Nov 27, 2002
By RALPH D. RUSSO
AP Sports Writer
OXFORD, Miss. (AP) - The Egg Bowl doesn't appear to offer much on the field. It's been more than a month since either Mississippi or Mississippi State won.
But the game doesn't lack story lines.
Will this be Jackie Sherrill's last game as Mississippi State's coach? Could Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning be playing his last college game?
The Bulldogs (3-8, 0-7 Southeastern Conference) and Rebels (5-6, 2-5) meet for the 99th time Thursday night.
Mississippi State is trying to avoid consecutive three-win seasons and its first winless SEC season in 14 years. A win over Ole Miss last year helped cool some of the clamor for a coaching change in Starkville and convinced many that the disappointing season was just an aberration.
This season has been worse than last, and many are wondering if Sherrill, who turns 59 Thursday, has worn out his welcome after 12 seasons. He has three years left on a deal that, with perks, pays about $700,000 a year.
"I don't have any reason to believe we should be thinking about changing coaches," athletic director Larry Templeton said recently.
Playing heavily in Sherrill's favor is his 7-4 Egg Bowl record, after decades in which the Rebels dominated the rivalry.
One victory kept Mississippi's season from being just as frustrating as the Bulldogs: an upset of Florida in October. Ole Miss hasn't won an SEC game since and has lost five straight overall.
A loss to their rivals would give the Rebels their first six-game losing streak since 1984, and it would eliminate them from bowl contention.
"I don't want to be 0-for-conference," Mississippi State linebacker Mario Haggan said. "It's also about spoiling Ole Miss' chances."
The SEC has ties to seven bowl games. Right now, six SEC teams are bowl eligible. Only Ole Miss can make it seven.
"A win would salvage their whole season, knowing that they kept us from going to a bowl," Ole Miss tackle Belton Johnson said.
Then there is Manning. He has given no indication as to whether he will leave school early for the NFL draft or stay for his senior season.
"I'm not thinking about that now," Manning said. "I'm worried about Mississippi State right now and trying to get a win there. I want to get to a bowl game. I'll think about that later on."
Jackie Sherrill has spent 12 seasons at Mississippi State.