Wrapping up the season for each of the SEC teams
Think back to the offseason last year when Mississippi State, giddy over yet another Egg Bowl win, put up the "Welcome to Our STATE" billboards. Suddenly, the Bulldogs seemed to be ready to be players in the SEC West. Few thought they would win, sure, but the Starkville faithful could almost taste fourth place, with Ole Miss and Auburn on the down swing, and might even be able to eye third if they could pull an upset against Arkansas along the way. Not that coming in third is anything to write home about, but it would be enough to prove that the Bulldogs could compete in the toughest division in college football.
Then the season started. Well, at first, with a beatdown of hapless Memphis. But twin losses at Auburn and against LSU put any dreams of even a Jan. 2 bowl on the verge of collapse. Losses to Georgia and South Carolina, not to mention too-close-for-comfort wins against Louisiana Tech and UAB, did the rest.
The state remained Mississippi State's, at least in SEC terms, as the facade of Houston Nutt's Ole Miss improvement project finally and inevitably crumbled. (Though one could argue that the Magnolia State really belonged to Southern Miss in 2011, a point the Golden Eagles were all to happy to make with billboards of their own.) But that honor seems to prove the old adage about the one-eyed man being king; after all, is there a less SEC West state in the entire division than Mississippi?
The only conference wins for Mississippi State this year were against Kentucky and Ole Miss -- both of them dreadful teams -- and those were the only SEC wins for either of the teams in Mississippi. In the division that is supposed to tower over the East, the two schools were a combined 1-5 against the weaker division. It didn't help that each had to play Georgia and Mississippi State had to play South Carolina as well. But Ole Miss lost to Vanderbilt, and got clobbered doing it.
Many of State's losses to the SEC West powers weren't much more competitive. They lost to Alabama by 17 and Arkansas by 27. LSU's 13-point margin of victory was helped out by a 10-point fourth quarter, but the Western Division Bulldogs were still outgained by a healthy margin. And SEC East Champion Georgia cruised by a 14-point edge despite scoring just three points in the second half.
Still, things are far better in Starkville right now than in Oxford. After all, two SEC wins are better than none, and the Bulldogs at least managed to beat Kentucky and Louisiana Tech. The 31-3 win in the Egg Bowl has spawned more billboards, and Dan Mullen will undoubtedly find ways to rub in the rivalry win. (Will the spring game attendance be 35,313 or 40,313 this year?)
But until Mississippi State finds a way to defeat Alabama or Arkansas or even Auburn on a consistent basis, there's really not that much for them to be boasting about. It's nice to be king of your own state, but that's not much of a consolation prize for being another doormat for the rest of the teams in your division.