Ole Miss

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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MSL Exclusive: ‘Laramie Project’ actor calls for Ole Miss to wear gay pride patches on their uniforms

Photo by Justin Ford

Photo by Justin Ford

Openly gay Ole Miss actor Garrison Gibbons joined Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter on MSL to talk about being on stage during the controversial performance of “The Laramie Project.”

During the interview, Gibbons expressed he doesn’t want any players suspended, and will be pushing for the football team to wear gay pride patches on their uniforms for the rest of the season.

Click here for more MSL interviews.

MemphiSport Live

Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter host MemphiSport Live (MSL) on Sports 56 & 87.7 FM every Saturday from 11:00 am – 1:00 pm. MSL was voted 3rd Best Sports Radio Show in the 2010, 2011 & 2012 Memphis Flyer Best of Memphis poll.

Follow the MSL hosts on Twitter @cerrito @Marcus_Hunter7

Ole Miss vs. Auburn: A tale of two teams on the rise

(Photo by Justin Ford)

(Photo by Justin Ford)

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

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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Could the Ole Miss-Alabama game be this year’s version of last year’s Texas A&M-Alabama game?

(Photo by Justin Ford)

(Photo by Justin Ford)

Ole Miss has started their season with a bang. A big bang by Rebel standards.

Thanks to a Thursday night thriller against Vanderbilt and Week 3’s trouncing of Texas in Austin,  the Ole Miss faithful’s sights are set on big things this season. Many folks predicted Ole Miss would be 1-2 at this point, but starting the season 3-0 puts Ole Miss in serious consideration for a nine or 10 win season and an upper tier bowl appearance.

Unfortunately, quite a gauntlet of games stands between the Rebels and their cupcake end of the season (Idaho, Arkansas, Troy, Mizzou, and @ Miss State). Away games against Alabama and Auburn followed by two home games against Texas A&M and LSU are what Rebel fans have to look forward to over the next four weeks. Not an ideal month’s worth of Saturdays. If Ole Miss goes 1-3 in that stretch, 9-3 is still very much in reach. Should the Rebels catch a lucky break or two and win two or more of those brutal four, then honestly, the sky is the limit. New Years in New Orleans anyone?*

Up first in the murderer’s row for Ole Miss is defending National Champion Alabama. Nick Saban and the Tide have one goal in mind this season and that is to win another title. The BCS Championship would be Alabama’s third in a row and fourth in five years. Needless to say, they are a pretty good football team, BUT they are not a perfect football team. Their record in each of the past two seasons, title winning seasons mind you, has been 12-1 and 13-1, respectively. They won the BCS Championship both of these seasons despite having suffered a regular season loss. In 2011, they lost to a formidable LSU team that they later beat in the championship game, and in 2012 Alabama lost to a young, hungry Johnny Manziel and his Texas A&M squad. The Texas A&M loss in 2012 took everybody off guard. It was the surprise of the season, and afterward Texas A&M became the talk of the college football world.

So my question this week is this:

Could Ole Miss do what Texas A&M did last year and shock the world by beating Alabama on their home field? Could Ole Miss be the surprise team in 2013 like A&M was in 2012? Some thoughts…

1)      Ole Miss is good offensively. They are working well with Hugh Freeze’s up-tempo offense and are certainly putting up points. But Bo Wallace is not Johnny “Football” Manziel. Not by a long shot. Yes, Bo can break off a run for 40+ yards, but his scrambling skill is iffy, and his speed is sluggish at best. Alabama had no idea what to do with Manziel. They will know exactly what to do with Wallace. Nick Saban will make sure of that. Ole Miss can score points, but it will be hard against Alabama. Unless Donte Moncrief, Laquon Treadwell, or Jeff Scott have a Heismanesque breakout game, Ole Miss’ offense will be outmatched by Alabama’s defense.

2)      Ole Miss is also pretty good defensively. They didn’t have an answer for Jordan Matthews in the Vanderbilt game, but he’s an All-American caliber receiver. Alabama, usually known as being a great defensive team, has had quite a season offensively though. They put up a very un-Alabama point total of 49 against Texas A&M last week and with experienced A.J. McCarron leading the way for the Crimson Tide, it will be interesting to see how Ole Miss can keep the Alabama offense off the field. Robert Nkemdiche has had flashes of brilliance, but has yet to have a breakout performance to solidify him as a superstar. Could this be the game we see that? Will the Ole Miss Landshark defense be able to stop a very potent Alabama offense better than A&M could last week? I’m extremely excited to see how this part of the game unfolds. I think Ole Miss will surprise some people and handle Alabama’s offense effectively.

3)      Alabama fans were worried after they beat lowly Colorado St. this past weekend by a measly 25 points. Some folks said the Tide looked complacent, nonchalant even. Were Bama players looking ahead to Ole Miss? Do they think they’ve already locked up the National Championship now that they’ve beaten Texas A&M? After Ole Miss, the only true challenge for Alabama is an early November matchup against LSU. If Alabama is already looking to Pasadena, then there’s no reason to believe they couldn’t drop a game along the way. Ole Miss could be Alabama’s slip-up game just as easily as the LSU game could be. The games Alabama lost the past two seasons had a chance to end their hopes of a championship, but the cards fell exactly how they needed them to to get the Tide to the championship game. If they don’t take their schedule seriously and lose a game along the way, there’s no guarantee they will make the title game like they did with one loss in the past. In short, Alabama better pay attention this weekend.

4)      History favors Alabama. They lead the all time series against Ole Miss 46-9-2 (not including forfeited games) and have only lost to Ole Miss once in Tuscaloosa. Maybe the laws of statistics are going to favor Ole Miss this year. Maybe the Rebels are due for a win. It won’t be an easy place to play as Alabama fans are ready for more championships and Bryant-Denny Stadium will be as raucous as ever on Saturday.

Saturday’s game will be a great one. Two very good teams are ready to play 60 minutes of hard-nosed football. The Rebels have had an off week to prepare and get players healthy, and their fans have had an extra week to get mentally prepared as well. There’s no question in my mind that Ole Miss could win this game, but Alabama is certainly going to give the Rebels all they can handle.

So will the Rebels win? Can they sneak up on Alabama like Johnny Football and Texas A&M did last year? My head tells me no, overwhelmingly so, but my heart says the Rebels have a chance. Maybe this game will be the start of something truly magical for Ole Miss.

Prediction: A low scoring, defensive dominated affair ends with Alabama beating Ole Miss 17-10.

*This is not a prediction that Ole Miss will make the Sugar Bowl.

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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