Ole Miss has started their season with a bang. A big bang by Rebel standards.
Thanks to a Thursday night thriller against Vanderbilt and Week 3’s trouncing of Texas in Austin, the Ole Miss faithful’s sights are set on big things this season. Many folks predicted Ole Miss would be 1-2 at this point, but starting the season 3-0 puts Ole Miss in serious consideration for a nine or 10 win season and an upper tier bowl appearance.
Unfortunately, quite a gauntlet of games stands between the Rebels and their cupcake end of the season (Idaho, Arkansas, Troy, Mizzou, and @ Miss State). Away games against Alabama and Auburn followed by two home games against Texas A&M and LSU are what Rebel fans have to look forward to over the next four weeks. Not an ideal month’s worth of Saturdays. If Ole Miss goes 1-3 in that stretch, 9-3 is still very much in reach. Should the Rebels catch a lucky break or two and win two or more of those brutal four, then honestly, the sky is the limit. New Years in New Orleans anyone?*
Up first in the murderer’s row for Ole Miss is defending National Champion Alabama. Nick Saban and the Tide have one goal in mind this season and that is to win another title. The BCS Championship would be Alabama’s third in a row and fourth in five years. Needless to say, they are a pretty good football team, BUT they are not a perfect football team. Their record in each of the past two seasons, title winning seasons mind you, has been 12-1 and 13-1, respectively. They won the BCS Championship both of these seasons despite having suffered a regular season loss. In 2011, they lost to a formidable LSU team that they later beat in the championship game, and in 2012 Alabama lost to a young, hungry Johnny Manziel and his Texas A&M squad. The Texas A&M loss in 2012 took everybody off guard. It was the surprise of the season, and afterward Texas A&M became the talk of the college football world.
So my question this week is this:
Could Ole Miss do what Texas A&M did last year and shock the world by beating Alabama on their home field? Could Ole Miss be the surprise team in 2013 like A&M was in 2012? Some thoughts…
1) Ole Miss is good offensively. They are working well with Hugh Freeze’s up-tempo offense and are certainly putting up points. But Bo Wallace is not Johnny “Football” Manziel. Not by a long shot. Yes, Bo can break off a run for 40+ yards, but his scrambling skill is iffy, and his speed is sluggish at best. Alabama had no idea what to do with Manziel. They will know exactly what to do with Wallace. Nick Saban will make sure of that. Ole Miss can score points, but it will be hard against Alabama. Unless Donte Moncrief, Laquon Treadwell, or Jeff Scott have a Heismanesque breakout game, Ole Miss’ offense will be outmatched by Alabama’s defense.
2) Ole Miss is also pretty good defensively. They didn’t have an answer for Jordan Matthews in the Vanderbilt game, but he’s an All-American caliber receiver. Alabama, usually known as being a great defensive team, has had quite a season offensively though. They put up a very un-Alabama point total of 49 against Texas A&M last week and with experienced A.J. McCarron leading the way for the Crimson Tide, it will be interesting to see how Ole Miss can keep the Alabama offense off the field. Robert Nkemdiche has had flashes of brilliance, but has yet to have a breakout performance to solidify him as a superstar. Could this be the game we see that? Will the Ole Miss Landshark defense be able to stop a very potent Alabama offense better than A&M could last week? I’m extremely excited to see how this part of the game unfolds. I think Ole Miss will surprise some people and handle Alabama’s offense effectively.
3) Alabama fans were worried after they beat lowly Colorado St. this past weekend by a measly 25 points. Some folks said the Tide looked complacent, nonchalant even. Were Bama players looking ahead to Ole Miss? Do they think they’ve already locked up the National Championship now that they’ve beaten Texas A&M? After Ole Miss, the only true challenge for Alabama is an early November matchup against LSU. If Alabama is already looking to Pasadena, then there’s no reason to believe they couldn’t drop a game along the way. Ole Miss could be Alabama’s slip-up game just as easily as the LSU game could be. The games Alabama lost the past two seasons had a chance to end their hopes of a championship, but the cards fell exactly how they needed them to to get the Tide to the championship game. If they don’t take their schedule seriously and lose a game along the way, there’s no guarantee they will make the title game like they did with one loss in the past. In short, Alabama better pay attention this weekend.
4) History favors Alabama. They lead the all time series against Ole Miss 46-9-2 (not including forfeited games) and have only lost to Ole Miss once in Tuscaloosa. Maybe the laws of statistics are going to favor Ole Miss this year. Maybe the Rebels are due for a win. It won’t be an easy place to play as Alabama fans are ready for more championships and Bryant-Denny Stadium will be as raucous as ever on Saturday.
Saturday’s game will be a great one. Two very good teams are ready to play 60 minutes of hard-nosed football. The Rebels have had an off week to prepare and get players healthy, and their fans have had an extra week to get mentally prepared as well. There’s no question in my mind that Ole Miss could win this game, but Alabama is certainly going to give the Rebels all they can handle.
So will the Rebels win? Can they sneak up on Alabama like Johnny Football and Texas A&M did last year? My head tells me no, overwhelmingly so, but my heart says the Rebels have a chance. Maybe this game will be the start of something truly magical for Ole Miss.
Prediction: A low scoring, defensive dominated affair ends with Alabama beating Ole Miss 17-10.
*This is not a prediction that Ole Miss will make the Sugar Bowl.