Ole Miss

Preview: Ole Miss vs. Vanderbilt

Let me begin by saying that my prediction of Ole Miss vs. Boise St. was pretty much spot on. Ugly first half, Ole Miss pulls away late, scores a touchdown to make it look worse than it was, 34-17 final score. Everything I said would happen did, and I was only one point off on the Rebel score and four points off on the Boise St. one. So I guess you can pretty much take the following preview to the bank.

Photo by Chris Evans

Photo by Chris Evans

The Ole Miss/Vandy rivalry is one that doesn’t get much press, and outside of a thriller to open the season last year and an ultra-close late season matchup two years ago, hasn’t produced a ton of worthwhile games. But it is an interesting rivalry of late as Vandy has largely had Ole Miss’ number in recent years. Ole Miss fans aren’t exactly thrilled that what was once a very lopsided series has become extremely competitive.

Former Vanderbilt coach James Franklin spent several years doing what many thought could not be done. He turned the Commodores into a competitor, a team that could break the top-25 and get to decent bowl games. He put the laughingstock of the SEC on the map, but many knew that it wouldn’t last forever. The inevitable happened this past offseason and Franklin took off, along with his recruits, to rebuild the Penn State program, leaving a mess behind in Nashville.

Franklin’s replacement, former Stanford assistant coach Derek Mason, has potential and the capability to win, but it’s not likely to happen this season. After opening the year with an embarrassing home loss to a Temple team that went 2-10 last year, many Vanderbilt faithful are afraid they are looking down the barrel of a disastrous season. Their playmakers from last season are gone. The quarterback position is up in the air. Leadership on the field is lacking. Not an ideal combination for the Commodores.

Ole Miss is headed to Nashville on the heels of a decent showing against a middling, by their standards, Boise St. team. While the Rebels won big, there was nothing pretty about the first half, and Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace looked like the same old Bo everybody thought would finally turn the corner this year. The Rebels might not have won as convincingly as they or Coach Freeze hoped, but it was still a good win, pretty much the opposite of the way Vanderbilt started the season.

The Rebels are picked to win big in this one. Ole Miss hasn’t beaten Vanderbilt by more than 16 since 1998, but is still favored by 20 points. That says a lot right there. Ole Miss has the talent on both sides of the ball, the experience on the field and on the sideline, and has a lot more swagger heading into the game. On top of all that, the game is being held at LP Field instead of Vanderbilt Stadium. This will allow Ole Miss fans to buy more tickets than usual, and in a very historically Rebel-friendly Nashville, means Ole Miss will have close to home field advantage. All signs point to an easy Rebel win.

Vanderbilt will find a way to stay competitive, but much like last week, Ole Miss will pull away in the end. I expect to see Evan Engram get his groove back and one of the Ole Miss running backs to get the ground game going, as it was largely absent last week. Bo Wallace should rebound from his iffy game one performance and find his plethora of talented targets often. On the defensive side, the Rebs will welcome back LB Denzel Nkemdiche from a one game suspension, LB Serderius Bryant from his early targeting ejection against the Broncos, and DT Isaac Gross from an injury that kept him out of the first game. These three will be welcomed sights for Ole Miss fans who want to see their highly touted defense at full strength. Ole Miss starts its SEC slate 1-0.

Ole Miss 38 – Vanderbilt 20

Warner Russell covers Ole Miss Football for MemphiSport. Read his non-sports stuff over on The Wise Guise. Follow him on Twitter @uncle_warny.

Preview: Boise State vs. Ole Miss

Texas A&M v MississippiOle 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.

 

2014 Ole Miss Football Preview

(Photo by Justin Ford)

(Photo by Justin Ford)

College football is finally upon us. After months of waiting, recruiting, media days, and crazy speculation, the opening kick is just days away. And the Ole Miss Football Rebels are ready to get after it.

With another nationally televised Thursday night game lined up as the season-opener, excitement from the team and the fans is high. And coming off the heels of a lackluster end to the 2013 season, Rebel Nation is hoping to start what could be a big season off with a bang.

Personally, I think this will be a breakout year for Coach Hugh Freeze and his Rebels.

So to get you prepared for all things Ole Miss Football, here are some general thoughts, a brief game-by-game breakdown, and the ever-important (never remotely correct) season prediction.

Super Sophs:

Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell, Laremy Tunsil, and the rest of the incredible 2013 recruiting class got their feet wet last year. Treadwell was SEC Freshman of the Year and led the team in receptions (as defenses focused on now Indianapolis Colt Donte Moncrief). Tunsil had a great season on the O-line and has many people thinking that he could be the best LT in the SEC. Expectations are high for these two. But Nkemdiche is still the one on whom Rebel faithful are hanging their hope. After an up-and-down freshman campaign that saw some behavior issues on the field, some detrimental hero playing, and a modest set of stats, Nkemdiche is poised to break out. He’s measured at 6’5” and weighs in at 290 lbs. And he has a six-pack. He’s also pretty fast. Needless to say, he’s a genetic freak. In practices, the offensive line (albeit a thin one) has had a nearly impossible time containing him. Look for him to get to opposing QBs early and often. Mix these three playmakers in with the rest of the sophomore class, and you have a group of youngsters that will make their presence known in every game.

Mr. Freeze:

Coach Hugh Freeze has the Rebels on a serious upward trajectory. With an unexpected bowl win in his first season, landing the aforementioned Super Sophs, and some big victories last season capped off by another bowl win, Freeze has people down in Oxford believing. He also has a pretty good jumpstart on the Class of 2016 recruits and just flipped a big prospect from Nick Saban’s grasp. Obviously it’s early for those kids, however it still says a lot about Freeze’s ability to recruit if he can flip kids from Alabama. But despite being a recruiting mastermind and having two good seasons, fans are ready for a great season with more than one or two big wins. Rebel fans want to compete for the SEC and a lot of them think Freeze is the guy that can lead the team to Atlanta.

No Place Like Home:

This year’s schedule sets Ole Miss up for some big success. A lackluster non-conference slate should give the Rebels four relatively easy wins, and drawing Alabama and Auburn at home along with a down Tennessee team and a Mississippi State team Ole Miss badly wants revenge against makes many believe Oxford could provide some fireworks on Saturday this fall. If Ole Miss could get one or both of the games against foes from Alabama, a 10-win season is absolutely on the table. The two tough road tests are against a Johnny Football-less Texas A&M and a typically strong LSU team. The past few seasons have had some rough away games, so Ole Miss will be expected to take advantage of this friendly schedule.

Dr. Bo Knows:

Rebel QB Bo Wallace is a senior. He says he’s as healthy as he’s ever been. Coaches testify that his arm strength is back. He’s got the potential to break every Ole Miss QB record this season. So will his arm carry the Rebels to glory? Can he limit the interceptions and fumbles that have haunted him in the past? It’s crazy to think this, but Ole Miss is more stable at QB than it has been in over 10 years, so if Wallace stays healthy and controls his passes, who knows how far Ole Miss can go?

Misc.:

Transfers Damor’ea Stringfellow (WR) and Christian Morris (OL), both highly touted recruits out of high school, are awaiting decisions from the NCAA regarding their eligibility. If they end up getting to play this year, they will both be expected to contribute immediately.

The offensive line is thin. Dangerously thin. Laremy Tunsil can only do so much. This will be the weakest group for the Rebels this season. Look for freshmen and walk-ons to see plenty of time on the O-line, something Ole Miss fan never want to hear given the talent of opposing defensive lines in the SEC.

The injury bug bit Ole Miss hard last year leading up to the fall and in the first few games. And in 2014 cornerbacks Tee Shepard and Carlos Davis (also a punt return specialist) have been ruled out for the year. While the secondary is deep, both of those losses sting a good bit. Rebel faithful are all praying that these are the only big injuries the team will have to deal with this season.

Non-Conference Breakdown:

A few years ago, opening the season against Boise State would have been a death wish for Ole Miss. The Broncos made a name for themselves by dominating teams their own size and upsetting all sorts of giants around the world of college football. But with Chris Petersen coaching the University of Washington now, there’s a pretty consensus thought that Boise will not be shocking the world anytime this year. Needless to say Ole Miss is favored by double digits in their matchup, and I doubt the Broncos will travel well enough to have their fans make a difference in the always SEC friendly Georgia Dome (August 28th). The Rebs should win this one, but I expect it to be a competitive game that will be a fun way to kickoff the football season on a Thursday night.

As for the rest of the non-conference schedule, I don’t expect any scares for Ole Miss and its fans. They will be vastly superior to Louisiana-Lafayette (September 13th), Memphis (September 27th), and Presbyterian (November 8th). The Memphis game should be a fun one as it will rekindle a regional rivalry that makes for a good day in Oxford, and it will also serve as a game to honor former Rebel Chucky Mullins. If you’re unfamiliar with him, look for the SEC Network special It’s Time that will feature his story.

SEC Breakdown:

Vanderbilt – September 6th:

James Franklin is gone. Jordan Matthews is gone. New Coach Derek Mason has agreed to move the game to LP Field, home of the Tennessee Titans, which will allow more Ole Miss fans to attend. Experience on the field and on the sidelines will win the game for the Rebels. Essentially being an Ole Miss home game in Nashville turns the win into a convincing one.

Alabama – October 4th:

If both teams enter this game undefeated, which I predict they will, this will be the biggest Ole Miss home game in history. It will likely host ESPN College GameDay (powered by the Home Depot), and it will be a prime opportunity for the Rebels to make a jump into the upper tier of the SEC West. Alabama will be breaking in a new QB playing in his first true road test. The Tide have had Ole Miss’ number for what feels like decades, but if Ole Miss is going to pull the upset, this is the year. A lot of media folks are picking the Rebels. So am I.

Texas A&M – October 11th:

Ole Miss will ride into College Station on a serious high after upsetting Alabama. Texas A&M will be without Johnny Manziel who orchestrated not one but two game winning drive against the Rebels over the past two seasons. But talent-wise, the Aggies will still be in good shape. And Kevin Sumlin is quickly becoming one of the best coaches in the country. This is a tossup in many people’s books. But I think Ole Miss will be a little too confident and drop this one in a heartbreaker at Kyle Field.

Tennessee – October 18th:

Coach Butch Jones has things heading in the right direction up in Knoxville, but the pieces are far from all fitting together in 2014. The Vols will come to Oxford and an angry Ole Miss team will take care of them with relative ease. Look for a younger running back to breakout in this game. And expect the Rebel defense to absolutely overwhelm Tennessee.

LSU – October 25th:

I fully expect that this will be a night game with a whole lot of hype down on the bayou. Tiger Stadium will be rocking. Two nationally ranked teams will be playing with their eyes on the SEC West crown. The world will be picking LSU, but in the wise words of Mr. Lee Corso, “Not so fast.” I think Hugh Freeze pulls some tricks out of his sleeve for this one, and the Rebels prevail.

Auburn – November 1st:

Last season’s matchup between Ole Miss and Auburn was an interesting and ugly one. Nobody expected Auburn to do what they did in 2013, and not many people predicted them to even beat Ole Miss. But nobody can deny that Gus Malzahn has things rolling down on the Plains. I expect that the Tigers will come to Oxford and take care of business. This will be the first loss the Rebels suffer at home in 2014.

Arkansas – November 22nd:

Bret Bielema had a rough first season in Fayetteville. His smash mouth style of football needs some size, and he just couldn’t make anything happen with his youngsters and Petrino’s leftover speedsters. I still think he’s a couple of years away from making any kind of noise. Rebels win easy.

Mississippi State – November 29th:

Ole Miss has one thing in mind for the Egg Bowl. Revenge. Last season ended on such a sour note for Bo Wallace and the Rebels. Fumbling the game away on the goal line. Having Dan Mullen get another whole year to gloat. Hearing all the preseason hype of a largely unproven Dak Prescott. These factors will fire Ole Miss up, and playing this one in Oxford certainly doesn’t hurt. I expect revenge to be had. Ole Miss shuts State down.

As I see it, the Rebels finish 10-2, second in the SEC West behind Alabama. Ole Miss has the breakout year they need, but fall short of Atlanta and the new College Football Playoff. Expect to see the Rebels in one of the four non-semifinal New Year’s Bowls (Orange, Cotton, Peach or Fiesta) depending on how things shake out with the new system. *

So there you have it, a season’s worth of insight and predictions. Take them with a grain of salt because we all know it only takes one game to change everything.

I’m excited to be back covering Ole Miss for MemphiSport.com. Check back in for full previews of the Boise State and Memphis match-ups as well as all of the SEC games.

*Disclaimer: The new playoff system is still confusing. But this is how I understand it: top four teams play in Sugar and Rose Bowls. Winners meet in Dallas for National Championship. Other conference obligations fill out Orange, Cotton, Peach, and Fiesta. Highest ranked available teams fill leftover slots in those four bowls. If I’m wrong about this, please feel free to correct me.

Warner Russell covers Ole Miss Football for MemphiSport. Read his non-sports stuff here. Follow him on Twitter @uncle_warny.

Egg Bowl 2013: Which Mississippi team will be giving thanks this year?

(Photo by Terry Davis)

(Photo by Terry Davis)

This year’s Egg Bowl between Ole Miss and Mississippi State, played for the first time in several years on Thanksgiving night, should be an entertaining game. No matter how good one team is or how bad the other needs a win, this rivalry always produces some crazy moments and this year’s game has some high stakes for both teams.

Mississippi State:

Mississippi State comes in to the game needing a win in the worst way. They won all the games throughout the season that they were “supposed to win,” but unfortunately for the Bulldogs, that puts them on the outside of the bowl landscape right now. If they were to pull an upset over the Rebels, they would get that much needed sixth win and a likely berth in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

Mississippi State has had a rough year at the quarterback position and as of right now plans to start freshman Damian Williams against Ole Miss. Starter Dak Prescott is out for the season, unless the Bulldogs make it to a bowl game, and backup Tyler Russell is listed as day-to-day, so he may see some action Thanksgiving night. But for Williams to be making his first start in such a big game for his team should make for a compelling storyline. First he is playing in a game that State fans look forward to, no matter what the implications are, and second the implications are enormous this year with that bowl berth on the line. Can the freshman handle the pressure? It helps that he is playing this game in Starkville, but I imagine he is feeling pretty nervous.

Another interesting story coming into this game is the regression of Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen. When Mullen got to Starkville in 2009, he immediately added some energy to a program that desperately needed some. Mullen had a mediocre first season but came out of nowhere to upset Ole Miss in that year’s Egg Bowl preventing the Rebels from gaining a berth in the prestigious Capital One Bowl. Despite not getting his team to their own bowl that year, beating Ole Miss instantly gave him some notoriety and he spent the next few years continuing to take it to the Rebs. But over the past two seasons, it has become clear that Mullen might not be capable of leading State much further than a middle tier bowl game in good years, and not getting them to a bowl at all in the bad years. If Mullen, after letting the Bulldogs get humiliated in last year’s Egg Bowl, can’t pull out a win over Hugh Freeze and company this year and get his team to a bowl, you might start hearing the words “hot seat” associated with his name.

Ole Miss:

The Rebels on the other hand come into the Egg Bowl looking to take the next step towards becoming a serious SEC contender. Last year’s surprising 7-6 season capped off by a BBVA Compass Bowl win was pretty great for Rebel fans, but most of those fans expected this year to be one when a jump was made into the upper section of the SEC West. If the Rebels were to lose the Egg Bowl, they would finish the year 7-5, a fine record, but a little disappointing given that many thought nine wins was a realistic goal.

Ole Miss, after a disappointing showing against Missouri are hoping to make a statement this week to the various bowl committees watching around the country. Bo Wallace should be back to 100% after struggling with a case of the flu last week. The Rebs will be healthy and ready to go into Starkville to get a win.

Hugh Freeze has his team bought in to his philosophy, and winning a second Egg Bowl in as many years will go a long way in the offseason in state recruiting battle. It would also help to get to eight regular season wins with a chance to get a ninth win in the bowl game. But are the Rebels going to feel they have enough to play for? Will Mississippi State’s must-win situation give them the upper hand this year? Last year, Ole Miss needed the Egg Bowl win to become bowl eligible and they got it. Will the same happen for Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs this year?

On paper, Ole Miss holds pretty much every advantage. More talent, better coaching, etc., but Mississippi State has home field advantage and a little more to play for. It could be a year for an upset, and crazier things have happened in this rivalry than a potential Mississippi State win this week. But honestly I think Hugh Freeze and the Rebels desperately want to keep the Bulldogs out of a bowl and give Dan Mullen his first losing season since 2009, so that’s why I’m going with Ole Miss to win on Thanksgiving night.

Prediction: Ole Miss – 31  Mississippi State – 27

Warner Russell is a regular contributor for MemphiSport and The Wise Guise. Read his non-sports stuff here. Follow him @uncle_warny.

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Ole Miss vs. Missouri: An evenly matched showdown in Mississippi

Photo by Terry Davis

Photo by Terry Davis

This Saturday’s matchup between No. 8 Missouri and No. 24 Ole Miss has all the makings of what could be a game for the ages. It’s being televised on ESPN, played under the lights, and has serious postseason implications for both teams. The stage is set.

MISSOURI:

Missouri has been the absolute surprise of this college football season. At 9-1 with victories over Vanderbilt, Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee and their lone loss coming to South Carolina in overtime, the Tigers have gone from being everyone’s pick to be in the bottom tier of the SEC East to controlling their own destiny as to whether they make it to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game or not.

What have the Tigers done so well this year that has put them into contention for an SEC East crown?

First off their defensive has been dominant. Their 35 sacks thus far is good for second in the nation, the offenses’ number of yards lost on those sacks is 208, putting them at 12th in the FBS, and their 17 interceptions rank seventh nationally. In short, these guys love to get to the quarterback and the constant pressure they are putting on whoever they might be trying to sack has forced some bad throws that have been picked off. The 20 points a game they are allowing is 20th overall, so yes, their defense has been top notch.

The quarterback play has also been surprising. After losing starter James Franklin for a few games, in the midst of what was a great season for him, backup and freshman Maty Mauk came in and showed that despite being young, he is fully capable of leading a high performing SEC offense. Franklin will be back this week, but Mauk will be ready to go if his number gets called.

Finally, Gary Pinkel continues to prove himself as a more than adequate head football coach. Many people undervalued Missouri when they came to the SEC, but in their final nine seasons in the Big XII, Pinkel led Mizzou to eight winning seasons. Naturally coming into the SEC last year was a tough move and there was plenty of pressure to perform immediately, but after a down first year, Mizzou has come out and played like they really do belong in the powerhouse SEC.

So why, despite all of this success Missouri has had, am I predicting that Ole Miss will upset them on Saturday in Oxford? Because honestly I think Ole Miss is a better team. Yes, it is undeniable that Missouri is good. A team that is 9-1 in the SEC is obviously a good team. But their marquee wins this season have come against teams that are underperforming by normal standards or are banged up with injuries. Florida has had a horrendous season, one so bad that head coach Will Muschamp is on the hot seat. They will likely not make a bowl, a first for them since 1986 (NCAA sanctions kept them out in 1990). Georgia, a team many predicted might be able to compete for a BCS Title has been ravaged by injuries and have since dropped completely out of the top 25. So really the only game Missouri has played against a quality top 25 opponent was their matchup against South Carolina, and when the pressure was on and BCS Title hopes very much alive for the Tigers, they crumbled.

OLE MISS:

Ole Miss on the other hand comes in at 7-3, a bowl bid already secured, and a second season for Coach Hugh Freeze that is already more successful than last year’s shocking (pleasantly so) 7-6 campaign. The Rebels’ three losses have come against no. 12 Texas A&M (8-2), no. 6 Auburn (10-1), and no. 1 Alabama (10-0). Save for the Alabama game, Ole Miss could have easily won those matchups if they had caught one or two lucky breaks. If Missouri plays the identical schedule Ole Miss has, they might be 9-1, who knows, but personally I think they would be at 7-3 or maybe worse.

Hugh Freeze has the Rebels on a roll right now. After the three straight losses in the middle of the season, Ole Miss has shown some serious moxie by coming out and reeling off four straight wins when they could have simply hung their heads and struggled to end the year. The Rebs have really been clicking on offense and defense over the past few games. Bo Wallace is playing some of the best football Ole Miss has seen from a QB in a long time, the Nkemdiche brothers are both healthy and making big plays, and the highly regarded  receiving corps is living up to its potential. On top of this, backup and jumbo package QB Barry Brunetti is exposing defenses with both his legs and his arm and the deep, deep backfield is capable of putting out four tailbacks that can get Freeze the yards he needs when he needs them.

Ole Miss is a Top 15 team in my opinion, but in reality Missouri is as well. I think this will be a tremendous matchup on Saturday. Missouri is playing for Atlanta. Ole Miss is playing for an upper tier bowl. Both teams want to win in the worst way, but the home field advantage and the talent level of Ole Miss gives them the advantage this week.

Prediction: Ole Miss – 31 Missouri – 24

Warner Russell 
is a regular contributor for MemphiSport and The Wise Guise. Read his non-sports stuff here. Follow him @uncle_warny.

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Rebels’ Road to the (Unknown) Bowl

Photo by JD Meredith

Photo by JD Meredith

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.

Warner Russell is a regular contributor for MemphiSport and The Wise Guise. Read his non-sports stuff here. Follow him @uncle_warny.

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Ole Miss vs. Arkansas: Rebels look to become bowl eligible

The Ole Miss Rebels opened as a 17.5 point favorite for this week’s matchup against the Arkansas Razorbacks, which is quite a number for an SEC contest, and one that Ole Miss probably hasn’t seen over an SEC foe in many years. Don’t expect the game to be a blowout though.

Arkansas:

Arkansas logoArkansas, under new coach Bret Bielema, is having a rough year. At 3-6 and on a six game losing streak, the Razorbacks are playing for pride at this point. Their only hope of getting to a bowl would be to win the last three games of the season, at Ole Miss, vs. Mississippi State, and at LSU. I just don’t see that happening for the first year coach and his squad. But sometimes a team playing for pride, as Arkansas is, is one that can be very dangerous. At this point, the Hogs have little to lose. Nobody expects them to win the next three or even one of the next three, so these players have no reason not to leave everything on the field and play with some reckless abandon.

Next year, once Bielema gets another class of his own players on campus, has potential to be much better for Arkansas. His rough, bruise it up the middle style will be much more effective with the right players. Bobby Petrino’s leftovers are not the right players, so it’s understandable this year has been less than stellar for the Razorbacks. Alex Collins has the makings of a special player, so look out for him in 2014.

Ole Miss:

ole misslogoOle Miss is riding some momentum from their shocking last second win over LSU and their thrashing of Idaho. After a week off, which came at just the right time, Ole Miss appears to have its players healthy and will be trotting some key guys back on the field after dealing with injury problems the past few games. Look for Robert Nkemdiche (hamstring) to come back ready to play and show why he was the number one recruit in the nation. Also returning will be Serederius Bryant (concussion) and big time playmaker Jeff Scott (thigh).

This is a big game for the Rebels. A win gets them bowl eligible for the second year in a row and goes a long way for a late season surge to finish the year strong. A big game at home against a surprisingly successful Mizzou looms for the Rebels in two weeks and boy would Hugh Freeze like to go into that contest at 7-3. Beat Arkansas this week, and that’s sure to happen. (Ole Miss has Troy at home next week.)

Like I mentioned before, I don’t think that Ole Miss should be favored by 17.5. Arkansas is struggling, but they are still an SEC opponent, and anything can happen on any given Saturday in the SEC. However, I do think that Ole Miss is just too talented to lose this game. I expect running back Jeff Scott and his now broken-in backups Jaylen Walton, I’Tavius Mathers, and Mark Dodson to all have some success against the Razorback defense. Ole Miss will run the ball with ease opening up some good opportunities for Bo Wallace to use play-action calls for downfield passing.

Ole Miss is going to win the game; the final score will be determined by how locked in and focused their defense can be while seeing the offense win the game for them. If the defense decides it wants to limit Arkansas even though the Rebel offense is making it an easy win, then you very well could see a blowout. If the defense is lax this weekend, the game could be closer than Ole Miss fans think it will be.

Prediction: Ole Miss 42 – Arkansas 28

Warner Russell is a regular contributor for MemphiSport and The Wise Guise. Read his non-sports stuff here. Follow him @uncle_warny.

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VIDEO: Ole Miss Linemen Can’t Find Coach Freeze

Coach Hugh Freeze was in need of a Gatorade shower after Ole Miss upset LSU on Saturday night in Oxford, but a pair of Rebel linemen couldn’t find him.

Watch:

Email: kevin@memphisport.com
Twitter: @cerrito

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Ole Miss vs. LSU: Can the ailing Rebels pull out a shocker?

Photo by Justin Ford

Photo by Justin Ford

The Magnolia Bowl, the annual matchup between Ole Miss and LSU, is always a great game. Usually, Ole Miss comes in as a big underdog, LSU as a ranked powerhouse, and people get a much closer game than they bargained for. The games typically come down to a final possession.

This year, I expect much of the same. While LSU has had quite a season behind senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger and sophomore running back Jeremy Hill, they still have quite a ways to go before things in the SEC West shake out. A looming matchup with Alabama will go a long way in determining how the National Championship picture forms at the end of the season. The Tigers’ thriller with Georgia was a game for the ages, and despite losing that contest, LSU has a lot of confidence that they could win the West.

Ole Miss is beaten, battered, and bruised. Their down-to-the-wire matchup with Texas A&M last week was an incredible game for both teams, but ultimately ended in heartbreak for the Rebs. You give Johhny Manziel the ball with three minutes left and only needing a field goal to win, and you might as well hand him a win on a silver platter. And that’s what Ole Miss did. They threw the game right to A&M and walked out of Vaught-Hemingway with a three game losing streak. What’s worse is that the Ole Miss defensive line is crumbling faster than you could imagine. C.J. Johnson is having season ending surgery, and Isaac Gross and Robert Nkemdiche are among a group of other linemen that are hurting and may or may not be able to go Saturday night.

Will the Rebel offense be able to put up some points against a mediocre (by LSU standards) Tiger defense? Bo Wallace looked a little bit better last week and Barry Brunetti had quite a few good series and a couple of TDs to show for it, but like the D-line, Brunetti is banged up as well.

Ultimately, I see this game being a typical LSU-Ole Miss matchup. Many people think that LSU will run away with it, but I think the Rebels know that they need this win in a bad, bad way. Win this, and they still could get to eight or nine wins. Lose and they might squeak out seven.

I think that Hill and the LSU run game will exploit and injured Rebel defensive line and run up and down the field, but call me crazy, I see the Ole Miss offense putting up enough points to pull out a shocker down in Oxford.

Prediction: Ole Miss 38 – LSU 35

Warner Russell 
is a regular contributor for MemphiSport and The Wise Guise. Read his non-sports stuff here. Follow him @uncle_warny.

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Ole Miss vs. Texas A&M: Can the Rebels stop Johnny Football?

Photo by Chris Evans

Photo by Chris Evans

Texas A&M will roll into Oxford, Miss this Saturday to face the Ole Miss Rebels at 7:30 PM CT (ESPN), and the Aggies are expected by many to take care of business at Vaught–Hemingway Stadium.

Texas A&M:

Texas A&M sits at 4-1 (1-1 SEC record) and is coming off of a bye week after defeating Arkansas on September 28. The Arkansas game wasn’t necessarily the slaughter many people believed it would be, but in the end the Aggies were just too much for the Razorbacks. The lone loss A&M has on the season is to Alabama in what is arguably the game of the year so far for all of college football. While Johnny Manziel is still the talk of the college football landscape with his wonderful play, questionable behavior, and downright stupid decisions, the player that is making the most impact for the Aggies, in my opinion, is Mike Evans. He is having some kind of season having already caught nearly 700 yards worth of passes and five touchdowns. He’s just so tall that it makes hard for any secondary to stop him. At 6’5’’ and 225 pounds, he makes easy work of anyone that tries to shut him down, especially when Manziel just lobs a pass his way. All he has to do is jump a little bit higher than the guy covering him, which with his size is easy, and he has a catch. Sure, Manziel deserves plenty of credit, but with a weapon like Evans, Manziel is having an easy time building another Heisman caliber year. I don’t see Evans’ season slowing down much either. After the Ole Miss game, Evans will have four games against non-ranked opponents before finishing the season with #10 LSU and #25 Missouri.  At the pace he’s going, Evans could easily get to 1,500 receiving yards and who knows, with a few big games could push 2,000. Evans, not Manziel, is the player Rebel fans should worry about. Shut down Evans, and in turn the Rebels could shut down the Aggies.

Ole Miss:

Ole Miss is coming off of a frustrating loss to Auburn. While many folks are happy with the Rebs being 3-2 at this point, most fans are ticked off they aren’t 4-1. Starting the season 3-0 was a shock, but the Rebels really needed to win at least one of the four games against Bama, Auburn, A&M, or LSU to make the season one for the ages. At this point, barring a major upset, it’s looking like the Rebels are going to go from 3-0 to 3-4 which is absolutely disheartening. For this week’s game, a lot of media are going to say that it’s imperative the Rebel defense shut down Manziel and Evans (which is true), but I’m going to tell you that the game rests on the Ole Miss offense right now. The offense just hasn’t clicked since the win in Austin, and nobody is really sure when or if it will get it back together. The read option isn’t seeing success like it did in the early weeks, Bo Wallace’s decision making has been spotty, and last week the highly touted Rebel receiving corps dropped entirely too many passes, many that would have given the team a first down. If Ole Miss could hold the high octane Texas A&M offense to 28 points then the defense has done its job. But if the offense can’t get it together and put some points on the board with consistency, then this game, and potentially the rest of the season will be tough for Ole Miss. They’ll get to their bowl game and still have a decent record, but after such a hot start, it would be a lie to say that Ole Miss fans would be pleased with seven wins this season.

Bottom line on this one: Texas A&M is better than they were last year. Ole Miss came so close to pulling out a victory against them then, but this year, I don’t think Ole Miss will be able to keep up. I had originally predicted this to be a Rebel win, but at the time I was confident Johnny Manziel would have been suspended for more than a half of a game.

Prediction: Texas A&M 41 – Ole Miss 21

Warner Russell is a regular contributor for MemphiSport and The Wise Guise. Read his non-sports stuff here. Follow him @uncle_warny.

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