College football has a funny way of turning the tables in an instant. Tonight, the SEC could see that firsthand when Mississippi State (5-6 overall, 2-5 SEC) hosts arch-rival Ole Miss (7-4, 3-4) just after Thanksgiving supper is served in a game that will make or break the Bulldogs' postseason chances.
A year ago, the Rebels were in the same boat with the Bulldogs' exact record, while Mississippi State entered with eight wins and a bowl in hand. The result was an Ole Miss thumping that set in motion a massive amount of momentum that carried the Rebels into the 2013 season and slowly started pushing Mississippi State behind its instate rival.
But that was last season, and we all know the saying about history and repeating. That's what the Bulldogs, who are coming off of a season-saving 24-17 overtime win over Arkansas, are hoping for as they look to become bowl eligible for a record fourth straight year.
"As long as we win this Egg Bowl and then go to a bowl, it'll be a good season," said wide receiver Jameon Lewis, who leads the Bulldogs with 49 catches, 635 yards and five touchdowns. "We'll go out there and do whatever it takes to win that game."
The Bulldogs know they're in a must-win situation, but tonight will go beyond making it to the postseason. This one is about bringing the Egg Bowl trophy back to Starkville, where Mississippi State owned it for three consecutive years before Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze took over the Rebels in 2012.
For anyone living in the state of Mississippi, this is a huge game. It divides families and friendships. It's just as ruthless on the field as it is outside stadiums and inside homes. Its return to Thanksgiving night will only add to the excitement this game has produced over the years.
And like all good rivalries, the nastiness between the lines fuels emotions throughout the sidelines. For Lewis, he experienced that head-on last year when he says an Ole Miss player shouted some salty language at him as he was walking back to the huddle after a play. Lewis said he took it so personally that he almost lashed out before remembering that he was actually in a game.
Lewis said he'll "never forget" what was said to him and said he hopes to make a few plays in order to exact his revenge.
"That's what makes the game so fun," Lewis said. "It makes you forget about everything. It makes you forget that it's cold outside. It makes you forget about the time. It makes you want to play. I'm taking it personally and I gotta get my revenge."
Freshman defensive end Chris Jones felt the vitriol of this rivalry well before he stepped on the field. His recruitment was already wild from his constant travel between the two schools before he signed with Mississippi State in February, but it exploded with the senseless badgering he got from fans on both sides.
He received ridiculously disconcerting phone calls and death threats from rabid fans with nothing better to do, but that didn't stop him from joining the nuthouse that is the Egg Bowl rivalry.
"These two teams right here, they really hate each other," Jones said. "To be a part of something like this so exciting just feels good, man. And to play a team that we don't like the most is exciting."
Added Lewis about the game's intensity: "We are not the best of friends. Let's just put it like that. As soon as that ball kicks off, we're worst enemies. If they want to fight on the field, we can do that, but other than that we have to get our trophy back."
With Mississippi State coming off a clutch road win and Ole Miss falling in frustrating fashion at home to Missouri, the Bulldogs own a little more momentum heading into tonight's game. They also have history and bragging rights on the line.
"We're trying to do something here that's never been done before," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "We've been playing football here for a long, long time -- over 100 years -- and we've never made it to four consecutive bowl games. That'd be something special for us to do and a great bonus on top of winning the Egg Bowl trophy back.
"I know our guys, they'd rather win this game than go to a bowl game."
The Bulldogs could do both tonight.