The annual Associated Press preseason college football poll, released every August, is always a clear signal that college football season is oh-so close to starting.
And almost every year, the top 25 is littered with schools from the powerhouse Southeastern Conference.
This year is no different. Georgia checks in at No. 1, one of four SEC schools in the top 10, joining Florida (5), LSU (7) and Auburn (10).
Another list unveiled shortly before every fall gets almost as strong a reaction, and often includes SEC institutions — the Princeton Review’s list of the country’s best party schools.
Like this year’s AP poll, the latest Princeton Review has an SEC school at the top — Georgia’s biggest rival, the University of Florida.
And while Ole Miss has not experienced much success on the football field since Eli Manning’s senior year in 2003, the Rebels continue to party off the field. The Review has Ole Miss second.
The Princeton Review determines its list with a survey that asks students questions that gauge alcohol use, hours of study each day and the popularity of the Greek system. Ole Miss is a perennial contender for the title of “Best Party School in the Nation,” having finished at the top several times.
That would seem to bode well for package stores in the Oxford area. To use alcohol, it has to be bought.
Good for business
And students, faculty, alumni and Rebel diehards have been buying booze from Star Package Store on Jackson Avenue in Oxford since 1992.
Jeanne Zinn, who co-owns Star Package with her husband, says her business gets a boost when the students return from summer vacation.
“It makes a difference, there’s no doubt about it,” Zinn said. “We have a good college business, with most of it coming Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the weekend crowd.”
It would not be much of a stretch to say that Ole Miss’ reputation as a party school is because of the famous tailgating in the Grove during football season. The Grove has gained national acclaim and is generally considered the most unique tailgating experience in all of college sports. The entire Oxford area has benefited from the Grove, and Star Package is no exception.
‘Off the charts’
“Home (football) games are absolutely off the charts,” Zinn said. “We’re getting ready.” Under new coach Houston Nutt, Ole Miss opens its season in Oxford August 30 against the University in Memphis.
Mississippi State did not crack this year’s list of top 20 party schools, but that does not mean the Bulldogs have gone without celebrating. In 2007, State’s football team went to its first bowl game since 2000, defeating Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl. Coach Sylvester Croom was named the SEC Coach of the Year.
And anybody who has spent time in Mississippi State’s version of the Grove, named the Junction, can attest that there is a proper party atmosphere, even if Princeton has yet to recognize it.
Phoenix Adams is one of three partners who own The Savvy Grape, a wine and spirits store in the space that was for a long time home to one of Starkville’s original party hotspots, Cheers.
The Savvy Grape has been open about a year, and Adams is hoping the store’s business is as brisk this football season as it was last.
“Last year there was definitely a difference (in the summer and fall),” Adams said. “Of course, it helps when the football team did well like it did. Everybody loves that.”
One advantage The Savvy Grape has its proximity to campus — it sits almost within sight of Fraternity Row and the Junction. That’s something Adams and her partners plan to take full advantage of starting with MSU’s first home game of the season September 6 versus Southeastern Louisiana.
“It’s perfect for people because they can literally walk across the street and get whatever they need from us,” Adams said.
Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .