There are certain teams that a coach just cannot lose to.
The coach at Tennessee is expected to beat Vanderbilt, the coach at Georgia is expected to beat Georgia Tech and there is an expectation that the Ole Miss coach will beat Mississippi State.
You may not think the two SEC programs in Mississippi are very different, but in Oxford, Miss., losing to Mississippi State is a problem.
Rivalry games are always a big test for coaches, and if you are a new coach entrusted to right the ship when the previous coach failed, it becomes an even bigger challenge.
Hugh Freeze's first season in 2012 forced him to coach with only 65 scholarship players and closer to 60 at times, due to injury, grades and other attrition from the Houston Nutt debacle. The team was depleted, but there was a solid first string of talent that was hungry and willing to buy whatever new head coach Hugh Freeze was selling.
MSU and their coach Dan Mullen had won three straight over the Rebels for the first time in the history of the rivalry (2009, 2010 and 2011). It was embarrassing for the Ole Miss fans and administration. The 2009 loss to MSU, even after finishing with nine wins, was probably the beginning of the end for Houston Nutt.
Two years earlier in 2007, Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron found out the hard way how tough rivalry games are when he was fired after his questionable 4th-and-one call gave MSU new life and resulted in a come-from-behind win for the Bulldogs. The 2007 Egg Bowl loss was not Orgeron's only strike, but it was certainly the last one.
Ole Miss in 2013 is not the Ole Miss of the 1960's. Lining up and beating MSU is not automatic like it was so long ago.
While Ole Miss may see itself as a better program than MSU overall, in the most recent five-year period, MSU has had less turnover in recruiting and has better depth, if not better front-line players.
Hugh Freeze has now been on both sides of this rivalry, winning and losing based on the emotion of the teams. How he and his team respond is extremely important if he wants to change this pattern.
If Freeze can continue to recruit well and improve his roster, he may be able to use the 2013 Egg Bowl as a teachable moment for the future. If he is not able to consistently beat MSU, he will not be very successful against the other, larger and better-funded SEC schools.
2013 will likely be looked upon as a pivotal year for Ole Miss and Hugh Freeze, no matter the direction they take from here. Luckily they do have a bowl game to focus on and playing well in the Music City Bowl can be a positive first step to putting the Egg Bowl loss behind them and moving forward in 2014.
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