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Can Ole Miss Football Dominate Mississippi?

(Article originally printed in Rebel Nation Magazine – July/August 2016 edition  – www.rebelnationmagazine.com)

Walter Payton, Brett Favre and Jerry Rice are just a few of the many amazing athletes to come from Mississippi that did not play their college ball at Ole Miss. There are plenty of iconic athletes that did wear the red and blue but it is safe to say, not everyone can play in Oxford.  With the many different college options for high school athletes in this state, what will it take for Ole Miss to be the first option in Mississippi?  Let me offer it could happen in less than ten years.

Most of the SEC states are dominated by one major university.  LSU, Georgia, Arkansas, even Tennessee essentially dominates the state in football as Vanderbilt doesn’t pose too big of a threat.

Alabama can support two SEC teams with their larger population base and the long-term success of Auburn and Alabama, but Mississippi is the odd man out in the SEC equation.  A state with less than 3 million residents would be one of the smaller in the SEC to support one SEC school, but we have to support two.  It makes the margins razor thin when competing in the conference.

2016 marks the 50th anniversary of Tulane’s ill-advised decision to leave the SEC, fully placing LSU as the premier University in Louisiana.  Tulane was arguably at least as good as LSU when the SEC began in the 1930’s culminating with an SEC conference championship in 1949, but Paul Dietzel and LSU’s success in the 50’s along with Tulane’s southern ivy league aspirations led to Tulane leaving the SEC.

It was a bad idea, but no one could conceive of the money the SEC would garner 50 years later.  In fact several schools left the SEC with hopes of greener pastures.  Georgia Tech left the SEC in protest of Bear Bryant’s Alabama squad and their brutal rivalry.

However, the biggest factors in New Orleans and Atlanta were the emergence of the NFL which siphoned off the fan base’s and regulated Tulane and Georgia Tech to the back seat.

Today we have another paradigm shift taking place in college athletics which has already shaken up the conferences and promises to do so in the future: CFB playoffs and television rights contracts.

ESPN and its competitors are writing huge checks to conferences for the rights to carry games and secure the advertising blocks of air time.  All major conferences are getting into the game but the SEC is garnering the top dollar and in order to continue to be the top dog will have to add (or potentially subtract) conference teams.

The SEC is now in a unique position to re-write the college landscape. If and when they choose to expand to 16 or possibly 24 teams, it will be an offer most teams would be smart to accept.

The most recent expansions saw the SEC venture into the larger television markets of Houston and Saint Louis. The driving force in the next round could be based on strictly match ups.

I know there is already a Florida team in the SEC, and I understand there are a lot of tv sets in the Washington DC area, but what would fans rather watch? The Gators blow out Virginia Tech or a knock down drag out game versus Florida State?  If the SEC wants to continue to be the premier national conference they must have the premier teams with national appeal.

Texas has shown they cannot survive on their own as the Big 12 and the Longhorn network are dying a slow death. They should be begging to get into the SEC and play nice.  Oklahoma’s AD and president should already be fired for not jumping into the SEC when Texas A&M made the smart move.

Florida State and Miami have to be mighty jealous of the checks Ole Miss and State are cashing at the end of the year.

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The next round of TV contracts will end in 2023-2024 and you should expect every team in the nation to be lobbying to be a part of a potential SEC super conference. Teams like Vanderbilt, Kentucky and MSU haven’t won a SEC football title since Kentucky last won in 1950.

If Ole Miss wants a chance to knock out MSU for good, this is their chance.

Hugh Freeze has established Ole Miss as a national team in recruiting and it is hard to say that he would take 20 kids a year from Mississippi even if he could. Unfortunately with all the talent in MS we do suffer with getting our kids eligible academically.

If you have a chance to sign the top wide receiver in Texas or the top wide receiver in Mississippi which one do you chase as a head coach? Dominating recruiting in Mississippi is a feather in the cap but honestly it may not win you the most games.

MSU has signed 20 more MS players than Ole Miss over the last four years. Both teams have won 34 games in the last four years but Ole Miss is 3-1 over State head to head.  MSU reached a top six bowl game in 2014’s Orange bowl but comparatively, Ole Miss has reached two top six bowl games.

If Ole Miss wants to truly dominate the home state, they just need to continue on their current path. Ole Miss is a top 10-15 team for 2016 while MSU is entering a re-building period with the graduation of Dak Prescott.  Ole Miss has some of the best facilities in the SEC and is one of the top national recruiters that will keep them on top.

By winning consistently, Ole Miss will be in the best position to survive the next round of expansion and possibly see MSU moved to a lower tier.

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