Saturday was a day of celebration at the Liberty Bowl as one of the most underrated College Football rivalries in the Mid-South renewed itself when Memphis and Mississippi State went to battle. In many ways, Saturday was about showcasing what Mid-South football was all about. These are two programs that are three hours apart, compete for the same recruits both on a local and national level, and whose programs mirror each other.
I know a lot of Mississippi State folks don’t want to admit that, but there’s nothing wrong with it. Both Memphis and Mississippi State share a lot of the same commonalities, including passionate fan bases, proud traditions, and a love so deep for their respected school.
For Mississippi State fans, the rivalry with Memphis is one they take the role as big brother, and to be honest, over the entire series of the rivalry dating back to 1951, that’s a pretty fair assessment. However, as Mississippi State and others have learned the hard way, this isn’t your grandparents’ Memphis football program, which is something that adds a little spice to an already heated rivalry between the two schools.
For Memphis, the rivalry with Mississippi State is one where the Tigers are once again showing they belong in the same conversation as Ole Miss and Mississippi State. There’s a little bitterness towards the Bulldogs, but overall, Tiger fans are just excited about another opportunity at an SEC school. Memphis fans know firsthand they can compete with Mississippi State but are often mistakenly overlooked for a pushover opponent.
On Saturday, we saw evidence proving just how great this renewed rivalry would be for College Football. It all started in the parking lots before the game as Tiger fans and Bulldogs fans gathered together as friends and family celebrating life together. Everywhere you looked, you saw the true beauty of College Football people were eating good, playing corn hole, and even sharing a laugh reminiscing about the glory days of Memphis and Mississippi State football.
On to the game, the competition on the field was an instant classic and will go down in the history of the rivalry as one of the greatest games between the two programs. Both the Tigers and Bulldogs came to play and, there wasn’t much separation between the two. It came down to heads-up play from the Memphis punt return unit to push the Tigers past the Bulldogs for a 17th straight home win at the Liberty Bowl.
As far as the future of this rivalry goes, given the ending to the game on Saturday, something says that Memphis and Mississippi State will be deadlocked for years to come. Unlike others, Mississippi State is not one to shy away from a fight, and neither is Memphis. Both fan bases are passionate about playing each other as well. We could very well be witnessing the birth of the next great College Football rivalry unfold right before our eyes, Especially considering everything both Memphis and Mississippi State have at stake with playing each other. Imagine it now, Coach Silverfield and Coach Leach, going into local kids living rooms across the Mid-South using their latest win over the other as a recruiting pitch as to why that kid should come to either Memphis or Starkville. We could also see the scenario where Memphis and Mississippi State agree to play in every sport, giving fuel to the fire of the rivalry between the two.
Memphis and Mississippi State will meet again on September 3rd in Starkville, Mississippi, to add another chapter to this exciting College Football rivalry.