The SEC West is arguably college football’s toughest division. With Alabama expected to be ranked No. 1 in most preseason polls, along with two other potential top-10 teams – LSU and Texas A&M – Ole Miss and Mississippi State will have an uphill battle pushing for a top-three finish in the division.
Ole Miss is riding a wave of momentum after signing a top-five recruiting class, while Mississippi State has made three consecutive bowl games. Both programs are moving in the right direction and won’t be an easy out for the rest of the SEC in 2013.
The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.
Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May.
Ole Miss or Mississippi State: Who Will Win More SEC Games in 2013?
Interestingly enough, these two teams’ SEC schedules are opposite of one another. Ole Miss’ schedule is more front- or middle-loaded, while MSU’s is back-loaded, much like last season. So, for the Rebels, it’s all about how they start out of the gates, and it’s all about how MSU finishes, again.
Ole Miss will wind up with more SEC wins for several reasons. First, they draw Vanderbilt and Missouri in the East and host Texas A&M and LSU in Oxford, two teams they had on the ropes in the closing minutes last season. If the Rebels can survive the brutal four-game stretch of Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M and LSU and come out .500, they have a real shot to move into a dark-horse-type situation in the SEC West. Secondly, the Rebels return 17 starters from last year’s sexy turnaround team. The top passer, pass catcher, rusher and defensive players all return, making this more of a veteran and tested team. And let’s not forget the Rebels will upgrade the defensive line with another year of development on the current roster and the blue chip-prospects from the 2013 recruiting class in Lavon Hooks and Robert Nkemdiche. Thirdly, we’ve seen the mystique surrounding second-year SEC head coaches. Urban Meyer won a championship in his second year, as did Nick Saban at Alabama. Will Muschamp posted an 11-win season last year in just his second season. I’m certainly not saying Ole Miss is ready to make a championship run, but I love what Hugh Freeze is doing with this club. He has certainly breathed life into an exhausted fan base and program. What’s not to like?
Overall, the direction and lack of momentum in the Mississippi State camp is concerning. Starting 7-0 and losing five of the last six isn’t exactly finishing strong. MSU also lost the heart and soul of the defense in corners Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay and linebacker Cam Lawrence. The remorseless five-game stretch – South Carolina, Texas A&M, Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss – to finish the season would test the will of any team.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
This is a great debate that likely won't be decided until Thanksgiving Night when The Magnolia State will be held captive by the Egg Bowl. If all goes according to plan — which rarely happens — both teams are likely to be 3-4 in SEC play entering the 109th meeting between the historic rivals. The Bulldogs have won four straight at home over the Rebels and Dan Mullen is 3-1 overall against Ole Miss, giving Mississippi State a slight edge heading into this year's meeting. Both teams will be solid on offense and both will make a bowl game, but I'll take Hail State to top the Black Bears at home on Turkey Day — and, thus, in the conference standings.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The battle for bragging rights in the state of Mississippi is going to be an entertaining battle over the next few years. Dan Mullen has Mississippi State on the right track after three consecutive bowl games, and Hugh Freeze had an impressive debut at Ole Miss, followed by a top-five recruiting class. Both teams should be ranked among the top-40 this year, but I give an edge to Ole Miss in SEC wins. The Rebels have a tough early schedule, which features road games against Vanderbilt, Alabama and Auburn. However, I think Ole Miss will find a way to get to .500 in SEC play, as it can beat Missouri, Arkansas, Auburn, Mississippi State and potentially steal one against LSU or Texas A&M. I think Mississippi State will have a tougher time getting to .500, especially with swing games against Auburn and Arkansas on the road. Getting to 3-5 in SEC play is probably the most likely outcome for the Bulldogs in 2013. For now, it appears the momentum in the battle for Mississippi is clearly swinging in favor of Ole Miss’ direction.
Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
Ole Miss went 7-6 last year, Hugh Freeze's first season as head coach and the Rebels are well positioned to be a better team in SEC play than archrival Mississippi State this year. For one, the Rebels return 15 starters who have already spent one year playing for Freeze, meaning they should have an even better understanding of the offensive and defensive systems and what the coaching staff expects. Secondly, there's the matter of each school's conference slate, namely which teams from the SEC East they play. Ole Miss gets Vanderbilt, who continue to improve under James Franklin, and Missouri, who is still getting used to life in the SEC. Mississippi State gets Kentucky, who has a long way to go under new head coach Mark Stoops and South Carolina, a team that should be ranked in the preseason top 10 and figures to battle Georgia and Florida for supremacy in the East and potentially contend for a spot in the conference championship and national title games. Need I say any more? Oh and Ole Miss is bringing in a top-five recruiting class with players who have a great chance of not only playing, but making an impact in their first seasons. It's still early, but at this point things are looking up down in Oxford, Miss., for this fall.
Barrett Sallee, Lead SEC College Football Writer for Bleacher Report (@BarrettSallee)
Without a doubt, it's Ole Miss. The target is on head coach Hugh Freeze's back now after reclaiming state dominance last season and finishing with a top 10 recruiting class. The good news is that the Rebels return 18 starters from a year ago, many of whom will be pushed by the newcomers in the class of 2013. Freeze know how to get the most from his offense, and the addition of several newcomers including wide receiver Laquon Treadwell should pay immediate dividends.
For Mississippi State, it's almost a make or break year. The Bulldogs are 5-21 against FBS teams that finish with eight or more wins under head coach Dan Mullen, and desperately need a signature win. Mullen has done a lot to raise the floor of the program, but really hasn't done much to the ceiling. They need to win now, because Auburn and Arkansas aren't going to stay down forever. If they drop the opener to Oklahoma State in Houston, they'll finish the season dancing around .500.
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