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Mississippi-mania: Bulldogs take No. 1 in AP poll

Breaking down the ballots for the AP Top 25 and wrapping up college football’s seventh weekend.

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MIGHTY MISSISSIPPI

The Mississippi-mania sweeping college football is more than just a temporary condition. It just keeps getting better for the Magnolia state’s Southeastern Conference teams.

Mississippi State, a school with one SEC championship on its resume, is No. 1 in The Associated Press college football poll.

Mississippi, which hasn’t won an SEC title since 1963, is still No. 3, but just a couple of points behind No. 2 Florida State.

“I think it’s an affirmation of how good football has been for a long time in Mississippi,” said Rick Cleveland, the executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and a longtime newspaper columnist in the state. “Now they’re recognizing the talent and keeping it home.”

The Bulldogs and Rebels were even better Saturday than they were last week, when both had breakthrough victories at home.

Mississippi State and Heisman Trophy contender Dak Prescott routed Auburn 38-23 in Starkville.

Ole Miss and its nasty defense, led by tackle Robert Nkemdiche, dominated Texas A&M 35-21 in College Station, Texas.

If you’re wondering, and you probably should be, the Rebels and Bulldogs play Nov. 29 in Oxford, the Saturday after Thanksgiving in what could be an Egg Bowl extravaganza.

The Iron Bowl on the same day could end up being just an undercard, the way LSU-Florida and Alabama-Arkansas were Saturday.

“It’s surreal,” said Cleveland, a Mississippi native.

For the both the Rebels and Bulldogs, it’s been a startling rise after recent struggles. In the rugged SEC West, where Alabama (three national titles), LSU (two) and Auburn (one) have been the powers during the BCS era, the Mississippi schools have usually been relegated to the second division.

In Starkville, coach Dan Mullen took over in 2009 and has steadily turned around a program that was flailing. Mullen, the former Florida offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer, is 42-28 at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs were 23-48 in the six seasons before Mullen arrived.

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze was hired after the Rebels went 2-10 in 2011. They won seven games his first season and eight last year. He landed one of the best recruiting classes in the country between his first and second seasons. Now the Rebels have their best ranking in the AP poll since 1964.

So where do the Rebels and Bulldogs go from here?

The Bulldogs could be in for a pretty good run at No. 1. They’re heading into an off week before a stretch of schedule that looks accommodating (at Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee-Martin) before a trip to Alabama on Nov. 15.

The Rebels come home for Tennessee on Saturday before going to LSU and hosting No. 6 Auburn.

GOING DOWN

Florida State had held No. 1 for 10 straight AP polls, dating to last season.

The Seminoles have shown some vulnerability this season, had some close calls and rarely have looked like the dominant team that went unbeaten on the way to a national championship last year. They just keep winning.

The ‘Noles step back into the spotlight this week — for a couple of reasons.

The game of the week will be played in Tallahassee, Florida, on Saturday night when No. 5 Notre Dame visits Florida State, a matchup with playoff implications reminiscent for the classic 1993 game between the Irish and Seminoles.

The Fighting Irish are the only ranked team left on Florida State’s schedule. It could even be a chance for the Seminoles to take back the No. 1 ranking.

Then there’s the drama off the field.

Florida State is preparing to hold a student conduct hearing involving Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, who was accused by a female student of rape after a December 2012 encounter. Florida prosecutors declined to charge Winston after an investigation during last season. Florida State has been conducting its own investigation to be in compliance for federal Title IX requirements.

No date has been set for a hearing and Florida State has given no indication that Winston’s status will change in the meantime.

MOVING OUT

A second straight home loss has dropped UCLA out of the Top 25.

The Bruins were thumped at home by Oregon, 42-30 on Saturday, and are in danger of becoming one of the most disappointing teams in the country.

Coach Jim Mora’s team was the Pac-12 South favorite coming into this season and ranked No. 7 nationally.

The Bruins haven’t been able to protect talented quarterback Brett Hundley or stop opponents. Mora and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich get into it on the sideline while the Ducks were taking apart the Bruins.

UCLA has some standout talent and highly recruited players on its defense, including linebackers Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack.

The Bruins will try to get better on the road with trips to California and Colorado the next two weeks. That should get the offense back on track, but there is no place to hide a shaky defense in the Pac-12.

Also falling out were Georgia Tech and Missouri.

MOVING IN

Unbeaten Marshall made its season debut in the poll at No. 25. The Thundering Herd is ranked for the first time since 2002.

No. 22 Southern California and No. 23 Clemson also moved back into the rankings.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

Mississippi State went from unranked to No. 1 in five weeks, an AP poll record. The previous record was six weeks by Ohio State in 1954.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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