As we near the start of Fall, it's setting up to be a pretty good year for football in the Magnolia State. Ole Miss ranked 19th in the preseason USA Today poll. Mississippi State collected enough votes to rank 29th. Both schools have been listed as sleepers entering the season. Earlier this week, Sports Illustrated actually listed MSU as a sleeper pick to reach this year's College Football Playoff.
Yet the Rebels and Bulldogs were picked for fourth and fifth place, respectively, in the brutal SEC West. Yes, the two Mississippi squads have two of the better returning quarterbacks in the league -- MSU's Dak Prescott is even the subject of Heisman talk -- but even these dark horses on the national stage are expected to struggle at the local level. And with good reason.
Since the SEC split into divisions in 1992, there has not been a single season in which both Ole Miss and Mississippi State finished with winning marks in conference play. The closest they've come: 1992 (UM 5-3, MSU 4-4), 1997 (UM 4-4, MSU 4-4), 1999 (MSU 6-2, UM 4-4), 2000 (UM 4-4, MSU 4-4). That's it. Just four seasons in which both schools have managed to both break even in SEC play. Six times in the last 10 years the two teams have mailed to combine for more than five league wins.
So both Ole Miss and Mississippi State are considered sleepers in 2014. Which one would you put your money on? Because history suggests the media and pundits have got this one all wrong -- you just can't expect both the Rebels and the Bulldogs to have SEC success in the same year. And without so much as a winning mark in conference play, you can forget top 25 rankings and talk of a College Football Playoff berth.
Ole Miss or Mississippi State could be a sleeper, but not both.