It’s Mississippi vs. Alabama (twice) Saturday; history tells us to batten down the hatches

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Joshua McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics

On the rare occasion Ole Miss defeats Alabama, it’s time for a celebration. In 2014, Rebels fans celebrated spectacularly.

It’s Mississippi-Alabama week in college football, and a word of caution to readers who pull for Mississippi State and Ole Miss: This usually does not turn out well.

Mississippi State plays at No. 7 Auburn Saturday at 6 p.m. in a game that will be televised by ESPN. The two teams have played 92 times over the years. Auburn has won 63 times. State has won 27. There have been two ties.

And if you think that’s one-sided…

Ole Miss plays at Alabama Saturday. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. on CBS. The Rebels and Crimson Tide have played 66 times, with Bama winning 54, Ole Miss winning 10 and two ties.

Rick Cleveland

Clearly, past results do not bode well for the Bulldogs and Rebels. Neither do the oddsmakers. Auburn is a 10-point pick over State. Alabama is a whopping 38-point favorite over Ole Miss. I have been following Mississippi football closely for five decades. I do not recall Ole Miss ever being that huge an underdog.

Nor did I remember Southern Miss being more than the 37-point underdog the Golden Eagles were at Alabama last week. But Bama, with seemingly more weapons than the U.S. military, covered, 49-7.

For Ole Miss and State, the outcomes in these two series have turned out much worse when the games have been played in Alabama. Ole Miss is 2-27 in games played at Alabama. State is 7-29 at Auburn.

MSU Athletics

Dak Prescott ( 15) was the unquestioned hero of State’s victory over Auburn in 2014.

And maybe that’s why when the Mississippi teams do prevail in these games, huge celebrations follow. Probably the best example would be 2014. That’s when Ole Miss knocked off top-ranked Alabama 23-17 with a frenzied fourth quarter comeback. The goal posts came down and were paraded to the Oxford Square. And 2014 is also when No. 6 State, behind Dak Prescott, throttled No. 2 Auburn 38-23, in a game that propelled the Bulldogs to No. 1 in the nation. If you were there, your ears still might ring from the cowbells that rang all night long.

It should be mentioned that State has had more recent success against Auburn. Fifty-one weeks ago, the Bulldogs handled the Tigers 23-9 at Scott Field.

“They just lined up and whipped us,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said earlier this week. “…They embarrassed us.”

That is not overstating matters either. State out-rushed Auburn 349 to 90. This Auburn team appears far superior on both sides of the ball to the 2018 Auburn team. Still, it is worth noting that the 2018 Auburn team was 3-1 (having lost by only one point to powerful LSU) until the Bulldogs exposed them. Auburn finished 8-5.

But let’s get back to the history of both series. Younger fans might wonder why Auburn and Mississippi State have played one another so many more times than Ole Miss and Alabama. That’s at least partly because that’s the way SEC legends John Vaught and Bear Bryant wanted it. For much of their tenures, Vaught and Bryant, close friends, had a gentleman’s agreement not to play one another.

In retrospect, it was a smart move by both. Back then, the SEC did not demand they play. So, why play each other and risk defeat when there were so many other easy marks? Ole Miss and Alabama did not play from 1944 until 1965 – and when they finally did play it was in the Sugar Bowl. (Bama, without a touchdown, won 12-7.)

Now, the SEC demands that the league’s teams play every team in their division. And that means that Ole Miss must play Alabama and State must play Auburn every year. And it means that Mississippi fans fervently wish for more years like 2014 when lightning struck twice in the same season.

Bill Simmonds / MSU Athletics

State players and fans celebrated long after the Bulldogs victory over Auburn in 2014.