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Thanksgiving Day: Ole Miss Rebels vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs Preview and Prediction

Nick Fitzgerald

Nick Fitzgerald

Take it easy on the turkey Thursday, as to avoid the possibility of falling into a tryptophan-induced coma that will prevent you from catching the 114th offering of the Egg Bowl. The Ole Miss Rebels and Mississippi State Bulldogs will renew their rivalry on Thanksgiving Day for the 29th time in this series' history.

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Ole Miss' (5-6, 2-5 SEC) eventful season finally comes to an end on Thursday, but the Rebels aren't in the clear, as the NCAA's verdict could be rendered any day now. With that said, Ole Miss will be playing its de facto bowl game against its archrival and would love nothing more than prevent Mississippi State (8-3, 4-3) from earning its ninth win. The Rebels are coming off of a 31-24 loss to Texas A&M last week.

The Bulldogs enter the Egg Bowl with momentum one week after coming from behind to defeat Arkansas on the road, 28-21. Head coach Dan Mullen has deflected rumors about the possibility of bolting for Gainesville or Knoxville after again staking his claim as one of the game's most innovative offensive minds. Mississippi State has won five of its last six contests and sits fourth in the SEC West.

The Bulldogs beat the Rebels 55-20 last year to snap a two-game losing streak in the Egg Bowl. Ole Miss leads the series 63-44-6.

Ole Miss at Mississippi State

Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 23 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Mississippi State -15

Three Things to Watch

1. Mississippi State defensive end Montez Sweat

Sweat tallied his third SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week honor Monday for his efforts against Arkansas when he collected four tackles and 2.5 sacks. Sweat leads the SEC with nine sacks and ranks 11th in the FBS in that category.

The junior has made 40 total tackles, including another team-high 11.5 for a loss, and has recovered a fumble this season. Thursday's Egg Bowl will be the Michigan State transfer's first, and he's looking to make a name for himself in the rivalry.

2. Running back duel

Two of the SEC’s top running backs will square off on Thursday with Mississippi State’s Aeris Williams (944 yards, sixth) and Ole Miss’ Jordan Wilkins (901, seventh) set to share the Egg Bowl spotlight at Davis Wade Stadium.

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While Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald receives heaps of praise for his ability as a runner (he’s fifth in the conference with 968 rushing yards), and rightfully so, Williams has proven himself to be just as valuable. He's averaging 4.9 yards per carry and should have a good shot at reaching 1,000 yards for the season against a Rebels defense that’s among the worst in the country against the run (240.9 ypg, 123rd).

Wilkins (above, right) isn’t too far behind Williams and he’s averaging 6.4 yards per carry. He also has put together back-to-back 100-yard games with 124 against Louisiana and 147 vs. Texas A&M. Wilkins may find yards to a little tougher to come by against a Mississippi State defense that is fourth in the SEC and 25th overall in rushing defense (128.7 ypg).

3. Bulldogs point man Nick Fitzgerald

In accounting for 29 (15 passing, 14 rushing) of his team's 46 touchdowns this year, Fitzgerald is responsible for 63 percent of Mississippi State's scoring this season. On top of that, he and Louisville's Lamar Jackson are the only players with more than 1,700 passing yards and 900 rushing.

Fitzgerald has thrown for 1,770 yards with those 15 touchdowns and is on the doorstep of a 1,000-yard rushing season (968) as well. If there has been any knock on him this season, it's been his propensity for turnovers, as he's thrown 10 interceptions.

In last year's Egg Bowl, Fitzgerald single-handedly wrecked Ole Miss' defense to the tune of 258 rushing yards alone (added another 109 through the air) and five total TDs.

Final Analysis

Even during one of Ole Miss' most tumultuous seasons to date, the magnitude of this game has not changed. Rebel fans have endured the taunts from Bulldog fans for a year now, and the Mississippi State faithful would love nothing more than another year to let their rivals know who the top team in the Magnolia State is.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Mississippi State

With a self-imposed postseason ban in place, Ole Miss is essentially playing its bowl game on Thursday. Defeating a talented Bulldogs squad is difficult enough, but attempting to do so in Starkville almost feels impossible this year.

Mississippi State cruises to a second straight Egg Bowl victory on Thanksgiving night.

Prediction: Mississippi State 35, Ole Miss 20

— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star Newspaper, Hayes also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.