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The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee)
OXFORD — Mississippi State's involvement in the NCAA's investigation into Ole Miss' football program has been a talking point for a while in this state.
Of course, a spotlight will be placed on Mississippi State linebacker Leo Lewis, who was granted limited immunity by the NCAA's enforcement staff and testified in Ole Miss' Committee on Infractions hearing, when the two teams meet this week.
The media provided Ole Miss players and coaches with the opportunity to talk about MSU and the NCAA this week, but nobody bit the storyline bait as the Rebels prepare to face the 16th-ranked Bulldogs in Thursday night's Egg Bowl (6:30 p.m., ESPN).
"I think what the players are focused on is winning a football game. That's what you have to focus on, winning the game." Matt Luke said. "Allegations, none of that stuff (impacts) what happens Thursday night. Our 100 percent focus is going to be on the game and try and go get a win."
Lewis is connected to multiple Level I violations in Ole Miss' case. Lewis and his Mississippi State teammate Kobe Jones' statements to the enforcement staff led Rebel Rags, an Oxford-based retail store, to file a lawsuit against them for defamation in June.
"I haven't heard much about it or try to hear about it," said defensive lineman Breeland Speaks.
Offensive lineman Javon Patterson will likely mix it up with Lewis a few times on Thursday night but didn't say MSU's involvement in the NCAA case would add any extra animosity.
"Nah, we're in the SEC," Patterson said. "We're trying to play an SEC game this week and that's what's at stake."
Ole Miss completed its Committee on Infractions hearing on Sept. 12, but it's still awaiting a decision from the committee.
It forfeited its postseason eligibility in light of the Notice of Allegations it received in February. In its response to those allegations, Ole Miss tried to poke holes in Lewis' credibility.
When asked if there's more pressure on Ole Miss' coaching staff to win Thursday because of all that's transpired, Luke said: "If you're a coach at Ole Miss, there's always pressure to go win this game no matter what. It's always one of the biggest games of the season and you have to treat it that way."
While players and coaches may downplay it, the storyline is one aspect of the already raging inferno that is the Egg Bowl rivalry.
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