STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) -Forget about recruiting and bowl games. And rankings and records, too.
When it comes to the Egg Bowl rivalry between No. 25 Mississippi and Mississippi State, Bulldogs coach Sylvester Croom explained to reporters this week, none of that matters. It's simply personal, a game that will resonate 20 years down the road when rivals meet again on the street.
``You will look him in the eye and neither of you will say a word, but each of you will know that one of you got whipped in this game,'' Croom said.
Hating each other's guts makes for good drama. The coaches save their most colorful quotes for this game. Every recruit is looking closely for validation of their decision. And the players get themselves worked up and say things that might be mistaken for dialogue in ``The Sopranos.''
``It's all about respect,'' Ole Miss defensive tackle Peria Jerry said. ``This game is all about respect.''
nsity of the Rebels-Bulldogs rivalry shortly after making the move from Arkansas.
``I know from the first time I got here whether you go to a coffee shop or down the road, it's always Mississippi State or Ole Miss - 'I graduated from Mississippi State; no, I graduated from Ole Miss,''' Nutt said. ``There's a rivalry, and it's competitive. This will be the most competitive game of the year, forget about the records. You throw it all out. It's going to be a fight.''
This year, though, there is much more to be fired up about because all that other stuff really does matter. After long droughts, both teams believe they are on the move toward contender status.
For Ole Miss (7-4, 4-3), a win Friday against those confounded Bulldogs will mean a second-place finish in the Southeastern Conference Western Division and a likely Cotton Bowl berth. The game in Dallas would pay two to three times more than the bowls the Rebels would likely be invited to with a loss and is set in one of Nutt's favorite recruiting grounds.
And for Mississippi State (4-7, 2-5), a win against the Rebels would help coaches hang onto a promising recruiting class and wipe away the disappointment of a lost season following the team's 8-5 resurgence last year. This year, the Egg Bowl is the only bowl they'll play in.
The Bulldogs took the Golden Egg last year when they scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to rally from 14 down. They went to the Liberty Bowl and beat Central Florida 10-3. But little has gone right since. Injuries, inconsistency and even a missed extra point have added up to an early end for a team that expected to challenge for the division title.
``I have never been through a season where I have seen so many bad things happen to one team,'' Croom said. ``I can honestly say there has not been a day in practice I thought we gave up and there has not been a game I felt they did not give their all. You can question a lot of things about this football team, but you cannot question their heart or their character.''
Oddsmakers question their ability to hang with Ole Miss, which is ranked for the first time since the final poll of the 2003 season. The Rebels opened a 12 1/2-point favorite and were up to 16 by Thanksgiving.
And the obstacles do seem to be stacked in Mississippi State's way. The Bulldogs haven't won in Oxford since 1998 and suffer from a lack of offensive punch. Their only consistent offensive threat is tailback Anthony Dixon, who rushed for a career-high 179 yards and scored three touchdowns against Arkansas last week.
``I think him running the ball this week like he did last week will be hard to stop because he's a train wreck,'' Mississippi State center J.C. Brignone said.
Dixon will be up against the nation's No. 9 rushing defense, though. And if he's hemmed in by Peria Jerry and the Rebels' formidable defensive line, the Bulldogs have few other options. But the 240-pound junior gained confidence against the Razorbacks and showed he can be a two-dimensional threat on any down.
He had a 63-yard touchdown run and a 40-yard run that set up another. He also caught two touchdowns, including a one-handed grab.
Dixon would love to finish the season by putting it all together one last time.
``The main goal of us going to a bowl game and maybe getting to a championship, that really hurt and left a bad taste in my mouth this year because I don't think we filled out our potential at all,'' Dixon said. ``At least we can salvage some of it by beating Ole Miss.''

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