Ole Miss is bowl eligible and has had a season very comparable to the one I predicted.
Here are some brief thoughts on how the season could pan out for Hugh Freeze and his Rebels in his second year running the show.
This week’s game is a given*. Ole Miss should handle Troy with ease (Prediction: OM 42 – Troy 17) and sit at 7-3 with two SEC opponents left on the schedule. From there the season could go one of several ways.
The Most Likely (according to popular opinion):
Nobody could have predicted the season Missouri would have. If someone had told me in August that Mizzou would control their own destiny for the SEC title in November, I would have assumed they were crazy. But Gary Pinkel and the Tigers have been the surprise of the year. At 9-1, the Tigers have two tough games remaining, a road contest against Ole Miss and a home game against Johnny Football and Texas A&M.
If you agree with Vegas and rankings and the like, then Missouri will beat Ole Miss next weekend (6:45 on ESPN). Since most people do believe in that stuff, then a Rebel loss next weekend is the most likely outcome.
So, the Rebels will sit at 7-4 when they travel to Starkville on Thanksgiving Day for the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State. Dan Mullen is having a rough year in Starkville but the Bulldogs should be 5-6 heading into their final game. Unfortunately for Mississippi State, I don’t foresee them being able to beat the Rebels despite playing for bowl eligibility and playing at home.
In this scenario, the Rebels end the regular season with a record of 8-4, quite an improvement from last year’s 6-6 and a world away from 2011’s abysmal 2-10. Should this be the outcome for the season, I would imagine the Rebels end up in Nashville on December 30th for the Music City Bowl where they would face an up and coming Duke team, led by former Rebel head coach David Cutcliffe. I’m sure that other teams from the ACC could end up here, but the bowl execs would absolutely salivate at the automatic storyline they would have should these two teams face one another.
The Still Pretty Likely (in my opinion):
I don’t think Missouri is as good as their record indicates. And honestly, I think Mizzou goes to Oxford and gets beat by Ole Miss. Their key wins have been over a decent Vanderbilt team, an underwhelming Georgia team, and an ATROCIOUS Florida team. When they played South Carolina, at home no less, when the pressure was on, they just couldn’t get it done. The SEC East is having a crappy year, and when their top dog Mizzou loses in Oxford, this will become even more apparent.
After the win over Missouri, Ole Miss still goes in and beats Mississippi State and ends the season a very convincing 9-3 with their three losses being to Bama, Auburn, and Texas A&M (the three best SEC teams) and with wins over LSU and Missouri (two Top 10 teams at the time of the wins). This should be good enough to give them a Top 15 ranking heading into what would likely be a matchup with Minnesota in the Gator Bowl down in Jacksonville on New Year’s Day.
The Disaster (according to Rebel fans):
In the SEC, nothing is easy. It is not entirely inconceivable that Ole Miss could beat the tar out of Troy on Saturday and then promptly lose to both Missouri and Mississippi State. Obviously, Missouri is a good football team, and Dan Mullen would love to beat the Rebels to become bowl eligible (assuming he beats lowly Arkansas), so those two losses are possible and not too unlikely. Crazier things have happened.
If this were the case, there would be some extreme discontent in Oxford. While going 7-5 is nothing for the Rebel faithful to hang their heads over, it is still a far cry from 9-3. 7-5 means you’re a lower middling SEC bowl team. 9-3 makes you a contender. 5-3 in the SEC is something to get jacked up for. 3-5 in the SEC is disappointing given how the season could have turned out.
While this is not the scenario Hugh Freeze would like to see, it would still put him in a bowl and that would likely be the Liberty Bowl in Memphis on New Year’s Eve. Rebels around the Southeast would pack that place and likely forget about the season’s disappointment when they face whatever scrub team Conference USA trots out this year.
No matter what happens, the Rebels are going bowling for a second year in a row and still have some good momentum. It has become very apparent that Hugh Freeze is the right man for the job and that he is ready to make Ole Miss a contender. With Texas A&M likely losing Johnny Football and LSU looking like they might be ready to have a down year, could 2014 be the year Ole Miss is able to contend for that elusive Sugar Bowl berth? We will see, but for now the Rebs have three games left and want like crazy to make a statement by winning all three and then taking an (Unknown) Bowl trophy back to Oxford.
*Nothing is ever a given. See Jacksonville State, 2010.