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Auburn at Mississippi St.

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Date: Thursday, September 9
Matchup: #22 Auburn (1-0, 0-0 SEC) at Mississippi State (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
TV: 7:45 PM, ESPN
Venue: Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field (grass)
Sports.com Line: Auburn -1.5/U 55.5

A strong outing for the Ole Ball Coach kicked us off last Thursday night. Unfortunately, for readers of this space, it was not a good start to the season as Southern Miss was thoroughly outclassed on both sides of the ball and the outcome – both straight up and against the number – was rarely in doubt as the ‘Cocks easily covered the two touchdown spread, 41-13.

Looking to turn things around this week, we stay in the SEC and get a chance to slip down to Starkville, MS, home of the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Speaking of the Bulldogs and the Gamecocks, I’m reminded of one of my worst beats ever when Mississippi State traveled to Columbia in September of 2000.

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QB Wayne Madkin had the 25th-ranked Bulldogs in perfect position for a solid road victory – and winning ticket -when a series of what can only be described as highly unlikely plays culminated in South Carolina backup QB Eric Kimrey tossing a 25-yard touchdown pass to Jermale Kelly on 4th-and-10 to give the home team a 20-19 lead. The Gamecocks, then coached by Lou Holtz, would hang on for a 23-19 victory.

I watched that game with fellow VegasInsider handicapper, and SEC expert, Brian Edwards and while it generally takes a lot to make a grown man cry, I recall a few tears were shed that afternoon.

Of course, that September game from 2000 has little relevance to this game, especially due to the fact that Mississippi State will be facing Auburn this Thursday night and not South Carolina. However, it does recall a time when the Bulldogs were one of the stronger teams in the SEC West.

It wasn’t too many seasons after 2000 that the program fell on hard times and when Sylvester Croom replaced Jackie Sherrill in 2004, there was optimism in Starkville that a couple lean years were in the rearview mirror. Unfortunately, the struggles for MSU were only beginning.

Croom was given plenty of time to right the ship but despite a few glimpses of life, he ultimately wasn’t able to get the job done for Mississippi State. Enter Dan Mullen in 2009 and again, optimism.

A scrappy 5-7 effort in his inaugural campaign was enough to bring out over 34,000 to the Mississippi State spring game – a state record - and provide a strong boost to season ticket sales. If you think the Bulldog faithful was excited heading into the season, you can only imagine the frenzy they have been whipped into after a strong performance in week one against Memphis.

Everyone knew the MSU could run the ball, after all they returned four starters on an offensive line that had paved the way for the top rushing attack in the SEC last season and had multiple options such as Vick Ballard, LaDarius Perkins and Robert Elliott. The question mark seemed to exist around the all-important QB position in Starkville.

That question mark was at least partially erased last weekend against the Tigers as QB’s Chris Relf and Tyler Russell looked sharp while feeding WR’s Brandon Heavens and Chad Bumphis – making that duo the first pair of Bulldog receivers to each have 100 or more yards since Justin Jenkins and McKinley Scott turned the trick in 2003. Russell, the 2008 Mr. Football out of Meridian High in Mississippi, was extremely impressive in his role as the #2 QB, completing 13-for-16 passes for 256 yards and four touchdowns.

It all added up to a 49-7 drubbing of Memphis in front of the fourth-largest announced crowd in Scott Field history.

Mississippi State left some ink on the record books in their 11th straight win over Memphis. The 42-point win was its largest margin of victory since it beat East Tennessee State 53-6 during the 1998 SEC West Division title-winning year and their total yardage (569) was the most it gained since 1994.

Predictably, Mississippi State fans are flying high and frothing at the mouth to get a piece of the 22nd ranked Auburn Tigers this Thursday.

More than just an opportunity to take a big step in their rebuilding process, there are a couple other story lines at play this Thursday. One is good old fashioned revenge as the Bulldogs were thumped 49-24 in their 2009 SEC opener at Auburn. The other plot at play here is a story of rejection.

If the name Cam Newton rings a bell, it’s probably not because he led the Blinn Buccaneers to the junior college national title in 2009 while throwing for 2,833 yards and accounting for 38 touchdowns. No, it’s likely you recall the name for Newton’s time before he went to Blinn.

Newton began his collegiate career at the University of Florida as backup to the legendary Tim Tebow. He threw 10 passes in 2007 and then missed the 2008 season when an ankle injury caused him to redshirt. Unfortunately, later that year Newton had a scrape with the law, involving a stolen laptop, that caused his time at Florida to come to an end.

Fresh off an outstanding junior college season in 2009, Newton was ready to resume his Division 1-A college career and former Florida offensive coordinator, now Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen was thought by many to have the best shot to land Newton.

"For a long time, I thought I was going to Mississippi State," Newton told Sports Illustrated this past May.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a story of rejection if Newton had landed in Starkville. As you might have guessed, the Atlanta native spurned the Bulldogs and headed to Auburn, Alabama.

And so we turn our attention back to Thursday night where an enthusiastic Mississippi State crowd will welcome Mr. Newton to Starkville and hope the home team will show the youngster he chose the wrong school.

Newton got his Auburn career off to a fantastic start last weekend as he tallied five touchdowns, 357 yards total offense and set the Tigers' record for rushing yards for a quarterback after he finished with 171 yards on 15 carries.

Granted, the competition was just Arkansas State but you can forgive fans on the Plains if they feel the second coming of Jason Campbell has arrived on campus.

However, while the Auburn offense looked to be in midseason form, the Tigers defense appeared to still be stuck in the rut from 2009 when they allowed the most points ever in a War Eagle season.

Auburn’s defense permitted the Red Wolves from the Sun Belt to rack up 366 yards of total offense and with the hot Mississippi State offense on deck, the Tigers defensive unit looks vulnerable.

It all adds up to a interesting matchup this Thursday night. The Bulldogs are 1-0 ATS as they easily covered the number (-21.5) against Memphis. Auburn is 0-1 ATS as their defense couldn’t keep Arkansas State off the board enough to make a winner out of those holding tickets (-30) for a game that ended 52-26.

  
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