Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace said that his goal this year was to get the Rebels to Atlanta. Guess he can go ahead and check that off his list since the Ole Miss season opener against Boise State will be played from the Georgia Dome. Obviously Wallace meant getting the Rebs to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game, but starting the year off in the Georgia Dome for the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game isn’t a bad thing.
For the majority of America, this Thursday’s ESPN matchup between the Ole Miss Rebels and the Boise State Broncos will serve as the official kickoff to the 2014 college football season. With millions of people watching, a lot is on the line for both teams. Boise State is breaking in a new coach and looking to continue their pattern of taking down the big boys while Ole Miss hopes to make the jump into the upper-tier of the SEC.
So how is this early season showdown going to shape up?
Ole Miss has the advantage on paper. With their superior talent, SEC speed on both sides of the ball, and stability with a veteran quarterback and proven SEC coach, it’s no surprise most places are picking the Rebels to win by double digits.
But Boise State thrives in games where they are labeled the underdogs. They have an underrated running back in Jay Ajayi who is coming off of a 1400-yard season and a senior quarterback, Grant Hedrick, who played well last season when his number was called midway through the year. They do have a new, young coach in Bryan Harsin who has seen success in past roles, and he’s ready to make a name for himself in his first big time gig. However it will be mighty tough to fill Chris Petersen’s shoes.
Playing the game in the Georgia Dome obviously lends itself to the Ole Miss cause. Ole Miss will travel well and Boise State will not. While it won’t be nearly to capacity, the game will feel much like an Ole Miss home game.
The biggest difference in my opinion will be the Ole Miss defensive line. (I expect to say that a lot this season.) Boise State, like Ole Miss, has a young, inexperienced offensive line. I expect the Robert Nkemdiche and C.J. Johnson to get to Hedrick often and to have pretty good success at shutting down the Boise State running game. And behind the D-line, the Rebels have an experienced crop of linebackers and a deep secondary. Coach Harsin might have to rely on some non-traditional play calls to find success against an ultra talented Rebel defense, one that many think is among the best in the SEC.
Assuming the Ole Miss defense gets the job done, the Rebels will still need to score some points. As I mentioned earlier, Ole Miss does have a thin O-line, but it is should survive against Boise State’s mediocre defensive front. The Bronco secondary is strong, but so are the Rebel receivers, led by Laquon Treadwell, who should have a nice advantage over those tasked with covering him. There will be some kinks to work out with a new crop of Rebel running backs, and Bo Wallace will likely need a few downs to get back into the swing of things. But overall I see the Ole Miss offense being just fine.
I think Boise State and Ole Miss will struggle with first game jitters early on, but expect that both teams will figure things out by the second quarter. I firmly believe that Boise State is going to find a way, despite being less talented, to make this an interesting game. Just something about Boise State doing that so many times on a big stage makes me think that this game won’t be much different.
However Ole Miss will prove to be too much in the end. I expect the Rebels to break away late in the third quarter and score a touchdown that makes this one look worse than it actually was.
Bo Wallace and Laquon Treadwell will both have big games for Ole Miss. Robert Nkemdiche will make one or two “WOW” plays and establish himself as the force to be reckoned with that many think he will be. Cody Prewitt will grab an inerception and force a fumble. Coach Freeze will let the world know the Rebels are ready for a big year.
The game will end, whether it should or not, with chants of ‘SEC. SEC. SEC” throughout the stadium.
Ole Miss 34 – Boise State 17
Warner Russell covers Ole Miss Football for MemphiSport. Read his non-sports stuff at thewiseguise.com. Follow him on Twitter @uncle_warny.