(Photo credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports)
Mississippi State ended each of the past 13 seasons in a bowl game.
The Bulldogs (5-6, 1-6) need to defeat in-state rival Ole Miss (9-2, 5-2) in the Egg Bowl on Thursday night in Starkville, Miss., in order to become eligible for No. 14.
The Rebels have been assured of a bowl game for the lastmonth and a 10th victory this season would only strengthen their postseason resume.
If MSU wins it will be able to hang on to the Golden Egg trophy, which it regained last season with a 24-22 victory in Oxford, Miss.
"(We) need to work to get this trophy back," Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said. "We screwed it up last year."
Both teams are coming off non-conference victories.
Ole Miss, which was routed by No. 1 Georgia 52-17 two weeks ago, started slowly against UL Monroe last week. It led just 7-3 at halftime but rolled to a 35-3 win to finish its home schedule 7-0.
Jaxson Dart threw all three of his touchdown passes during a 21-0 third-quarter blitz that put the Rebels in command.
Players on both teams know how a victory or defeat in the Egg Bowl can significantly alter the perception of their season -- regardless of what has preceded the rivalry game.
Dart is from Utah and started his college career at USC, but as he prepares for his second Egg Bowl he understands its significance.
"We have to make sure that we don't get too high or too low," Dart said. "People tell you, 'We don't care if you don't win any other games. We just care that you win the Egg Bowl.' We understand the importance of it."
A victory could wipe away a lot of disappointment from a turbulent season for the Bulldogs. The university fired first-year head coach Zach Arnett after a 51-10 loss at Texas AM on Nov. 11.
Interim head coach Greg Knox welcomed back quarterback Will Rogers and running back Jo'Quavious Marks from injury for a 41-20 victory against visiting Southern Miss last Saturday.
That ended a three-game losing streak for MSU, which is tied with Arkansas for last place in the SEC West.
But a second straight win against an in-state rival in five days would make MSU the undisputed champion of the Magnolia State for 2023.
Rogers had missed four games because of a shoulder injury and Marks had missed three games because of a leg injury.
"It's kind of like you're starting the season over, essentially," Rogers said. "It was nice to get the flow of rhythm back in my game a little bit."
Rogers, who owns virtually every passing record in Bulldogs history, completed 12 of 27 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns, one of which went for 15 yards to Marks, who rushed for 34 additional yards.
Jeffery Pittman led the way with 98 yards and a touchdown as MSU had its second-highest rushing total of the season (238).
"Those are two of our most dynamic players on offense, and our offense runs through them," linebacker Jett Johnson said. "It was great to have them back."
--Field Level Media