It’s time for clanging cowbells to ring out the Crimson Tide and ring in the year of the Bulldog.
Mississippi State University’s No. 1 ranked football team can win its biggest game in nearly seven decades Saturday when it faces No. 5 Alabama at 3:30 p.m. (CBS-TV) in good old Tuscaloosa.
I, for one, long ago overdosed on “Sweet Home Alabama” — not just the Lynyrd Skynyrd song but also Coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide’s domination of Southeastern Conference football.
Even Neil Young will remember nothing more aggravating than watching Saban pace the sidelines or confer with offensive coordinator and Tennessee traitor Lane Kiffin.
Kiffin left Tennessee in the lurch a few years ago when he bolted after one season for bigger bucks at the University of Southern California. After two years of early success, the Trojans posted a 4-7 won-loss record in Kiffin’s last 11 games and he was fired. Kiffin was also fired by the Oakland Raiders of the NFL, where he also bombed as a head coach.
But Kiffin has a mysterious way of landing high-profile jobs and this year turned up in Alabama. The Tide, won-8 lost -1, has struggled moving the ball this year and Kiffin’s play calling is one of the reasons.
But enough of Alabama – which has won nearly two dozen SEC titles and 15 national championships, including 2009 and 2012 under Saban — let’s get to Mississippi State.
Bulldog fans like to ring cowbells at the games, and there has been plenty of bell-ringing this year.
Two people stand out in Mississippi State’s gridiron resurrection: Coach Dan Mullen and quarterback Dak Prescott.
Mullen came to MSU in 2008 from Florida, where he worked as offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer. The Gators won two national titles with Mullen running the offense.
In the past six years Mullen has built the one-time SEC doormat Bulldogs into a powerhouse. He owns a 45-28 coaching record and for the first time in the 114 year history of the school, led the team to four straight bowl games. Mullen changed the culture and everything else about Mississippi State football.
“The transformation of Mississippi State on the field wouldn’t have happened without Mullen finding his way into the hearts and minds of the southern family that is Mississippi State football off the field,” Ivan Maisel wrote for ESPN.
And Mullen, who helped develop such college quarterbacks as Tim Tebow, Chris Leak, Alex Smith and Cam Newton, has turned Prescott into a Heisman Trophy candidate and potential No. 1 NFL draft pick. This season, in 9 games, Prescott has thrown 18 touchdown passes and rushed for almost 800 yards and 11 more TDs.
“Prescott might be the most improved player in college football,” Gil Brandt, longtime NFL executive and scout stated on Twitter. “He’s a much better pro prospect than Tebow.”
All the accolades and rankings won’t mean much when Mississippi State takes the field against Alabama. The two teams have played 98 games in their long history, and the Tide has won 76.
The Bulldogs last SEC title came in 1941. Maybe that’s why Alabama is a seven-point favorite over the No. 1 ranked team in the country.
I still think Bulldogs can win. Prescott displays a fearless persona as a runner and passer. The Mississippi State’s defense has given up over 400 passing yards a game but remains tough against the run and in the clutch. Nick Saban called the Bulldogs’ line and linebackers “the most physical front seven we’ve probably played against this year.”
Mullen, meanwhile, relishes the role of underdog, even though his team has won 12 straight games.
“Our guys will come in and play with great effort,” he said earlier this week in a press conference. “Play with that chip on our shoulder that we try to play with every week no matter what the rankings or what everybody else is predicting.”
So the stage is set for the “biggest football game in the 119 years (that Mississippi State has) played the sport,” Rick Cleveland, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, wrote earlier this week in the Clarion-Ledger newspaper.
It’s fair to say that the winner of this game has the inside track to a National Championship appearance.
History and the experts say the Tide will roll at home but I think the Bulldogs are up to the challenge. Mullen’s guile and Prescott’s guts will be the difference.
Get them cowbells ready.
Villager Tony Violanti writes for Villages-News.com