Well, the day is finally upon us. After years of waiting and hoping and begging and disappointing, Ole Miss welcomes ESPN’s College Gameday to The Grove. The national spotlight is shining on Mississippi brighter than ever before. The world for the Rebel faithful turns further upside down with each passing hour. Rumors are flying around about guest pickers (Morgan Freeman), National Anthem singers (Katy Perry), and the number of people that will be tailgating (150,000). The University of Alabama is coming to town for the biggest game in Oxford history. Can you feel the excitement? It’s hard to avoid, even in Memphis.
Since the Tide play the biggest game in college football history seemingly every year, it’s not surprising that the whole state of Alabama isn’t flipping out. Alabama deals with weekends like this all the time, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t coming to Oxford locked in on beating Ole Miss.
The Tide are favored by a handful of points, four and a half according to most, but the Rebels are hungry. Ole Miss wants to make a statement to their fans, to the SEC, and to the world. And with the SEC West as talented and deep as it is this year, this game could go a long way in determining who represents the West in the SEC Championship and likely in the new College Football Playoff.
While The Grove will be rocking from Friday morning until midnight on Saturday, the real excitement of the day will come between 2:30 and 6:30. You know, when the teams are actually playing football?
So, as far as football goes, the three most interesting matchups of the day are as follows:
1) Alabama secondary versus Ole Miss receivers.
Ole Miss has a group of receivers as talented as any other team in the country. Just having Laquon Treadwell and Evan Engram puts the Rebs in the upper echelon of receiving. Adding Cody Core and Quincy Adeboyejo makes it almost unfair for opposing defenses, provided good Bo Wallace shows up. Bama isn’t just another ordinary defense though. They are big and strong, but their secondary is young and has been exploited this year by good receivers and the hurry up offense, both of which Ole Miss has. So, will defensive backs Tony Brown, Landon Collins, and Cyrus Jones be able to shut down Ole Miss’ passing game? If they can it could determine who comes out on top.
2) Ole Miss running game and offensive line versus Alabama defensive line.
So far this year, the two biggest question marks for Ole Miss have been the youth and inexperience of their offensive line and the lack of a primary tailback. The Rebels have struggled in the ground game, failing to find a running rhythm, often using some combination of four running backs. Some of this can be attributed to a lack of blocking from the O-line, but against middling opponents, there should have been some games where the Rebel backs broke out. The Alabama defensive front is big and fast and seasoned. They will be looking to shut down the run and get to QB Bo Wallace, whom the Rebels will have to rely on to score points. If Ole Miss can’t get some semblance of a ground game going, and if the O-line struggles, it could be a very long night for Wallace and the Rebels.
3) Alabama QB Blake Sims versus Ole Miss fans.
This may sound silly, but looking back on Sims’ career, he has never taken a meaningful snap in a volatile SEC environment. The perennial backup finally got his chance to be a starter, but so far this season he has not seen what a true SEC road game looks like with him under center. The Ole Miss fans are fired way up for this game. It is the biggest football weekend in Oxford history. Will Vaught-Hemingway Stadium be hostile and loud enough to throw Sims off his game? He’s played well so far this season, better than many thought he could. But this will be a whole different ballgame. It should be interesting to see how he handles what should be a raucous (pronounced drunk) crowd in Oxford.
Honestly, I see this game going one of two ways. Either Alabama wins by two or more touchdowns or Ole Miss pulls off a squeaker of an upset. Neither team has been truly tested this year. But both teams have so much to play for. There’s no doubt that it should be a fantastic game and a fantastic day for Ole Miss to showcase their great university.
As far as my pick goes, it’s tough to go against Nick Saban, and in all likelihood, Alabama is the better, more talented team. But if there were ever a season and scenario for Ole Miss to come out on top, it’s this year. With Gameday and CBS in Oxford, with The Grove hopping, with the heavy smell of fall and bourbon in the air, this will be Ole Miss’ moment. Mark it down. Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss are going to win this one, and the cheers of Oxford will be heard all over Mississippi.
Ole Miss 21 – Alabama 17