- Greg Ostendorf, ESPN Staff Writer
Alabama and Mississippi State are separated by less than 100 miles, creating a rivalry that dates to 1896. From its inception it’s been a one-sided affair, and it hasn’t been much different on the recruiting trail, especially since Nick Saban arrived.
This year, MSU head coach Dan Mullen is trying to change that with a win over the Crimson Tide on Saturday. Not only would that keep the Bulldogs’ undefeated season intact, it would pay huge dividends in recruiting as well.
Before ESPN 150 defensive tackle Quay Evans chose Mississippi State over Alabama last year, it had been three years since the Bulldogs won a true recruiting battle over its border rival. It came during Mullen’s first week as head coach.
When Mullen was hired in December 2009, he landed three commitments that same weekend, including the SEC’s current leading rusher LaDarius Perkins, an Auburn commitment at the time, and ESPN 150 wide receiver Chad Bumphis, who chose the Bulldogs over Alabama.
As a senior, Bumphis leads the team with 479 yards receiving and six touchdowns. In 2010, he had three catches for 43 yards and a score in his only game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. He’s hoping for another big game Saturday against his runner-up school.
That 2009 class, which finished in the top 25 in ESPN’s class rankings, also included a defensive end by the name of Fletcher Cox.
Cox, who visited Alabama shortly before signing with the Bulldogs, had a very productive career in Starkville, Miss., and now he’s playing for the Philadelphia Eagles after being selected in the first round of the NFL draft last April.
However, since 2009, Mississippi State has seen a drop-off in the level of recruits coming in while Alabama continues to put together top-five recruiting classes.
That trend hasn’t stopped Mullen and his staff from going after players in the state of Alabama. In the last three years, MSU has signed five players from the Yellowhammer State, and its 2013 class already has four players committed, including four-star wide receiver B.J. Hammond, a potential Tide target.
There might be another battle brewing in 2013 between the two schools for junior college defensive back Justin Cox. The Mississippi native signed with the Bulldogs out of high school, but when he failed to qualify, he enrolled at East Mississippi Community College.
Two years later, MSU is hoping to keep its former commitment, but a host of other schools, including Alabama, have entered the mix.