Last Saturday, the state of Mississippi held its collective breath as its top two college football teams attempted to make a loud statement and join the college football playoff discussion.
By 6 p.m. Central Time, Ole Miss and Mississippi State had pulled off impressive -- and possibly historic -- wins. Mississippi State thrashed Texas A&M 48-31. (The week before, the Bulldogs scored a 34-29 win over then No. 8 LSU). The Rebels' 23-17 victory over second-ranked Alabama broke a 10-game losing streak against the Tide.
The victories vaulted the teams into a tie for third in this week’s AP Poll and threw the SEC West and the college football landscape into upheaval. And neither team can rest just yet: undefeated Auburn visits Starkville on Saturday, while Ole Miss goes to College Station to face Texas A&M.
For one weekend at least, the Magnolia State was front and center of the college football universe and it did not disappoint.
Behind the Scenes at Mississippi State
ESPN’s College GameDay (and music star Katy Perry) took over the Grove in Oxford and fans screamed “Hotty Toddy” until they were hoarse, setting the stage for one of the program's signature victories.
What the Rebels looked like in 2012 was a far cry from the talent that was displayed on Saturday.
“The first spring I was here [in 2012] I almost threw up when I watched our practice,” defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said.
It took the power of persuasion to get blue-chip athletes to the university, and recruits were told in not so many words: Don’t follow others to Tuscaloosa, help us beat Alabama. Before Saturday, Ole Miss hadn't done that since Eli Manning was on campus. The Rebels haven’t won the SEC since 1963, while Alabama has won three national championships in the past five seasons.
About 100 miles south of Oxford, in Starkville (population 23,000), another football transformation is happening at Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs are like their state rivals. With Mississippi State devoid of an SEC crown for more than 70 years, cowbells ring through the air to let you know there is a new atmosphere and winning attitude around town.
The team's resurgence is led by junior quarterback Dak Prescott, who completed 20 of his 26 passes against A&M for 268 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran 23 times for 77 yards and scored three more times on the ground. His name is in the thick of the Heisman Trophy race, and coach Dan Mullen credits the team's success to the type of athlete he recruits.
“These kids are desperate to be great and came here wanting to develop. If you are a prima donna, you wouldn’t be real interested in us,” Mullen tells SI’s Pete Thamel.
For more on Mississippi State and Ole Miss, check out this week's Sports Illustrated (subscribe here). Also featured in this issue is Ben Reiter’s feature on Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake and coverage of the MLB playoffs.
2014 Sports Illustrated Covers
December 29, 2014 | The Buckeyes are down to their third-string quarterback for coach Urban Meyer, who is two victories away from claiming his third national title. *This is a double issue: Dec. 29, 2014 0 Jan. 5, 2015.
December 29, 2014 | Oregon’s high-powered offense led by Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota looks to lead the Ducks to their first national championship.
December 29, 2014 | Florida State, winners of 29 straight games, are led last year’s Heisman winner Jameis Winston and a resiliency unmatched in college football.
December 29, 2014 | The Crimson Tide are back in the title hunt, seeking their fourth national championship in the last six seasons.
December 22, 2014 | Jon Lester’s arrival in Chicago, along with a six-year $155 million contract, has expectations high for the "lovable losers," who are now 12-1 favorites to win the 2015 World Series.
December 22, 2014 | The San Francisco 49ers three-year NFC Championship game appearance run is coming to end and head coach Jim Harbaugh’s tenure with the team could soon be coming to an end as well.
December 15, 2014 | San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner had a postseason for the ages, giving up only six earned runs while pitching a record 52 2/3 innings helping the Giants to their third World Series title in the past five seasons. He is seventh MLB pitcher to be awarded Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year.
December 8, 2014 | The Pelicans do-it-all forward Anthony Davis is headed for superstardom, complete with an offensive game that’s hard to defend and a fearless defensive presence around the basket.
December 8, 2014 | Wisconsin’s record-setting running back Melvin Gordon has his sights on the FBS single-season rushing record and the Heisman Trophy.
December 1, 2014 | Big, strong and fast, Jordy Nelson is perhaps the NFL's best deep threat and undoubtedly one of the league's best receivers, even though he hasn't always been recognized as such. On pace to finish atop the franchise's all-time leaders in receptions and receiving yards, Nelson, who's on this week's SI cover, is a solid bet to make his first Pro Bowl this season, and he's helped the Packers (8-3) become a Super Bowl contender once again.
November 24, 2014 | The Patriots may have a found another diamond in the rough, this time with undrafted running back Jonas Gray, who ran for 199 yards and 4 touchdowns in a Monday night victory over the Colts.
November 24, 2014 | One of the NHL’s best defensemen, P.K. Subban of the Canadiens. hopes to help bring the Stanley Cup to Montreal for the first time since 1993.
November 17, 2014 | The NFL’s most dominate defensive player, Texans All-Pro J.J. Watt, wants to focus on nothing else but the next play and piling up victories.
November 17, 2014 | The Arizona Cardinals are sporting the league’s best record, despite injuries across the board, including to their starting quarterback.
College Basketball preview: Duke
November 10, 2014 | Freshman Jahlil Okafor and the Blue Devils have the nation’s No. 1 recruit class and will look to avoid last season’s disappointment after losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Mercer.
College Basketball preview: Kentucky
November 10, 2014 | With nine talented McDonald's All-Americans on the roster and sky-high expectations, preseason No. 1 Kentucky leads a pack of teams looking to reach the Final Four in Indianapolis.
College Basketball preview: Wisconsin
November 10, 2014 | Paced by the nation’s most efficient offense, Wisconsin and Wooden award candidate Frank Kaminsky look to dethrone Michigan State as the Big Ten’s top team.
College Basketball preview: Texas
November 10, 2014 | With five returning starters plus freshman Myles Turner, Texas may just have enough to end Kansas and its 10-year stranglehold on the Big 12.
College Basketball preview: Arizona
November 10, 2014 | The Wildcats are paced by a ferocious defense and another stellar recruiting class but can they break through to get to the Final Four?
The World Series
November 10, 2014 | San Francisco’s third World Series victory in five seasons can be credited by a dominate pitching performance by Madison Bumgarner and a shrewd front office that is built to win.
The World Series special issue
November 3, 2014 | SI's special digital edition on the heels of the San Francisco Giants winning Game 7 of the World Series over the Kansas City Royals.
The World Series, Royals and Giants
November 3, 2014 | As the World Series comes to a close, the Giants and Royals try to play the kind of baseball that got them this far: playing stingy defense to go along with outstanding pitching.
November 3, 2014 | Admit reports of locker room turmoil, the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks win over the Panthers on Sunday have quieted their critics…..for now.
October 27, 2014 | The Cleveland Cavaliers squarely have a target on their backs after LeBron James and Kevin Love joined the team. But does that make them the favorites for the championship?
Kansas City Royals
October 27, 2014 | The World Series between the Royals and Giants may lack power hitting prowess, but will feature plenty of running, timely hitting and outstanding pitching.
October 20, 2014 | Mississippi State quarterback and Heisman candidate Dak Prescott has the Bulldogs sitting on top of the polls after a shocking run through some of the top teams in the SEC.
October 20, 2014 | There are thousands of homeless athletes around the United States and an SI investigation found that most of them thrive and survive with the help of sports.
Ole Miss and Mississippi State
October 13, 2014 | The Magnolia State was front and center of the college football universe last Saturday, with Ole Miss and Mississippi State scoring historic victories and throwing the college football playoff into complete chaos.
Kansas City Royals
October 13, 2014 | Lacking power, but plenty of speed, the Kansas City Royals are four victories from their first World Series appearance since 1985.
Adam Jones and Alex Ovechkin
October 6, 2014 | Hoping to avoid early playoff exits, fans of the Beltway teams pins its championship hopes on Orioles outfielder Adam Jones and Capitals center Alex Ovechkin.
Adam Wainwright and T. J Oshie
October 6, 2014 | The St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Blues, led by Adam Wainwright and T. J Oshie, look to get past last year’s disappointing playoff exits.
Clayton Kershaw and Anze Kopitar
October 6, 2014 | Although Los Angeles has no NFL team, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw and Kings forward Anze Kopitar are making sure that fans in the area don't miss America's most popular sport.
September 29, 2014 | As New York Yankees shortshop Derek Jeter closes the book on a 20-year career, he reflects on what has changed in the time that he has been in pinstripes.