Mississippi State emerged as an unlikely playoff contender this year.
With the help of a strong defense and a gritty coach, somehow the Bulldogs managed to scrape win after win together. After entering the season unranked, they had risen to No. 4 in the nation and were a clear favorite to make the final playoff of four.
It took a while to get them there. Perhaps the most impressive stretch was their three straight wins against top-10 teams: 34-29 over then-No. 8 LSU, 38-31 over No. 6 Texas A&M and 38-23 over No. 2 Auburn.
After rising to the top ranking in the nation, the Bulldogs dropped slightly after their 25-20 loss against Alabama on Nov. 15. But they emerged with championship hopes intact.
That is, until they met once more against their in-state nemesis Ole Miss this weekend.
Dreadful second quarter
Entering the game, Mississippi State's stout defense and sure-handed quarterback Dak Prescott was supposed to lead the Bulldogs to victory.
But that narrative unraveled in the second quarter when the Ole Miss running game simply trounced over the Mississippi State line.
Jeremy Liggins pounded the ball in from one yard out to put Ole Miss up 14-10. A Gary Wunderlich fumble followed. And then Jaylen Walton happened.
The junior hadn't had a single game of more than 100 yards entering the matchup, but on a single second quarter scamper he rumbled for 91 yards to push the lead to 14 points.
Rebels win establishes relevance
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze called it one of the proudest of his career.
"There was a lot of adversity we faced with injuries and losing some tough games," Freeze said. "We just found enough resolve to come out with the win."
The Rebels earned three bowl berths under senior quarterback Bo Wallace and won two Egg Bowls against their rival, with each establishing Ole Miss as a bigger player in the SEC scene.
Wallace threw for 296 yards in the game despite walking on a bum ankle and being without his two top receivers due to injury.
"I think it will cement what he has done for this program," Freeze said.
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