Rarely have the stakes surrounding the Egg Bowl reached beyond the state’s borders, but that changes Saturday when No. 19 Ole Miss hosts No. 4 Mississippi State in the rivals’ first meeting as ranked opponents since 1999. The Bulldogs look to strengthen their hold on a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff and keep alive their hopes of an SEC West title. The Rebels’ similar hopes were dashed with three straight SEC losses, so they’re eager to spoil the party for their bitter rivals. The Bulldogs were knocked from the top spot in the rankings with a 25-20 loss at Alabama two weeks ago but rebounded with a 51-0 drubbing of Vanderbilt to maintain their place among the top four in the College Football Playoff rankings. They not only need to win Saturday to claim a spot in the inaugural playoff, but they might need to do so convincingly — or get help in the form of other top teams losing — because none of their wins have come against teams currently ranked in the top 25. The stakes aren’t quite as high for the Rebels, who aren’t in the division title or playoff pictures, but they won’t lack motivation. “They have a clear understanding of how much this game means to so many,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze told reporters. “I find it hard to believe there are many (rivalries) with more intensity than this one.”
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Mississippi State -2
ABOUT MISSISSIPPI STATE (10-1, 6-1 SEC): The Bulldogs are vying for the first 11-win season in school history and can claim the SEC West title with a win and an Alabama loss to Auburn. They’ve done it largely on the shoulders of quarterback Dak Prescott, who has accounted for a school-record 36 touchdowns (23 passing, 12 rushing, 1 receiving) while leading the Bulldogs to an SEC-best 511.7 total yards per game and a school-record 429 points. The defense has been outstanding against the run (119.4 yards per game) but susceptible to the pass (281.4), though that is partially because Mississippi State has often held big leads, forcing opponents to the air.
ABOUT OLE MISS (8-3, 4-3): The Rebels are built around their defense, which leads the nation in scoring defense (13.5 points per game) and has surrendered an NCAA-low 16 touchdowns, but they’ve given up 65 points in their past two conference games. The offense also put up impressive numbers for much of the season, but Ole Miss committed six turnovers in last week’s 30-0 loss at Arkansas and managed only 316 total yards — its second-lowest total of the season. The Rebels have endured hits on both sides of the ball during their SEC losing streak, losing star receiver Laquon Treadwell and linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche to season-ending injuries.
1. Mississippi State is 4-1 in the Egg Bowl under coach Dan Mullen and has outscored Ole Miss 161-87 over that span.
2. Ole Miss has forced at least one turnover in 34 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the nation.
3. The Bulldogs lead the nation in red-zone defense, allowing points only 59.5 percent of the time and touchdowns on just 35.1 percent of opponents’ 37 trips inside the 20.
PREDICTION: Mississippi State 27, Ole Miss 23