s recent banquet.

“James is a guy who coming into the season, he was a preseason All-State player,” Trinity Christian coach Blake Butler told MemphiSport in a telephone interview from Jackson, Tenn. Saturday morning. “And he really did improve a lot. He’s a talented kid. He’s always trying to get better.”

After learning two weeks ago that Bond had been selected to appear in an invitation-only camp, Butler wasted little time informing his star rusher via text message.

“He gets a chance to see the cream of the crop,” said Butler, when asked what will Bond’s invite do for his confidence heading into his senior season. “(The scouts) noticed he a long, lean athlete. When you watch him in action, he the kid of kid who scratches his knees without bending. I expect him to do well down there.”

Bond, whose progress this past season stemmed from a efficient offseason in which he attended a number of 7-on-7 college camps, was ecstatic after learning he had been chosen to attend the Rivals Camp Series in which the top performers will have the chance to qualify for a spot in the Rivals100 Five Star Challenge and top underclassmen could qualify for a spot in the Rivals250 Underclassmen Challenge.

“I felt honored and extremely excited about being chosen for this camp,” Bond said. “This just gives me more confidence to work harder in the offseason and learn to stay humble ever since I touched a football when I was five years old.”

Bond attributes a majority of his success in recent years to his older brother, Michael Bond, a Memphian and former college standout who currently plays semi-professional football.

“My older brother has been like a role model for me,” James Bond said. “He stayed on me, showed me how to be smarter and to stay focused on the field. He’s had a huge impact on my life lately.”

LASTING IMPRESSION --- Among the reasons for Bond's steady progress this past season is that he emerged as one of the top rushers in West Tennessee with 858 yards on 107 carries and nine touchdowns for a TCA team that finished 11-2 and advanced to the third round of the state playoffs.

LASTING IMPRESSION — Among the reasons for Bond’s steady progress this past season is that he emerged as one of the top rushers in West Tennessee with 858 yards on 107 carries and nine touchdowns for a TCA team that finished 11-2 and advanced to the third round of the state playoffs.

That James Bond has flourished considerably this past season didn’t go unnoticed, particularly by a host of Mid-South area colleges. Currently, he had garnered letters of interest from Tennessee, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Middle Tennessee State, and the University of Memphis, among others. While the possibility exists that he will receive official offers as early as before TCA’s fall training camp, he said he will not make a definitive decision on where to play college football until National Signing Day 2015.

“I really don’t pay any attention to stuff like that,” said James Bond, when asked to assess his recruiting process. “I let coaches handle all of that. It really doesn’t matter to me. I just want to fulfill my dream of playing college football.”

A dream in which a variety of college scouts have already acknowledged.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at [email protected]. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist. 


2013 AutoZone Liberty Bowl Preview: Mississippi State vs. Rice

liberty bowl logoThis marks the 55th year of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl and it is sure to be an exciting contest between the Mississippi State Bulldogs and the Rice Owls.

The Bulldogs have played in this bowl three times in the past, and have an all-time record of 2-1 at the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.  The last time they were here, the Bulldogs faithful came out in full support as nearly 64,000 fans attended the game.

Rice has never played in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, but they are familiar with Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.  The Owls and the University of Memphis used to be in the same conference, so Rice has made more than their fair share of trips to the Bluff City.  Their most recent trip to Memphis was last year in a game that saw Rice fall 14-10 to the hometown Tigers.

Both teams took different paths getting here with Rice winning the Conference USA Championship, and the Bulldogs needing to win their last two games of the season in overtime to become bowl eligible.

Below is a preview of the match-up between Rice and Mississippi State…

Mississippi State Bulldogs:
The college football season may not have turned out quite the way that Mississippi State fans expected, but head coach Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs are headed to a bowl for the fourth straight year.  This is the longest streak of consecutive bowl appearances in the history of the football program, and it was not easy.

Half of the Bulldogs schedule was comprised of teams that are currently ranked in the BCS Standings with three of those teams currently ranked in the top ten (Auburn, Alabama, and South Carolina).  Mississippi State lost to all of the ranked teams they faced this year, making the Bulldogs record against top 25 competition under Mullen 2-23, but they found a way to beat the teams they were supposed to and pulled off the upset against their instate rivals Ole Miss to secure a bowl bid.

Close wins over inferior teams combined with three straight losses in November against divisional opponents put their bowl hopes, and Mullen’s job, in serious jeopardy.

However, when Mississippi State needed to win out to become bowl eligible in the final two weeks of the season, coach Mullen’s Bulldogs responded with the mental fortitude necessary to hold off an Arkansas team that was hungry for their first conference win and knock off the hated Rebels.

The win over Ole Miss did more than secure a bowl berth for the Bulldogs, it bought the Golden Egg back to Starkville, and saved Mullen’s job for another season.

Players to watch:

-FUMBLE (AP Photo/The Daily Mississippian, Thomas Graning)

FUMBLE- Mississippi State defensive back Nickoe Whitley forces Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace to fumble, thus securing a Bulldogs win.  Whitley will be looking to make big plays like this in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. (Photo by AP Photo/The Daily Mississippian, Thomas Graning)

On the offensive side of the ball all eyes will be on Dak Prescott who has shown flashes of brilliance at times this season.  He leads the team in both passing and rushing and is sixth in the SEC in total offense.  Prescott is as lethal an offensive weapon as there is in college football and is able to score in every way imaginable.  He has seven passing touchdowns, 11 rushing scores, and two receptions for touchdowns too.

Defensively Nickoe Whitley is going to be a player worth watching as this will be his last collegiate game. The senior defensive back is second in the SEC with five interceptions, earned Second Team All-SEC honors this season, and do not forget it was Whitley that forced fumble to secure a Mississippi State victory over the Rebels.

(click here to see the Bo Wallace fumble and get a behind the scenes look at MemphiSport Live)

Rice Owls:

Unlike Mississippi State, the college football season turned out the way most Rice fans expected, with the Owls competing for the Conference USA crown.  However, Rice did more than simply compete, they won the C-USA Championship.  This is their first outright conference title since 1957 when they were in the Southwest Conference.

The Owls could not be stopped on the ground this season.  They are 16th nationally when it comes to rushing yards per game, averaging just over 240 total yards on the ground.

(Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle)

TOUCHDOWN- Rice feature back, Charles Ross, scores a touchdown in the Owls 52-31 loss to Texas A&M.  Ross finished the day with 19 carries for 107 yards and two touchdowns.  He will have to have a similar performance if Rice is going to knock off Mississippi State (Photo by Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle)

Thanks to a dominate rushing attack, the Owls recorded their first ten win season since 1949 under renowned head coach Jess Neely.  Current head coach, David Bailiff, might not have the legendary status of Neely, but he is building a rather nice resume for himself.  This season, Bailiff was named C-USA Coach of the Year which is his second time earning the distinction in his seven year tenure at the school.

In addition to the accolades Bailiff earned this year, Rice had10 players make the All-CUSA team with five of them earning first team honors.  Rice is 15-3 in their last 18 games dating back to their 44-17 win against Southern Mississippi in 2012.

A midseason slip up against North Texas and a near loss to lowly UAB almost cost the Owls a chance to play for the conference title, but they were able to regroup and literally run over the rest of C-USA in route to their conference title.

Players to watch:
With a ground game like Rice has, it will be nearly impossible not to have your eyes glued to senior back Charles Ross.  After all, Ross has proven to be a tough back to bring down eclipsing the 100 yard mark on the ground seven times this season.  He is also 19th in the nation with 1252 total rushing yards, he averages 6.2 yards per carry, and has 14 rushing touchdowns on the year.

Senior cornerback Phillip Gaines is a player to keep your eyes on when the Owls take the field defensively.  He is a two time First Team All-CUSA selection who shuts down the opponent’s best receiver.  Opposing receivers have just 13 receptions on 40 targets against him and he leads the team with four interceptions.

The Winner:

-Who will hoist the trophy-

You can ring my bell- The winner of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl will get to hoist this unique trophy after the game.

It has been three years since the SEC last won the AutoZone Liberty Bowl thanks to losses by Georgia and Vanderbilt (the SEC did not send a team to the bowl game last year).  However, after a two year hiatus there will be a SEC vs. C-USA matchup and it does not bode well for Rice.  The SEC is 4-1 all-time against C-USA in the Liberty Bowl with the lone defeat belonging to Georgia who lost to Central Florida in 2010.

Rice will look to continue the SEC’s three year losing streak, but they will have to find some type of offensive balance if they expect to pull off the upset.

While Rice has a stellar running game, they are the 22nd worst passing team nationally.  It does not matter how good the ground game is, Rice is going to struggle because they are not good enough through the air to prevent Mississippi State from loading the box to stop the run.

Led by an All-SEC Freshman defensive end Chris Jones, the Mississippi State defensive line is more than capable of stopping the Owls run game.

This will be the seventh team the Bulldogs have faced this season who averages over 200 yards rushing per game.  Of the other six teams just two (Arkansas and LSU) ran for over 200 yards against Mississippi State.  The Bulldogs held the explosive Auburn ground game to 120 yards on the ground which was the Tigers season low and only game all season that they did not eclipse the 200 yard mark on the ground.

Prescott and the Bulldogs offense will be in for a bit of a struggle too, as the Owls are the 24th best total defense in the nation.  However, Prescott’s ability to make something happen when he gets outside of the pocket will alleviate some of the Bulldogs struggles offensively.

When it is all said and done Dan Mullen and Mississippi State will cover the spread and hand coach Bailiff his first bowl loss.


Egg Bowl 2013: Which Mississippi team will be giving thanks this year?

(Photo by Terry Davis)

(Photo by Terry Davis)

This year’s Egg Bowl between Ole Miss and Mississippi State, played for the first time in several years on Thanksgiving night, should be an entertaining game. No matter how good one team is or how bad the other needs a win, this rivalry always produces some crazy moments and this year’s game has some high stakes for both teams.

Mississippi State:

Mississippi State comes in to the game needing a win in the worst way. They won all the games throughout the season that they were “supposed to win,” but unfortunately for the Bulldogs, that puts them on the outside of the bowl landscape right now. If they were to pull an upset over the Rebels, they would get that much needed sixth win and a likely berth in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

Mississippi State has had a rough year at the quarterback position and as of right now plans to start freshman Damian Williams against Ole Miss. Starter Dak Prescott is out for the season, unless the Bulldogs make it to a bowl game, and backup Tyler Russell is listed as day-to-day, so he may see some action Thanksgiving night. But for Williams to be making his first start in such a big game for his team should make for a compelling storyline. First he is playing in a game that State fans look forward to, no matter what the implications are, and second the implications are enormous this year with that bowl berth on the line. Can the freshman handle the pressure? It helps that he is playing this game in Starkville, but I imagine he is feeling pretty nervous.

Another interesting story coming into this game is the regression of Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen. When Mullen got to Starkville in 2009, he immediately added some energy to a program that desperately needed some. Mullen had a mediocre first season but came out of nowhere to upset Ole Miss in that year’s Egg Bowl preventing the Rebels from gaining a berth in the prestigious Capital One Bowl. Despite not getting his team to their own bowl that year, beating Ole Miss instantly gave him some notoriety and he spent the next few years continuing to take it to the Rebs. But over the past two seasons, it has become clear that Mullen might not be capable of leading State much further than a middle tier bowl game in good years, and not getting them to a bowl at all in the bad years. If Mullen, after letting the Bulldogs get humiliated in last year’s Egg Bowl, can’t pull out a win over Hugh Freeze and company this year and get his team to a bowl, you might start hearing the words “hot seat” associated with his name.

Ole Miss:

The Rebels on the other hand come into the Egg Bowl looking to take the next step towards becoming a serious SEC contender. Last year’s surprising 7-6 season capped off by a BBVA Compass Bowl win was pretty great for Rebel fans, but most of those fans expected this year to be one when a jump was made into the upper section of the SEC West. If the Rebels were to lose the Egg Bowl, they would finish the year 7-5, a fine record, but a little disappointing given that many thought nine wins was a realistic goal.

Ole Miss, after a disappointing showing against Missouri are hoping to make a statement this week to the various bowl committees watching around the country. Bo Wallace should be back to 100% after struggling with a case of the flu last week. The Rebs will be healthy and ready to go into Starkville to get a win.

Hugh Freeze has his team bought in to his philosophy, and winning a second Egg Bowl in as many years will go a long way in the offseason in state recruiting battle. It would also help to get to eight regular season wins with a chance to get a ninth win in the bowl game. But are the Rebels going to feel they have enough to play for? Will Mississippi State’s must-win situation give them the upper hand this year? Last year, Ole Miss needed the Egg Bowl win to become bowl eligible and they got it. Will the same happen for Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs this year?

On paper, Ole Miss holds pretty much every advantage. More talent, better coaching, etc., but Mississippi State has home field advantage and a little more to play for. It could be a year for an upset, and crazier things have happened in this rivalry than a potential Mississippi State win this week. But honestly I think Hugh Freeze and the Rebels desperately want to keep the Bulldogs out of a bowl and give Dan Mullen his first losing season since 2009, so that’s why I’m going with Ole Miss to win on Thanksgiving night.

Prediction: Ole Miss – 31  Mississippi State – 27

Warner Russell is a regular contributor for MemphiSport and The Wise Guise. Read his non-sports stuff here. Follow him @uncle_warny.


Ole Miss vs. Arkansas: Rebels look to become bowl eligible

The Ole Miss Rebels opened as a 17.5 point favorite for this week’s matchup against the Arkansas Razorbacks, which is quite a number for an SEC contest, and one that Ole Miss probably hasn’t seen over an SEC foe in many years. Don’t expect the game to be a blowout though.


Arkansas, under new coach Bret Bielema, is having a rough year. At 3-6 and on a six game losing streak, the Razorbacks are playing for pride at this point. Their only hope of getting to a bowl would be to win the last three games of the season, at Ole Miss, vs. Mississippi State, and at LSU. I just don’t see that happening for the first year coach and his squad. But sometimes a team playing for pride, as Arkansas is, is one that can be very dangerous. At this point, the Hogs have little to lose. Nobody expects them to win the next three or even one of the next three, so these players have no reason not to leave everything on the field and play with some reckless abandon.

Next year, once Bielema gets another class of his own players on campus, has potential to be much better for Arkansas. His rough, bruise it up the middle style will be much more effective with the right players. Bobby Petrino’s leftovers are not the right players, so it’s understandable this year has been less than stellar for the Razorbacks. Alex Collins has the makings of a special player, so look out for him in 2014.

Ole Miss:

ole misslogoOle Miss is riding some momentum from their shocking last second win over LSU and their thrashing of Idaho. After a week off, which came at just the right time, Ole Miss appears to have its players healthy and will be trotting some key guys back on the field after dealing with injury problems the past few games. Look for Robert Nkemdiche (hamstring) to come back ready to play and show why he was the number one recruit in the nation. Also returning will be Serederius Bryant (concussion) and big time playmaker Jeff Scott (thigh).

This is a big game for the Rebels. A win gets them bowl eligible for the second year in a row and goes a long way for a late season surge to finish the year strong. A big game at home against a surprisingly successful Mizzou looms for the Rebels in two weeks and boy would Hugh Freeze like to go into that contest at 7-3. Beat Arkansas this week, and that’s sure to happen. (Ole Miss has Troy at home next week.)

Like I mentioned before, I don’t think that Ole Miss should be favored by 17.5. Arkansas is struggling, but they are still an SEC opponent, and anything can happen on any given Saturday in the SEC. However, I do think that Ole Miss is just too talented to lose this game. I expect running back Jeff Scott and his now broken-in backups Jaylen Walton, I’Tavius Mathers, and Mark Dodson to all have some success against the Razorback defense. Ole Miss will run the ball with ease opening up some good opportunities for Bo Wallace to use play-action calls for downfield passing.

Ole Miss is going to win the game; the final score will be determined by how locked in and focused their defense can be while seeing the offense win the game for them. If the defense decides it wants to limit Arkansas even though the Rebel offense is making it an easy win, then you very well could see a blowout. If the defense is lax this weekend, the game could be closer than Ole Miss fans think it will be.

Prediction: Ole Miss 42 – Arkansas 28

Warner Russell is a regular contributor for MemphiSport and The Wise Guise. Read his non-sports stuff here. Follow him @uncle_warny.


Ole Miss vs. LSU: Can the ailing Rebels pull out a shocker?

Photo by Justin Ford

Photo by Justin Ford

The Magnolia Bowl, the annual matchup between Ole Miss and LSU, is always a great game. Usually, Ole Miss comes in as a big underdog, LSU as a ranked powerhouse, and people get a much closer game than they bargained for. The games typically come down to a final possession.

This year, I expect much of the same. While LSU has had quite a season behind senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger and sophomore running back Jeremy Hill, they still have quite a ways to go before things in the SEC West shake out. A looming matchup with Alabama will go a long way in determining how the National Championship picture forms at the end of the season. The Tigers’ thriller with Georgia was a game for the ages, and despite losing that contest, LSU has a lot of confidence that they could win the West.

Ole Miss is beaten, battered, and bruised. Their down-to-the-wire matchup with Texas A&M last week was an incredible game for both teams, but ultimately ended in heartbreak for the Rebs. You give Johhny Manziel the ball with three minutes left and only needing a field goal to win, and you might as well hand him a win on a silver platter. And that’s what Ole Miss did. They threw the game right to A&M and walked out of Vaught-Hemingway with a three game losing streak. What’s worse is that the Ole Miss defensive line is crumbling faster than you could imagine. C.J. Johnson is having season ending surgery, and Isaac Gross and Robert Nkemdiche are among a group of other linemen that are hurting and may or may not be able to go Saturday night.

Will the Rebel offense be able to put up some points against a mediocre (by LSU standards) Tiger defense? Bo Wallace looked a little bit better last week and Barry Brunetti had quite a few good series and a couple of TDs to show for it, but like the D-line, Brunetti is banged up as well.

Ultimately, I see this game being a typical LSU-Ole Miss matchup. Many people think that LSU will run away with it, but I think the Rebels know that they need this win in a bad, bad way. Win this, and they still could get to eight or nine wins. Lose and they might squeak out seven.

I think that Hill and the LSU run game will exploit and injured Rebel defensive line and run up and down the field, but call me crazy, I see the Ole Miss offense putting up enough points to pull out a shocker down in Oxford.

Prediction: Ole Miss 38 – LSU 35

Warner Russell 
is a regular contributor for MemphiSport and The Wise Guise. Read his non-sports stuff here. Follow him @uncle_warny.


Ole Miss vs. Texas A&M: Can the Rebels stop Johnny Football?

Photo by Chris Evans

Photo by Chris Evans

Texas A&M will roll into Oxford, Miss this Saturday to face the Ole Miss Rebels at 7:30 PM CT (ESPN), and the Aggies are expected by many to take care of business at Vaught–Hemingway Stadium.

Texas A&M:

Texas A&M sits at 4-1 (1-1 SEC record) and is coming off of a bye week after defeating Arkansas on September 28. The Arkansas game wasn’t necessarily the slaughter many people believed it would be, but in the end the Aggies were just too much for the Razorbacks. The lone loss A&M has on the season is to Alabama in what is arguably the game of the year so far for all of college football. While Johnny Manziel is still the talk of the college football landscape with his wonderful play, questionable behavior, and downright stupid decisions, the player that is making the most impact for the Aggies, in my opinion, is Mike Evans. He is having some kind of season having already caught nearly 700 yards worth of passes and five touchdowns. He’s just so tall that it makes hard for any secondary to stop him. At 6’5’’ and 225 pounds, he makes easy work of anyone that tries to shut him down, especially when Manziel just lobs a pass his way. All he has to do is jump a little bit higher than the guy covering him, which with his size is easy, and he has a catch. Sure, Manziel deserves plenty of credit, but with a weapon like Evans, Manziel is having an easy time building another Heisman caliber year. I don’t see Evans’ season slowing down much either. After the Ole Miss game, Evans will have four games against non-ranked opponents before finishing the season with #10 LSU and #25 Missouri.  At the pace he’s going, Evans could easily get to 1,500 receiving yards and who knows, with a few big games could push 2,000. Evans, not Manziel, is the player Rebel fans should worry about. Shut down Evans, and in turn the Rebels could shut down the Aggies.

Ole Miss:

Ole Miss is coming off of a frustrating loss to Auburn. While many folks are happy with the Rebs being 3-2 at this point, most fans are ticked off they aren’t 4-1. Starting the season 3-0 was a shock, but the Rebels really needed to win at least one of the four games against Bama, Auburn, A&M, or LSU to make the season one for the ages. At this point, barring a major upset, it’s looking like the Rebels are going to go from 3-0 to 3-4 which is absolutely disheartening. For this week’s game, a lot of media are going to say that it’s imperative the Rebel defense shut down Manziel and Evans (which is true), but I’m going to tell you that the game rests on the Ole Miss offense right now. The offense just hasn’t clicked since the win in Austin, and nobody is really sure when or if it will get it back together. The read option isn’t seeing success like it did in the early weeks, Bo Wallace’s decision making has been spotty, and last week the highly touted Rebel receiving corps dropped entirely too many passes, many that would have given the team a first down. If Ole Miss could hold the high octane Texas A&M offense to 28 points then the defense has done its job. But if the offense can’t get it together and put some points on the board with consistency, then this game, and potentially the rest of the season will be tough for Ole Miss. They’ll get to their bowl game and still have a decent record, but after such a hot start, it would be a lie to say that Ole Miss fans would be pleased with seven wins this season.

Bottom line on this one: Texas A&M is better than they were last year. Ole Miss came so close to pulling out a victory against them then, but this year, I don’t think Ole Miss will be able to keep up. I had originally predicted this to be a Rebel win, but at the time I was confident Johnny Manziel would have been suspended for more than a half of a game.

Prediction: Texas A&M 41 – Ole Miss 21

Warner Russell is a regular contributor for MemphiSport and The Wise Guise. Read his non-sports stuff here. Follow him @uncle_warny.


Ole Miss vs. Auburn: A tale of two teams on the rise

(Photo by Justin Ford)

(Photo by Justin Ford)

This Saturday’s matchup between Auburn and Ole Miss will go a long way in determining who is a legitimate SEC team and who is still a few steps away from contending in the SEC West. Both teams sit at 3-1 heading into the game at Jordan-Hare in Auburn, Ala. Whoever wins this game will be one difficult win closer to a potentially very successful season.

Ole Miss failed to make a statement last week against Alabama after many thought they could sneak into Tuscaloosa and pull out an upset, and similarly Auburn failed to put up much of a fight in their first real test the week before against LSU. Both of those losses made it abundantly clear that neither team is going to win the SEC this year, but both teams still have very real chances at nine or 10 win seasons.

Last year, Auburn was dreadful. There’s really no other way around it. The Tigers had talent, but after losing now head coach, then offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn to Arkansas State, Gene Chizik just couldn’t get things together to put a quality product on the field. Auburn went 3-9 and Chizik was sent packing just two years after winning a National Championship. Malzahn was brought back to be the head coach and the rebuilding process began.

Two years ago, Ole Miss was beyond dreadful. They won two games, failed to even compete in most of their contests, and the blame rested squarely on the shoulders of Houston Nutt. After he was fired and AD Pete Boone stepped down, Ole Miss went out and brought in a couple of young guns in Coach Hugh Freeze (coincidentally also from Arkansas State) and AD Ross Bjork. The culture in Oxford is vastly different now than it was in 2011, and after a wildly successful season last year, compared to the years previous of course, and an incredible recruiting class, Ole Miss is on the up and up in a big way. A 7-5 record with mediocre talent in Hugh Freeze’s first season was damn near unthinkable last August, but it happened and it was great. This year many fans want to see even more now that they’ve tasted success.

Now these two teams get to face off and see who has made more progress. Many Auburn fans expected the team to compete this season and they have. 3-1 is not too shabby, especially having beaten a good Washington St. team and SEC foe Mississippi State, but the schedule still has some tough games on it against Texas A&M (away) and Georgia and Alabama (home). If Auburn is for real this season and wants to make a statement as to where they are in the pecking order, they can easily do that this Saturday by beating a talented Ole Miss team.

In a similar vein, Ole Miss, needs to come out and make a statement as well. They need to tell the world that the Alabama game was a minor speed bump in the middle of a great season. And they also really need to win to avoid going 0-4 in the brutal Alabama/Auburn/A&M/LSU stretch. Going 0-4 at any point in a season makes it difficult to rebound well, and I don’t think any Ole Miss fan would be too thrilled going 7-5 this year when they realistically, after starting 3-0, could go 9-3. Come out and win Saturday, and Ole Miss is in great shape going forward. Come out and lose, and things get sticky.

The game should be a fun one. Freeze and Malzahn have very similar styles. They are very familiar with one another. Both teams have talented, fun hurry-up offenses. It wouldn’t surprise me to see an extremely high scoring game. If either team really has a shot at winning, it will come down to good defensive execution, and right now I think the edge goes to Ole Miss in that category.

Both teams need this win. I honestly think Ole Miss needs it more. Auburn probably wasn’t expecting to win this game at the beginning of the season, while Ole Miss probably was. A loss here could start a rough downward spiral over the next few weeks for the Rebs, whereas a loss for Auburn this week wouldn’t be the end of the world. Because they need it more, because they will want it more, and because they have the advantage on defense, I think that Ole Miss pulls it out on the Plains.

Prediction: Ole Miss 35 – Auburn 27

Warner Russell is a regular contributor for MemphiSport and The Wise Guise. Read his non-sports stuff here. Follow him @uncle_warny.