This Saturday’s matchup between Auburn and Ole Miss will go a long way in determining who is a legitimate SEC team and who is still a few steps away from contending in the SEC West. Both teams sit at 3-1 heading into the game at Jordan-Hare in Auburn, Ala. Whoever wins this game will be one difficult win closer to a potentially very successful season.
Ole Miss failed to make a statement last week against Alabama after many thought they could sneak into Tuscaloosa and pull out an upset, and similarly Auburn failed to put up much of a fight in their first real test the week before against LSU. Both of those losses made it abundantly clear that neither team is going to win the SEC this year, but both teams still have very real chances at nine or 10 win seasons.
Last year, Auburn was dreadful. There’s really no other way around it. The Tigers had talent, but after losing now head coach, then offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn to Arkansas State, Gene Chizik just couldn’t get things together to put a quality product on the field. Auburn went 3-9 and Chizik was sent packing just two years after winning a National Championship. Malzahn was brought back to be the head coach and the rebuilding process began.
Two years ago, Ole Miss was beyond dreadful. They won two games, failed to even compete in most of their contests, and the blame rested squarely on the shoulders of Houston Nutt. After he was fired and AD Pete Boone stepped down, Ole Miss went out and brought in a couple of young guns in Coach Hugh Freeze (coincidentally also from Arkansas State) and AD Ross Bjork. The culture in Oxford is vastly different now than it was in 2011, and after a wildly successful season last year, compared to the years previous of course, and an incredible recruiting class, Ole Miss is on the up and up in a big way. A 7-5 record with mediocre talent in Hugh Freeze’s first season was damn near unthinkable last August, but it happened and it was great. This year many fans want to see even more now that they’ve tasted success.
Now these two teams get to face off and see who has made more progress. Many Auburn fans expected the team to compete this season and they have. 3-1 is not too shabby, especially having beaten a good Washington St. team and SEC foe Mississippi State, but the schedule still has some tough games on it against Texas A&M (away) and Georgia and Alabama (home). If Auburn is for real this season and wants to make a statement as to where they are in the pecking order, they can easily do that this Saturday by beating a talented Ole Miss team.
In a similar vein, Ole Miss, needs to come out and make a statement as well. They need to tell the world that the Alabama game was a minor speed bump in the middle of a great season. And they also really need to win to avoid going 0-4 in the brutal Alabama/Auburn/A&M/LSU stretch. Going 0-4 at any point in a season makes it difficult to rebound well, and I don’t think any Ole Miss fan would be too thrilled going 7-5 this year when they realistically, after starting 3-0, could go 9-3. Come out and win Saturday, and Ole Miss is in great shape going forward. Come out and lose, and things get sticky.
The game should be a fun one. Freeze and Malzahn have very similar styles. They are very familiar with one another. Both teams have talented, fun hurry-up offenses. It wouldn’t surprise me to see an extremely high scoring game. If either team really has a shot at winning, it will come down to good defensive execution, and right now I think the edge goes to Ole Miss in that category.
Both teams need this win. I honestly think Ole Miss needs it more. Auburn probably wasn’t expecting to win this game at the beginning of the season, while Ole Miss probably was. A loss here could start a rough downward spiral over the next few weeks for the Rebs, whereas a loss for Auburn this week wouldn’t be the end of the world. Because they need it more, because they will want it more, and because they have the advantage on defense, I think that Ole Miss pulls it out on the Plains.
Prediction: Ole Miss 35 – Auburn 27