Throughout the preseason, Campus Union is providing a service: It will present one team from each of the six BCS automatic-qualifying conferences to root for in 2013. There is no scientific formula to these selections, but they do take into account some mix of watchability, intrigue, oddity and, of course, fun. The series continues with the SEC and Mississippi State.
I know what you're probably thinking: This headline makes no sense. It's the SEC, the best football conference in America. Why in heaven's name would an unaffiliated fan want to back Mississippi State? Well, the pool is pretty crowded with fan base loyalty. You can't drop an acorn in the South without hitting a 'Bama fan. Tennessee has its own group of lost souls. Hugh Freeze is recruiting a relative army at Ole Miss, while Vanderbilt has gotten its fair share of buzz in the "smart school, good football" department. There are more than enough Georgia, LSU, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Florida fans out there. Auburn's Gus Malzahn has piqued my interest, but I'm still not ready to buy in.
Hello Mississippi State. I had the pleasure of visiting Starkville on my way to a wedding earlier this year, so my decision is a little bit more well informed than it could be. I felt comfortable on campus and in the town. I enjoyed walking the grounds.
And I met plenty of wonderful Mississippi State fans at the 2011 Music City Bowl, when the Bulldogs played Wake Forest. When I started to peel back the onion, MSU made sense. It's possible the program has reached its ceiling under coach Dan Mullen in the ultra-competitive SEC. But maybe it hasn't. And that's worthy of exploring.
Take the Bulldogs bowling, take them bowling
We've seen Brady Hoke do this with his Michigan team, too, but not before Mullen surprised his kids with a bowling party instead of having the second practice of the day. This was a wonderful idea, and I love when coaches remember that their players are 18- to 22-year-old kids who like to have fun and don't all necessarily want to make football their careers.
Hold the head steady, MSU will milk the cow
I'm still not entirely sure how this fits into the team-bonding category, but there is an old Borden plant in Starkville and CLANGA and cows are good luck charms at Mississippi State. I guess there is a background in dairy production here:
Calcium is also very important to bone health, so it's possible Mullen had an ulterior motive: keeping his players healthy. This Vine also led to this tweet, one of the best I've ever seen from a program's official Twitter account:
@edsbs We bowl strikes. We milk cows. We play football. We are America's Team. — MSU Football (@HailStateFBall) August 19, 2013
The cowbells. Dear lord, the cowbells. Every year, just when it seems they'll go away, a new loophole keeps them ringing for another season. The tradition started in the late 1930s or early '40s, and when handles were put on, they became a symbol for Mississippi State fanhood. The cowbells were banned in 1974, but they were brought back in 2010. Even though they can be taken away at any moment, for now, they're still around:
Mississippi State grad Mike Eley made this cowbell while a student at MSU in 1963. Decals are original. pic.twitter.com/CenNi8MsXF
— Creg Stephenson (@CregStephenson) June 25, 2013
The bells are decorated, and seemingly no two bells are the same. Some are enormous. Some are smaller. Some are passed down from father to son. All are loud.
Love will find a way
Bulldogs' punter Baker Swedenberg and long snapper Winston Chapman developed a friendship, as snappers and punters often do. Only this friendship came with an extra wrinkle -- Swedenberg started dating Chapman's sister. Now the couple is engaged, helping pave the way for the most adorable football story in the 2013 season:
But she’s right about the love. All three of them care deeply for each other, each in a unique way. Both as a group and individuals, few others mean as much to them as they do, grouped snugly together on a couch in MSU’s new football complex telling the story of how they became so close. Winston and Claire are siblings, of course, but Baker has been like family for some time.
Which takes them back to April, the day after MSU’s spring game, the biggest day of Baker’s life and one he hoped would ensure many even bigger days to come.
He was going to ask Claire to marry him.
The Egg Bowl
I'm long on record as loving the Egg Bowl:
That's a lot of 4-8 records, Martin. RT @martinrickman pretty much i wish the entire college football season was called the egg bowl
— Steven Godfrey (@38Godfrey) August 21, 2013
Still, I wasn't entirely sure why I loved it until I started digging a bit deeper. After a giant fight broke out over the goal posts in 1926, an actual trophy was created, "The Golden Egg." Mississippi State won the past three meetings before Ole Miss took the game in 2012, and the matchup has been called its own bowl in the past. Nobody in Mississippi can stop talking about it. It's even on plates:
Now the game will be played on Thanksgiving night again. It won't beat out the NFL, or even come close. But I'll watch. Nothing goes better with turkey and stuffing than #egg.
Reggie Kelly barbecue sauce
Because everyone needs to baste their chicken with the sauce from a former NFL tight end:
Eggs and BBQ and milk and bowling and John Grisham and love. Maybe Mississippi State really is America's Team, after all.