Can you have a good year, but a disappointing year at the same time? That's the story of college football in Mississippi this year.
There's no question there are positives in the continued improvement of the Mississippi State Bulldogs under coach Dan Mullen; Southern Miss closing in on a possible 10-win season; Jackson State winning a share of the Eastern division crown in the SWAC; and Ole Miss – well I can't think of anything positive for Ole Miss, but the Egg Bowl still looms.
Despite each of those positives, each carries some disappointments as well.
Mississippi State deservedly is celebrating a 7-win season going into the Egg Bowl, but if they lose to the Rebels, they will finish 0-for in the SEC West. Their three conference wins came against Florida, Georgia and Kentucky who are a combined 9-14 in the SEC. These aren't the Gators and UGAs we remember.
Most would think of the biggest win being against Florida, but the Gators are just 4-4 in conference. A loss to Florida State in their finale and they would end the season 7-5.
Georgia? Colorado whipped Georgia and the Buffs fired their coach a few weeks later.
I would argue State's signature game this season was a 17-14 loss to unbeaten Auburn. Few have played the Tigers that tough.
Southern Miss is having its best season under Larry Fedora. The Golden Eagles are 8-3 going into Friday's finale at Tulsa. A win would certainly guarantee them a much nicer bowl than the New Orleans Bowl, where they've played after four of the last six years. USM has been to a bowl in 13 of the last 14 years (eat your heart out State and Ole Miss), so just getting to a bowl isn't good enough anymore.
The frustration with this year's season is two 1-point home losses – 44-43 to East Carolina and 50-49 to UAB in overtime. A win in either of those games and the Golden Eagles would be hosting the Conference USA championship game.
The Eagles have climbed to the edge of the top 25, four spots behind MSU in the coaches’ poll, and have a chance for a 10-win season, but it should have been much better.
Jackson State finished their regular season 8-3, including wins over in-state rivals Delta State, Mississippi Valley and Alcorn State. But similar to USM, they lost a critical conference game to Alabama State by a measly two points that gives the Hornets the tiebreaker over JSU in the Eastern Division. As a result, Alabama State will advance to the Dec. 11 SWAC Championship against Texas Southern.
It would be difficult to list all of the disappointments with the Ole Miss team. You can start with the season-opening loss to 1-AA Jacksonville State. Throw in a 2-touchdown home loss to Vandy, a 38-point thrashing at the hands of a very average Tennessee team, and the close-but-no-cigar performance in Baton Rouge last Saturday.
A lot of the Ole Miss wounds would be significantly healed by a win in the Egg Bowl, but the Rebels haven't given their fans a lot of reason to be optimistic about that happening.
There are many reasons for college football fans around Mississippi to feel good about this season, but I can't help but wonder what might have been.
You may email Joel McNeece at firstname.lastname@example.org