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The Ups and Downs of First Ever Grove Bowl Games at Ole Miss

Grove Bowl Games

Lane Kiffin doesn’t care about norms. We’ve seen that time and time again with coaching decisions on the field. We’ve also seen it with his social media use and press conferences. Now, we’ve seen it with his newfound approach to Spring ball. This change came Saturday, as Ole Miss hosted its first-ever Grove Bowl Games.

For some, they may ask why that differs from the norm. And then you realize that the change nearly eliminated football from the concept altogether. The only semblance of football in the Grove Bowl Games was a 7-on-7 game to round out the contest. Instead, the format opted for games such as Tug of War, an obstacle course, a dunk contest, and even a hot dog eating contest. Oh, and they even brought 16-time Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest champion Joey Chestnut to town for the event.

To be expected, this move away from the traditional spring game format had some people flustered. Don’t expect Kiffin to apologize or feel bad about it, though. In response to a tweet discussing former ESPN insider Phil Steele being critical of the change, Kiffin responded with, “Who?? Asked???”

It seems safe to say that Kiffin doesn’t care about the criticism.

Was the Grove Bowl Games a Success?

The answer to that question solely depends on what you expect from spring football. From an atmosphere standpoint, the answer is a resounding yes. While not a huge crowd, for a spring game in the middle of April, it was a much better turnout than Ole Miss has seen in recent memory.

Did it help that the school let students 21 and older bring their own alcohol and sit behind one of the end zones? Of course. It gave the atmosphere more of a Saturday game at Swayze Field watching Ole Miss baseball than it did watching Spring football.

But there were also some potential downsides to a format of this kind. So let’s look at the positives, and negatives, of the first annual Grove Bowl Games.

The Ups

As previously mentioned, the atmosphere was a huge upside. The students were engaged, the fans were engaged, and the team seemed to respond in a majorly positive way. Between Chestnut downing 20 hot dogs in 90 seconds, to transfer Brandon Turnage treating the dunk contest like his own audition for the NBA’s own dunk contest, the day had it all.


It also gave the public their first chance to see a few big-name transfers, mainly at the skill positions, in the 7on7 game. One standout play from a transfer was Chris “Pooh” Paul’s interception of freshman quarterback Austin Simmons.

But despite all of that, the most important upside was that there were no injuries that came about because of the festivities. With one of the biggest concerns about spring camp being injuries, managing to get through the spring game without any injuries is always a massive plus.

The Downs

The biggest downside of the new approach is a big one if you’re big on viewing spring practice as a major part of the upcoming season. The reason for this is that the Grove Bowl Games gave absolutely no takeaway about progress for any players during spring camp. We saw no indication about whether Walker Howard has taken steps as Jaxson Dart’s backup. Do we know how Texas A&M transfer Walter Nolen looks in the new system? Not at all. But we do know that it’s a team full of guys that love having fun.

For many, the traditional format of the spring game already seems outdated. Many have been seeking changes, though this probably isn’t what they had in mind. One commonly used argument amongst this group is that the spring game should be played against another school. Against other competition, maybe we’d get a better feel for the team and how they’re progressing. But essentially a meaningless “game” against the same teammates they see every day in practice? How much do we actually learn?

This seems to be Kiffin’s argument. Why play a meaningless game against yourself, when you know most of the players aren’t going to be giving 100%? Instead, he’s decided to turn it into more of a celebration surrounding the end of spring camp. And this is a decision that both fans and players, seem to appreciate. With that in mind, don’t expect the format to change all that much for next year.

From the Grove Bowl Games Back to the Transfer Portal

With spring camp concluding with the Grove Bowl Games, Kiffin, and Ole Miss now turn their attention back to the transfer portal. Following the initial portal window, Ole Miss sits atop the transfer class rankings, according to 247Sports. With the spring window now open, the key is to make sure they can retain the guys on their roster, and potentially find a player or two to fill any glaring holes they may have.

The good news for the Rebels is that the glaring holes we’re accustomed to seeing seem to be few and far between this year. With that in mind, expect Kiffin to treat this window more as a retention period instead of a deep-sea fishing trip. He already picked up many of his prized possessions in the early window. Now, it’s primarily about making sure he can hold onto the pieces surrounding them.

Grove Bowl Games
Photo courtesy: Bruce Newman/Special to the Clarion Ledger / USA TODAY NETWORK


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