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Bulldogs' playoff hopes dashed in Oxford


OXFORD, Miss. -- Maybe things would have been different for Mississippi State if it had been placed in the SEC East.

At one point, the fourth-ranked Bulldogs had beaten three top-10 opponents in a row. At one point, this was the No. 1 team in the country. This team had maneuvered its way through the SEC West with just one loss, and in the days prior to Saturday's bout with archrival Ole Miss, the country endlessly debated if Mississippi State would be worthy enough for a spot in the College Football Playoff if it won out.

Now, that's a moot point, because after all the talking and meaningless chatter, football happened. On Saturday, Mississippi State's hopes of sneaking into the playoff vanished with a 31-17 loss to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl.

In the shadow of the Alabamas and LSUs, coach Dan Mullen has built a program that can compete with SEC opponents year in and year out. However, his misfortune is that the year he had easily his most talented team -- and maybe the most talented team in school history -- he had to go through the SEC West, which has ruthlessly cannibalized itself in 2014.

"10-2 is a dream season for most people. It doesn't even get you the SEC West title," Mullen said.

And it eliminated the Bulldogs from the College Football Playoff.

Saturday's pain for the Bulldogs was the college football world's gain because now the playoff committee has one less one-loss team to sort through when it comes to filling one of those final playoff spots. Baylor, TCU and Ohio State are all yelling "Hotty Toddy" at the top of their lungs, with those clanging cowbells now silent.

But how much of a debate would we have really had? If Mississippi State and the three above mentioned teams had won out, would the Bulldogs even be in the real conversation amongst the committee members? Despite a lone loss to the No. 1 team in the country and escaping the SEC West, Mullen isn't so sure.

"Even if we had won, we might not have had any of that," he said. "Now, we'll never know. I'm sure we made a lot of people around the country happy and a lot of committee members breathe a big sigh of relief right now."

And that shows some of the early flaws in this brand-new playoff system. While we will finally get to see the national championship decided on the field during the last month of the season, the chaos that four deserving one-loss teams would have created shows the holes in this process.

What means more: good wins or good losses?

Does strength of schedule go out the window if your nonconference slate is weak, even though you play in a division that should replace the NFC South in the NFL?

Does a bad loss to Virginia Tech (by Ohio State) mean nothing anymore?

These are just a few questions we'd be asking if the doomsday scenario had played out. We saw one team cut down the chaos a little this weekend, but Mullen said an 11-1 Mississippi State team would have changed the course of the playoff forever because of the controversy it would have created.

"You could go over to our school of engineering, which is one of the best in the country, and have them start figuring out the best formula to get the job done, and I don't know if they would [be able to]," Mullen said.

Well, what if you have eight teams instead of just four? Wouldn't he feel a lot better about his 10-2 team?

"Unless you're [ranked] nine. Right now, I guess I'd be lobbying to be eight," Mullen said.

Saturday also told us we really don't know everything. What's made this season so entertaining is that there isn't a dominant team in college football. Even that undefeated team in Tallahassee, Florida, isn't impressive enough to warrant No. 1 status.

We have one more weekend of football ahead of us, and nothing should be assured or assumed. Mississippi State was supposed to win in Oxford and sit on the cusp of the playoff. Then, Mississippi State's tackling was atrocious and the offense sputtered.

Heisman Trophy candidate Dak Prescott looked anything like an award-winning quarterback for most of the game, and the beat-up Rebels found stars in tight end Evan Engram and running back Jaylen Walton, who combined for 324 yards of offense and had jaw-dropping plays of 83 and 91 yards, respectively.

With hobbled quarterback Bo Wallace toughing it out on a bum ankle, the Rebels rolled up 532 yards of offense and averaged 8.6 yards per play.

Football happened, and Mississippi State was on the wrong end of it … against that school he hates.

"I don't think it takes away from the season. It's just disgusting to lose this game," said Mullen, who fell to 4-2 against Ole Miss. "This game is really not part of the season. It's the Egg Bowl, and it's kind of a bowl game in itself. It's a game that's separate of the rest of the season. It certainly is awful to lose."