Are Mullen, Mississippi State in position to capitalize on the tough times at Ole Miss?

Dan Mullen
Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports

Fans of teams who have particularly nasty rivalries love to crow about “owning” their archrival. Truthfully, though, that kind of total domination is rare.

Wisconsin has beaten Minnesota 13 consecutive times; Virginia Tech, likewise, has a 13-game winning streak over Virginia. Alabama has owned Tennessee of late, winning 10 in a row.

But in Mississippi, bitter rivals Ole Miss and Mississippi State have been about as even as teams could be since the SEC split into divisions in the 1992 season. Mississippi State owns a 13-12 advantage in that time frame. Ole Miss’ longest winning streak was three games (2002-04); it’s the same for Mississippi State (2009-11).

Sure, you can go way back in the series, like 1944-67, when Ole Miss won 19 of the 24 games, or 1911-25, when Mississippi State won 13 in a row. But those were much different times relative to 2017. Since the SEC division format came along, no team has run off and left the other behind.

Interim coach Matt Luke is the eighth Ole Miss coach since SEC expansion in 1992 (that includes another interim, Joe Lee Dunn). Ole Miss faced major NCAA sanctions because of transgressions during Billy Brewer’s tenure, but still didn’t necessarily suffer when compared to its archrival.

Dan Mullen is the third Mississippi State coach in the same time span. The Bulldogs, too, were hit with NCAA sanctions because of violations during Jackie Sherrill’s tenure. Again, though, MSU didn’t necessarily suffer when compared to its archrival.

Conventional wisdom would lead you to believe that with two SEC schools in a relatively lightly populated state such as Mississippi, there is no way one school will leave the other behind – unless something major happens. And that something major could be about to happen.

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The end of the NCAA’s current investigation of Ole Miss is drawing near, and while the school has to be happy about that, this could just be the beginning. The nature of the penalties has engendered much speculation, but the damage done by the investigation already is evident in recruiting.

Going into the 2016 season, the Rebels’ four-year recruiting average was 11th in the country via 247Sports’ composite recruiting rankings. This season, the Rebels will be 17th. But that is going to change drastically going forward.

Yes, the Rebels’ top-10 recruiting haul in 2016 was impressive. But the 2017 class was 29th and the 2018 haul is not going to rank highly. Earlier this week, the Rebels’ class ranked 89th. Obviously, it will get better – but how much better? And depending on what the NCAA hands down, the 2019, 2020 and even potentially 2021 classes also could be mediocre.

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In addition, if another year is added to the postseason ban, it wouldn’t be that big a surprise to see some key players exit the program after this season.

Regardless, Mississippi State needs to take advantage.

The Bulldogs’ 2017 class ranked higher than Ole Miss’. It seems a given that the 2018 class will rank higher, as well. (Currently, MSU is about 60 spots ahead of Ole Miss.)

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