With the Egg Bowl set to kick off on Thursday evening, Mike Leach is treating the in-state rivalry bout as just another game. Although he appreciates the juice behind the historic matchup, his blunt assessment of college football rivalries goes against how many people in Mississippi feel about playing That School Up North.
For many Mississippians, as is also the case with other rivalry games around the country, success is measured by whether Ole Miss beats Mississippi State or the Bulldogs beat the Rebels. It is a rivalry bred in the bone, and in a way, it pits agriculture against industry.
Bragging rights last 365 days between Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
A large amount of players on both sides of the Egg Bowl grew up playing with or against one another. Families are divided. Hate runs deep. Pride runs even deeper.
"It gives them something spirited to talk about and do throughout the year," Leach said. "They know more people who are on the opposite side. I just think it’s good that way."
"You like a little noise, a little juice, a little action," he said. "If you’re at home, they tend to yell when you want them to rather than when you don’t."
This will be Leach's third game against Lane Kiffin and the Rebels on Thanksgiving Day, with the first two matchups ending in loss. Ole Miss currently lead the all-time series 64-46-6.
Mississippi State wants to flip the script this season as they travel to Oxford.
"Everybody’s out there trying as hard as they can, and they may mis-try or may be incorrect or may even inspire and do something special," Leach said. "The right players, right coaches are trying to do their best and be the best they can."
Mike Leach put the Egg Bowl in perspective.
While beating the Rebels is important, as is winning every other game. There are 12 in a season and they all count the same on the record books.
"Well, you only get 12 up until the bowl or the playoffs or something, so hell yeah, they’re important," Leach said.
And while many Mississippi State and Ole Miss fans may disagree, Leach doesn't think that rivalries are irreplaceable. In fact, in a sense, he believes that they are manufactured to create hype. If one was to end, another would begin.
People always gravitate toward rivalries. Occasionally, you’ll get a rival fan or somebody who thinks they’re special. But if somehow they left or went to a different conference, heck, we’d have them replaced by the end of the week. If Ole Miss disappeared or, say, went to the Big East or whatever, we’d replace them with Arkansas or LSU, I would imagine, by the following Thursday, wouldn’t we?
With that all being said, the 61-year-old, third-year head coach of the Bulldogs understands that he and his players have half of the state behind them. He understands that Thursday's Egg Bowl means just a little bit more to his team and its fanbase.
But a win is a win and a loss is a loss. They all count the same.
Here are Leach's full comments: