With this weekend's Ole Miss trip to Texas A&M postponed due to COVID-19 issues on the Aggie side... but what's really concerning this week is a growing sense that the Egg Bowl next weekend may also be in question.
Lane Kiffin, in his normal weekly press availabilities this week, began discussion next weekend's scheduled Egg Bowl showdown with Mississippi State, but it's a set of continuing events down in Starkville that make us seriously worry that the game is in jeopardy.
On Wednesday afternoon, Mississippi State defensive lineman Nathan Pickering opted out of the remainder of the 2020 season, becoming the third player this month to do so.
Troublingly, he's now the seventeenth Mississippi State player to either opt out of the season using the COVID-19 opt-out clause, transfer or to leave and prepare for the NFL draft.
Rumors confirmed by two individuals close to the situation at Mississippi State have confirmed that the team is now down to 55 scholarship players as they prepare to play Georgia this weekend. One source said that number may be 54. It's unknown if these numbers include those currently sitting out due to contact tracing.
Here's the point: a team needs 53 scholarship players available to play a game this season, according to SEC protocols. Theoretically, you can appeal to the conference to play a game with less than 53, but not one team has tried to do that yet this season despite multiple postponements or cancelations.
For now, Mississippi State has enough players to go ahead with their game this weekend at Georgia. However, it's fair to start to worry that they're getting dangerously close to forcing an Egg Bowl postponement or cancellation.
If one player on the MSU side tests positive for COVID-19 at any point from now until next Saturday, that will trigger a set of contact tracing incidents. Likely, that would cause at least a few others to have to sit out 14 days (according to SEC protocols), regardless of if they test positive or not.
Now, if State is at 55 scholarship players currently, one player tests positive, and say (conservatively) two others then are out for contact tracing, that would put State at 52 scholarship players... below the SEC's threshold to actually hold a game. The same could happen with injuries, or more opt outs. It's so fragile.
Will the Egg Bowl happen? I truly think any notion that State will try to intentionally find a way to not play Ole Miss this season is too far fetched for my belief. We're talking about a rivalry game that's been played quite literally every year since 1915 (there was interestingly a three year gap from 1912-1914 where the game wasn't played).
However, Mississippi State administration will feel considerable pressure to try and find a way to play the game if there is any resolution possible. There's just a chance it may be out of their hands.
***Noteworthy Update*** Since the publishing of this story on Nov. 19, Mississippi State played their game at Georgia with under 50 scholarship players. It's unlikely, after that, that the Egg Bowl would be anything but a go.
More From The Grove Report:
You can join The Grove Report community by clicking "Follow" on the top righthand corner of the page or under the three bars on the top left in mobile. Also, be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @SIRebels and @nategabler.