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Friday, December 31, 2010

Know Your Foe - Mississippi State 2010

As hard as it is to believe, it really has been 34 days since the season ended with (another) humiliating defeat at the hands of the Buckeyes in Columbus. Believe it or not, It really has only been 34 days of "Is he going to get fired today?" -- to me it seems like 344 days. Tomorrow the 2010 Michigan Wolverines end their long and strange journey in Jacksonville at the Gator Bowl against Mississippi State. If someone had told me in August we would be playing in a New Years Days bowl - I would have smiled and signed up in a second. But somehow this rough journey back to college football mediocrity has not been as fun as I thought. Here are some essential facts about our foes from the deep south.

History: The school was created by the Mississippi State Legislature on February 28, 1878 as The Agricultural and Mechanical College of the State of Mississippi (or Mississippi A&M). As you would expect with a name like that, it was one of the national land-grant colleges established after Congress passed the Morrill Act in 1862.

This new university received its first students in the fall of 1880 under the leadership (and presidency) of former Confederate General Stephen D. Lee. Lee is famous for being the youngest Confederate Lieutenant General in the American Civil War. Lee was the officer that first delivered the "surrender and evacuate" ultimatum message at Fort Sumter to start the war. After the wars started he fought and led troops in many major battles including the Peninsula Campaign, Second Bull Run, and Antietam where his cannons played a prominent role in defending the ground near the famed Dunker Church. He was also taken as a prisoner of war after the fall of Vicksburg, was returned to the Confederate Army during a exchange and eventually wounded in the Battle of Nashville. He fought until the bitter end of the war, finally surrendering with Joseph E. Johnston's troops in April 1965.

Other important dates: In 1932, the Legislature renamed the university as Mississippi State College. In 1958 it was again renamed the university as Mississippi State University after Graduate programs had been established. In July 1965, Richard E. Holmes became the first African-American student to enroll at the school.

Location: Mississippi State is located in Starkville. It is the state of Mississippi's largest university and is also the largest employer of Starkville and dominates the city's economy. Artifacts in the form of clay pot fragments and artwork tell us that the Starkville area has been inhabited for over 2100 years. The modern European settlement of the Starkville area was started after the Choctaw inhabitants of Oktibbeha County surrendered their claims to land in the area in the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830. A mill southwest of town provided clapboards which gave the town its original name, Boardtown. In 1835, Boardtown's name was changed to Starkville in honor of Revolutionary War hero General John Stark.

The town is the birthplace of National Baseball Hall of Famer Cool Papa Bell. In 1965 Johnny Cash was arrested for public drunkenness, though he described it as being picked up for picking flowers, spawning a song and the Johnny Cash Flower Pickin' Festival which is held each year. In 2006, Starkville became the first city in Mississippi to adopt a smoking ban for indoor public places, including restaurants and bars.

Academics: The university offers 78 bachelor's degree programs, 59 master's degree programs, and 35 doctoral degree programs. listed among the "100 Best Values in Public Colleges" in Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine. The list recognizes institutions that are "noteworthy for their combination of top flight academics and affordable costs." Now listed at 88th, it is the only Mississippi institution included in the national publication's annual survey. Forbes magazine has ranked Mississippi State University among the top 20 of its top 100 best college buys in America.

Ask any SEC fan which school has the worst academic reputation in the conference, and more than likely you will get told: Mississippi State. According to the US News & World Report National University Rankings. the school is ranked 151st. This is good enough to make MSU the 2nd ranked school in the state of Mississippi, behind Ole Miss (ranked 143rd nationally).

Alumni: Famous Mississippi State people include WorldCom whistle blower and 2002 Time co-person of the year, Cynthia Cooper. Former DOW Chemical president Hunter W. Henry Jr. and Fred Carl, Jr., Founder and CEO of Viking Range. Mississippi State also educated former US Senator and reformed racist John C. Stennis. Notorious American gangster Machine Gun Kelly lived in Starkville and enrolled in the university to study agriculture in 1917.

Famous ex-MSU athletes include former baseball stars Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro, Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon and Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter. Former football stars D.D. Lewis and Fred Smoot and former basketball player Eric Dampier.

No former US Presidents or Astronauts.

Nickname, Mascot, Colors, Helmets, and Fight Song: They call themselves the Bulldogs, but MSU teams have answered to a couple of different nicknames through the years. The first squads were called Aggies. When the school officially became Mississippi State College in 1932 the nickname changed to Maroons. It wasn't until 1961 that Bulldogs became the official title for teams. Yet references to bulldogs actually go back to early in the century, and this nickname was used almost interchangeably with both Aggies and Maroons, since at least 1905.

As is the case with several SEC teams, there is some confusion with mascots (Ole Miss Rebels/Black Bears & Auburn Tigers/War Eagles comes to mind). Nonetheless, a live bulldog was first used official game mascot in 1935 when coach Major Ralph Sasse sent his team to Memphis to select a bulldog puppy. They named him Ptolemy and the Bulldogs Maroons promptly defeated Alabama 20-7.

A litter-mate of Ptolemy became the first mascot named 'Bully I' shortly after Sasse's team beat mighty Army 13-7 at West Point. This is considered the greatest victory in MSU football history. But "Bully I" earned other fame the hard way, in 1939 he was killed by a campus bus. Days of campus mourning followed, as Bully lay in state in a glass coffin. A half-mile funeral procession accompanied by the the Famous Maroon Band and three ROTC battalions went to Scott Field where Bully was buried under the bench at the 50-yard line. Even LIFE Magazine covered to the event. Other Bullys have since been buried by campus dorms, fraternity houses, and also at the football stadium.

On November 15, 1895, the first Mississippi A&M football team was preparing for a road trip to play Southern Baptist University. Since every college was supposed to have its own uniform colors, the student body requested that the school's team select a suitable combination. Considering making this choice an honor, the inaugural football team gave the privilege to team captain W.M. Matthews. History records that without hesitation Matthews chose Maroon and White.

Only once has a MSU team appeared in any other color combination. In 1938 football coach Spike Nelson secretly had cardinal and gold uniforms made, a selection that did not sit well with the team or the college at the first game. Neither the uniforms nor Nelson were back for the next season.

They currently wear maroon helmets with maroon face masks adorned with a simple block M/State ribbon combo. During the years 2004-2008 they wore white helmets with a similar logo. They have also used an interlocking MSU helmet logo in the recent past. In general, the MSU helmets are about as generic as you will find in the SEC and all of college football.

The words and music for the Mississippi State Fight Song called "Hail State" were written by Joseph Burleson Peavey in 1939.

Hail dear 'ole State!
Fight for that victory today.
Hit that line and tote that ball,
Cross the goal before you fall!
And then we'll yell, yell, yell, yell!
For dear 'ole State we'll yell like H-E-L-L!
Fight for Mis-sis-sip-pi State,
Win that game today!

What is the deal with these Cow Bells? Cow bells are a significant part of any Mississippi State University experience. The tradition began after a jersey cow wandered on to the football field in the early 1900s, disrupting a game. Subsequently, they won the football game, and the cow became a symbol of good luck. Eventually, the cow was replaced with just the cow's bell. Handles were welded onto the bells to ease ringing, and cowbells are now manufactured and sold specifically as athletic noisemakers.

Cowbells seem to be as important to MSU fans as winged helmets are to us. They decorate offices and homes of alumni and they are passed down through generations of Bulldog fans. These bells are not heard at Southeastern Conference games (not legally, at least). In 1974, the SEC vote 9-1 to ban them issuing a conference rule against 'artificial noisemakers' at football and basketball games. Don't worry -- Michigan will hear them loud and proud during the Gator Bowl.

Football: Mississippi State is a charter member of the Southeastern Conference. They have been playing football at Mississippi State since 1895 and the SEC has been around since 1932. In that time, the Bulldogs have won exactly one SEC conference title (1941). They also won the 1998 SEC West division -- but lost to Tennessee in the SEC title game.

Their primary rival is the University of Mississippi. They play annually in a trophy game called the Egg Bowl. Ole Miss leads the series 41-60-6. The Bulldogs also have a heated, yet lopsided rivalry with Alabama and their game is sometimes referred to as the "90 Mile Drive" or the "Battle for Highway 82". Alabama leads that series by an astounding 17-73-3 record.

Mississippi State has an all-time bowl record of 8-6, highlighted by wins in the 1941 Orange Bowl, the 1963 Liberty Bowl, and the 1999 Peach Bowl. Most recently, the Bulldogs defeated the Conference USA champion UCF Kinghts 10-3 in the 2007 Liberty Bowl. Saturday will be the first bowl appearance in for Head coach Dan Mullen, who in direct contrast to the Michigan coaching situation just signed an expensive extension.

Nick Bell: On Tuesday, November 2, 2010 Mississippi State defensive end Nick Bell died after a short battle with cancer. He was 20 years old. Bell, from Bessemer, Ala., was diagnosed in late September after experiencing headaches during football practice and had surgery in October to remove a mass from his brain. He had another emergency surgery a few weeks later after it was found that the cancer had aggressively spread throughout his body. Bell played in four games this season, starting two, including his final game against Georgia on Sept. 25. He made seven total tackles, including two for a loss. He played in all 12 games as a redshirt freshman in 2009, making 16 tackles.

Other Sports: Not many people think of this, but the Bulldogs are much more of a basketball school. They have had a lot more success on the hardwood, including nine SEC championships, ten NCAA tournament appearances, and a Final Four in 1996. They also have a pretty strong baseball program, making eight College World Series appearances, the last being in 2007.

I could not find any record of NCAA titles in any sport, but in 2009 the disc golf club won the National Championship at the Collegiate Disc Golf Championship in Augusta, Ga.

The Game: This will be Michigan’s third appearance at the Gator Bowl. Bo brought his Wolverines against Lawrence Taylor's North Carolina Tarheels and lost 17-15 at the 1979 Gator Bowl. In 1991, Desmond Howard had his coming out party as Michigan curb stomped Ole Miss 35-3.

I expect this game to be very much like many of our games this year. High scoring, entertaining, and ultimately resting on Denard Robinson's capable shoulders and our defensive ability (or inability) to make stops. I would not be surprised if Michigan comes out like we did against UConn: crisp, confident, and dominate the game. But then again we could come out and play like we did against the other "State" schools we played this year (Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State) causing me to start my annual New Years Day channel surfing early and dreaming about a new era.

End of the day prediction?

Michigan: Jim Harbaugh
Miss State: Dan Mullen


phil said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
phil said...

With Tate being ineligible and not allowed to play it is beginning to look like a "Goofus and Galant" comic strip.
Goofus (tUOS) cheats and their players still play.
Galant (UM) believes in good sportsmanship and follows the rules.


whetstonebuck said...

Apples and oranges, phil. However, it's nice of you to "Highlight" the situation.

A2saint said...

I'll be watching the Sun Bowl today. Hopefully my nephew Stephen Morris will QB some for the Hurricanes. Funny, I used to loath all Florida college teams but now... Strange how that works. I guess it's true what they say; the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Crush the Domers!

beast in 'bama said...

Andy: A good know-your-foe, but I would quibble with you over one point. While you are correct about State's basketball success, they are more widely recognized as the preeminent baseball power in SEC history. Your list of famous former athletes bears this out.

They annually post some of the best attendance figures of any college baseball program. A home SEC series in April or May is a very big deal in Starkvegas.

Enjoy the cowbells! The nuance of their subtle tones will waft in and out of your consciousness for the foreseeable future.