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11/26/2004 8:54:57 AM
Daily Journal




OXFORD - When the picks sheet was passed to me this week I circled Ole Miss without hesitation.


It's not that I believe the Rebels are pre-ordained to win Saturday's football game against Mississippi State, far from it.


It's that I have a long-standing personal code of prediction ethics: When in doubt go with the beat. In a fruitless exercise, by picking the team I cover I can at least reduce the amount of whining, complaining and second-guessing directed back to me.


So there you have it. Ole Miss will win, because I don't want phone calls or e-mail.


The fact is, in my brief history with my adopted state's rivalry game, I have never seen the teams so closely matched. Mediocrity does make for exciting football.


I have covered games in the series where the team I perceived to be the favorite did not win. I have covered games that were closer than I thought they should be. I haven't covered one that looked so close on paper.


Seems State turned a corner right after I wrote in a column, regarding bowl opportunities for Ole Miss, that the Rebels needed two upset victories "plus State."


Now Ole Miss simply needs "plus State" to avoid its worst record since 1987.


These programs have experienced a bit of role reversal since August. Many Ole Miss fans were thinking seven wins, maybe eight then. State fans, the most optimistic ones I heard, were saying four or five. That optimism lessened greatly with a loss to Maine, a game in which starting quarterback Omarr Conner did play, unlike some of the other losses.


So what makes this kind of game turn? Emotion, perhaps. The team that believes it has more reason to play hard, may, in fact, play harder.


State comes in with pretty good momentum for a three-win team. The Bulldogs won two straight, got some good news with light NCAA sanctions, had a shot at beating Alabama and had numerous chances to beat Arkansas.


Ole Miss played well in losses too (see Tennessee, Auburn, LSU), but the embarrassing lack of emotion in a 35-3 loss at Arkansas is too fresh in the mind to be assured such a display won't happen again.


State's best weapon, running back Jerious Norwood, is a tough matchup for Ole Miss' Achilles Heel, run defense.


Ole Miss has had some success throwing the ball over the second half of the season; MSU opponents have a completion rate of almost 60 percent.


For the better part of two seasons Mississippi State was clearly the subordinate in this series.


Saturday, the Rebels and Bulldogs step on the field as equals.


Who will win?


Your guess is as good as mine.





Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@djournal.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal.
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