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Mississippi State Athletics photo / Ole Miss football coach Lane Kiffin, left, and Mississippi State counterpart Mike Leach will vie for a second time in the Egg Bowl when the Rebels and Bulldogs collide Thanksgiving night in Starkville. The Rebels won last year's meeting 31-24.

Have we truly arrived at a kinder, gentler Egg Bowl?

The Southeastern Conference's most vitriolic football rivalry resumes Thursday night when No. 8 Ole Miss (9-2, 5-2 SEC) and Mississippi State (7-4, 4-3) collide in Starkville. Pregame skirmishes and touchdown celebrations involving acts of urination have accompanied recent Egg Bowl matchups, not to mention the NCAA sanctions several years ago levied against the Rebels that involved testimony from former MSU linebacker Leo Lewis.

Yet last year's 31-24 win by Ole Miss was calm and collected by comparison and was the first that pitted Rebels coach Lane Kiffin against Bulldogs counterpart Mike Leach.

"Maybe we were brought here to bring us all together," Kiffin said earlier this week in a news conference. "We don't just hate people because they go to a certain school."

When Leach became the subject, Kiffin said: "I like him, and I've always liked him. He's funny. He's done a great job wherever he's been, and I do think it's amazing how he's really not evolved. Usually, if you don't evolve or don't keep up with the game, you're fired or you get passed by. Somehow, he came up with something a long time ago that keeps working."

Leach's Air Raid offense under the direction of sophomore quarterback Will Rogers has averaged 390.4 aerial yards per game this season, ranking first among all Power Five programs. Rogers has completed 436 of 573 passes for a 76.1% completion rate — leading the nation in all three of those categories — and he has racked up 4,115 yards with 34 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.

In a 43-34 win at Auburn earlier this month in which the Bulldogs reeled off 40 straight points after falling behind 28-3, Rogers was 44-of-55 for 415 yards and six touchdowns.

However, it's Ole Miss redshirt junior quarterback Matt Corral who spent much of this season as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Corral has the Rebels among the top five offenses nationally with 517.5 yards per game, but the two attacks are very different.

"They are an RPO offense, a run-pass option, so the quarterback keeps it some," Leach said. "Both of us have some tempo going, and both are trying to attack the field. In both, I think a good quarterback is key to it, too."

The Egg Bowl usually resides in the background compared to Alabama-Auburn, Florida-Florida State and Georgia-Georgia Tech, but those in-state rivalries this time around are either expected to be routs or, in the case of the Gators and Seminoles, out of sight and out of mind.

We'll kindly reserve judgment for the time being on whether the Rebels and Bulldogs will be on their best behavior.

After all, Ole Miss junior running back Jerrion Ealy last weekend referred to Starkville as "Stinkville."

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Georgia coach Kirby Smart has plenty to be thankful for this Thanksgiving with the nation's top-ranked team, and that includes building towards next week's SEC title showdown against Alabama without having to prepare for Georgia Tech's triple-option offense this week. Tech's triple-option and its accompanying cut blocks departed with coach Paul Johnson after the 2018 season.

"I didn't enjoy dealing with that," Smart said. "I did not enjoy that whatsoever. You just did what you had to do, but it was very different. It's like just going away from all your calls for a week, so I'm glad we don't have to do that."

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AP photo by David J. Phillip / Auburn football coach Bryan Harsin calls a timeout during his team's Nov. 6 game at Texas A&M. Harsin's Tigers lost 20-3 that day in College Station and have followed with losses to Mississippi State, 43-34, and South Carolina, 21-17, heading into Saturday's Iron Bowl rivalry game against Alabama.

Pasquali's Pix

Ole Miss at Mississippi State: Leach is seeking his sixth win over an Associated Press ranked team in less than two full seasons. The school record shared by Jackie Sherrill and Dan Mullen is nine. Bulldogs 30, Rebels 27.

Missouri at Arkansas: The Razorbacks and Tigers play for the Battle Line Trophy, with the Hogs having already claimed the Southwest Classic Trophy (over Texas A&M) and the Battle for the Golden Boot (over LSU). Razorbacks 31, Tigers 20.

Georgia at Georgia Tech: When it comes to stellar home-field advantages this weekend, this game will rank last. Bulldogs 55, Yellow Jackets 6.

Ohio State at Michigan: Buckeyes coach Ryan Day is 23-0 in Big Ten games, while Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh is 0-5 against Ohio State with one COVID-19 cancellation. Buckeyes 31, Wolverines 24.

Florida State at Florida: Amazingly, this is the second time in five years in which both participants enter with losing records. Seminoles 16, Gators 13.

Alabama at Auburn: Terry Bowden and Gus Malzahn built off late-season momentum to win their inaugural Iron Bowls as Auburn head coaches. Bryan Harsin isn't on such a ride. Crimson Tide 34, Tigers 17.

Vanderbilt at Tennessee: This is obviously at the bottom of the league's Thanksgiving week food chain, with the SEC Network televising it for an eighth straight year. Volunteers 52, Commodores 16.

Texas A&M at LSU: You were never dull, Ed Orgeron. Aggies 23, Tigers 21.

Other picks:

Cincinnati 45, East Carolina 26

Utah 52, Colorado 25

N.C. State 26, North Carolina 21

Baylor 49, Texas Tech 28

Wake Forest 28, Boston College 27

Miami 41, Duke 22

Oregon 24, Oregon State 19

Penn State 27, Michigan State 24

Virginia 33, Virginia Tech 30

Wisconsin 30, Minnesota 13

Oklahoma State 34, Oklahoma 31

Pittsburgh 35, Syracuse 20

Clemson 20, South Carolina 17

Kentucky 23, Louisville 16

Memphis 21, Tulane 12

Notre Dame 38, Stanford 9

Florida Atlantic 37, MTSU 34

Last week:

Winners — 20

Darth Vaders — 5

Pasquali is 223-77 overall (74.3%) this season.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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