MSL Podcast: First Show Of 2015

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HOUR 1:

(Segment 1) Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter talk about the SEC West’s bowl games and the big stories of the week during the Starting 5.
(Segment 2) It’s KeVinsanity when The Memphis Flyer’s  Kevin Lipe calls in for his weekly segment to talk everything Grizzlies including Gasol being an All-Star starter, Z-Bo’s backups and his articles about Q-Pon.

MemphiSport Live

HOUR 2:

(Segment 1) Good Morning Memphis anchor Ernie Freeman talks college football during Talking Sports With A Celebrity.
(Segment 2) Hang Up & Listen with the winner getting $30 to Midtown Massage, “You NEED them to KNEAD you!”

 

Click here for more MSL interviews.


MemphiSport Live

Kevin Cerrito hosts MemphiSport Live (MSL) with Marcus Hunter 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. 

MSL’s Playing Hurt Podcast: SEC Bowl Pick’em Edition

SEC map

Join MSL and HardBashin producer CJ Hurt and Sports 56 producer and WUMR Sports Desk host Drew Barrett as they take you on a sports odyssey full of twists, turns, and a good time during MSL‘s Playing Hurt Podcast.

MemphiSport Live

Preview: Ole Miss vs. Auburn

Photo by JD Meredith

Photo by JD Meredith

Well, it finally happened. Ole Miss lost a football game. And I got my prediction wrong.

Deep down, every Rebel fan knew the team was bound to suffer a loss. But I don’t think any of those fans thought it would be so heartbreaking. To force four turnovers. To hold LSU to a measly 10 points. To have a chance at a game tying field goal at the end of regulation. All of those things you might think would add up to a victory for the Rebs over the Tigers. But in the end Bo Wallace made a decision to win the game, was intercepted, and the dreams of a perfect season cam crashing down in Death Valley.

While the Rebels lost, they are still #4 in the first ever College Football Playoff Top 25, and in what in all reality will be an elimination game, Ole Miss will host the #3 team in those same rankings, Auburn, on Saturday. In the SEC West right now, it’s survive and advance. So who will survive this week?

Auburn is having a great season, despite their loss to Mississippi State. They are still very much alive in terms of the Playoff, but like I mentioned above, if they lose on Saturday they will essentially be eliminated, barring some unlikely craziness. Gus Malzahn has the Tigers on the right path, and with experienced quarterback Nick Marshall leading the up-tempo offense, the Tigers have no problem putting points on the boards. It’s their ability to stop opponents from putting points up that makes me think this matchup will be intriguing. Auburn’s defense, specifically their pass defense, is not very good. Their total defense currently ranks 47th in the country, behind teams like Boise St., Memphis, and Tennessee, all of which Ole Miss has faced and seen success against.

Ole Miss’ defense is still playing stingy. Despite having trouble stopping the run last week, they still only gave up 10 points and frustrated the quarterback anytime he had the ball. I think that Auburn will have much more success than LSU did, but they will not be able to score nearly as easily as they have so far this year.

So really this matchup comes down to two things for Ole Miss. Can they score points against a mediocre defense and can they stop points against a great offense?

The Rebels are banged up on both sides of the ball. Injuries to both Nkemdiches (with Denzel being out for the year), Cody Prewitt, and Laremy Tunsil will certainly affect how the game plays out. And even though he’s played well thus far this season, Bo Wallace is probably pretty banged up mentally. Throwing that game ending interception against LSU was a huge blow to his confidence. Rebel fans need to hope that he’s moved past it, because if he hasn’t, I wouldn’t expect him to bounce back against Auburn.

The game, one that will feature two Top 10 teams playing one another for the first time in Oxford history, is going to be a close one. Ole Miss can limit Auburn’s scoring. The Rebel crowd, with their team having so much left to play for, will be loud and rowdy helping the defense greatly. But I worry that the Rebs will have trouble scoring. If Ole Miss can’t score more than 20 points, I don’t think they can win. And if Bo Wallace is not on his game, they definitely can’t win.

I initially predicted that Ole Miss would lose this game. And honestly of all the games left, this would be the one to lose. But for the fairy tale season to continue, the Rebels have to look at this as a must win. I think Hugh Freeze will have Ole Miss ready to play, and the offense will give the defense just enough to work with to pull out a win. A close, heart-stopping win in which the defense stops a potential game-winning Auburn drive late, late, late in the fourth quarter.

Ole Miss 27 – Auburn 21

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: Ole Miss vs. Texas A&M

Photo by Chris Evans

Photo by Chris Evans

In my season preview for Ole Miss, I predicted that the Rebels would open the season 4-0, host College Gameday for its matchup with Alabama, beat the Crimson Tide in a close one, and then head to College Station and lose a heartbreaker against Texas A&M. So far, all of that has happened except the loss to Texas A&M.

Do I still think Ole Miss is going to lose to A&M? Some thoughts on the game before I answer that…

Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M have been all over the place this season. First, they marched into Columbia and absolutely destroyed preseason SEC East favorites South Carolina. At that point everyone looked at the Johnny Football-less Aggies and said, “These guys are for real.” Most media folks that predicted an A&M backslide thrust them to the top of the SEC pecking order after their showing against the Gamecocks. Looking back at that game, having seen how erratic South Carolina has been since, it’s hard to tell how good of a win that was for the Ags.

After running roughshod over hugely inferior opponents Lamar, Rice, and SMU, Texas A&M struggled mightily against a surprisingly strong Arkansas team, at home no less. Those who were ready to proclaim Kenny Hill and the Ags as the SEC West favorite took a few eggs out of the Aggie basket. Despite winning the game, you could see a few chinks in the A&M armor.

The Aggies then went to Starkville for a huge game against Mississippi State and got absolutely embarrassed. Their defense was exploited. Kenny Hill struggled in a big way. They simply had no answer for the Bulldogs.

The season that started out with a big bang (that now looks more like a pop) for A&M, in the span of the only two SEC games since the opener, has now become a big question mark. Where will it go from here?

Unless you’ve lived under a rock this week, you’re well aware that Ole Miss beat Alabama on Saturday. It was easily the biggest win of the Hugh Freeze era and arguably the biggest win for Ole Miss since the Eli days. In just one game the Rebels went from being, in the words of their newest, most famous fan Katy Perry, a dark horse to being a contender for the SEC West crown. The Rebels struggled through a tough first half but outscored the Tide 20-3 in a near perfect second half. The Rebel defense stole the show again, but Bo Wallace was the leader that every Rebel fan hoped he could be as he orchestrated three fantastic TD drives.

Having been at the Ole Miss/Bama game, I can say with certainty that there was no crazier moment in college football last week than when the referee stepped on to the field and uttered the words, “After further review, the ball was intercepted in the end zone,” referring to Senquez Golson’s game clinching interception. The entire stadium went ballistic. Grown men were sobbing. Students were throwing drinks in the air. Women in heels rushed the field. It was, as I predicted, Ole Miss’ moment. And the team, coaches, and fans basked in glory all through the night, next day, and will continue to do so until 8:00 on Saturday night.

When the Rebels take the field against Texas A&M this Saturday, the environment will be electric. Aggie fans still believe this team can win the West and the late kickoff will only increase their fervor (pronounced drunkenness). But what A&M team will show up? Yes they are mad coming off the loss against Mississippi State. Yes they will be fired up to potentially knock off a top-3 team. Yes they have the talent to beat Ole Miss.

But, despite picking the Ags before the season started, I think Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss are going to continue rolling and win this one for three reasons.

1) Texas A&M’s defense is mediocre.

The Aggie defense got lit up by Mississippi State. Dak Prescott went from Heisman hopeful to Heisman contender against  A&M. I have a feeling Bo Wallace will be able to exploit their secondary with his talented group of receivers. The Rebel passing game won the game against Alabama. I think it does it again this weekend.

2) Ole Miss’ defense is only getting stronger.

The Rebels have the best defense in the country. They have been unstoppable, only giving up three touchdowns all season. That is absurd. Mississippi State has a talented defense, but this will be a whole new challenge for Texas A&M. If Robert Nkemdiche and the defensive front can get to Kenny Hill and rattle him early, he’ll likely make bad decisions that lead to momentum shifting interceptions by the stout Rebel secondary.

3) The Rebel hangover from the Bama win is not a factor.

Initially I thought Ole Miss would come into the A&M game cocky and prone to a loss. But I honestly believe that they are locked in and ready. The team understands that it is on the cusp of something unprecedented in Oxford. They aren’t going to lose this game due to lack of focus. The crowd could play a part in how the game goes, but this team, with their resiliency and poise, is going to come out, score early, and take the crowd out of the game.

This time next week, Ole Miss will be 6-0 heading into their matchup with Tennessee. The media will have stopped saying it’s a good story for lowly Mississippi to beat Alabama. Instead they will have started believing that the Rebels are ready to make a run at the College Football Playoff.

Ole Miss 35 – Texas A&M 24

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: Memphis vs. Ole Miss

ole miss helmetComing off of a ho-hum 56-15 win over Louisiana-Lafayette two weeks ago and bye week last week, the Ole Miss Rebels will welcome the University of Memphis Tigers to Oxford this coming Saturday. This will be the first time these two teams have met since a 45-14 Ole Miss victory in 2009.

While being separated by only about 70 miles, this rivalry is one that has died off in recent years thanks to disagreements revolving around Memphis Basketball not wanting to play Ole Miss and Ole Miss Football not wanting to play Memphis. Personally, I see both sides’ points of view, but I do feel the Ole Miss/Memphis rivalry is a fun one for the region.

The fanbases don’t care much for one another (Read both teams’ message boards for proof.). The locations are close enough for good travel support from the visiting school. And the on-field product has been decent. With Memphis being in the American Athletic Conference now, and Ole Miss putting time, money, and effort into their typically mediocre basketball program, I think that a matchup between these two teams should happen every year in both sports. It just makes sense.

As for this weekend’s matchup, here are some of my thoughts followed by the ever meaningless prediction.

Memphis is a completely different team than it has been in years past. Larry Porter was just an awful hire as the team’s record in those years can attest to. There was absolutely nothing to get excited about if you were one of the dozens of people that gave any support to those Porter-led teams. But the Justin Fuente hire is proving to be a legitimate one that is paying off nicely for the Tigers.

In Fuente’s first two years, Memphis fans could see baby steps being taken in the right direction. I mean there were actually a couple of numbers in the “W” column, which was a vast improvement over Larry Porter.

This season the Tigers have put together their three most complete games since 2008. Big wins over Austin Peay (FCS) and MTSU have the program and all of its supporters fired up. But it was the close loss at then #11 UCLA that has given Tiger fans the most hope for the season. The team traveled across the country and stood toe-to-toe with former Heisman contender Brett Hundley, and were only a break or two away from pulling a major, major upset. The final score of 42-35 was a sweet sight to Memphians who expected a pounding from a legitimate Pac-12 opponent.

This past weekend, Memphis put more butts in the Liberty Bowl to watch the Tigers face MTSU than they had put in the stadium since the last time they played an SEC team at home. I mean for the Tigers to see 40,000+ at a football game, after instances of less than 3,000 showing up in recent years, is a big deal.

Sophomore QB Paxton Lynch leads the Tigers offensively along with a great set of tailbacks in Brandon Hayes and Doroland Dorceus. The running game is rushing for nearly 250 yards a game, good for 26th nationally. Aside from a strong running game, Memphis’ offense relies on some unique play calling to keep opponents guessing. Look for plenty of this on Saturday as a way to level the playing field. The defense is anchored by LB Tank Jakes, (Yes. His name is Tank.), and has done a decent job of keeping points off the board in the Tigers’ two wins.

While the Tigers are playing well by their standards, Hugh Freeze has the Rebels absolutely rolling right now. Since an ugly first half against Boise St., the Rebs have flat out decimated their opponents. Bo Wallace is among the nation’s most consistent QBs , connecting on 75% of his passes and limiting his turnovers after three interceptions in that Boise St. contest. And what many thought would be a great receiving corps anchored by Laquon Treadwell and Evan Engram, has been absolutely incredible. Treadwell and Engram along with Cody Core and Quincy Adeboyejo have all had 100+ yd receiving games.

And the highly touted Rebel defense has been straight up nasty. Ole Miss, in three games, has only given up two touchdowns. They are third in the nation allowing only 10 points a game. Robert Nkemdiche and the defensive line are in a groove. But the interceptions have been the bright spot for Ole Miss’ defense. The eight interceptions tie them for first in the nation, as do the two they’ve returned for touchdowns. With Tony Conner, Cody Prewitt, and Senquez Golson, the Rebels have three defensive studs with a nose for the ball.

Hopes are sky-high for the Rebels. And while Coach Freeze will tell you that Memphis is a game the team isn’t overlooking, I can promise you, players, fans, coaches, and administrators all have started at least daydreaming about the matchup Ole Miss has with Alabama next week. Should the Rebels beat Memphis, Oxford will host its first ESPN College Gameday ever. Needless to say playing Memphis just doesn’t feel that exciting.

As far as the result of the game itself, Ole Miss is going to win. They are simply just too talented and too well coached to lose a game like this. Coming off a bye week has allowed banged up Rebels to heal, given more prep time, and given the team some much needed rest. Memphis is a good football team that very well could win the American this season. But this just isn’t a game that Memphis can win. There is a reason Vegas is favoring the Rebels by about 20 points.

Aside from the Rebels being a better team, this weekend will be spent honoring Chucky Mullins. And I just don’t see a world where Ole Miss can lose a game on a weekend dedicated to Chucky. If you aren’t familiar with his story, read it. Even the non-Ole Miss fans can appreciate it.

The game will be fun for a quarter or two. Most Memphis/Ole Miss games in recent memory have been. But the Rebels will pull away on their way to a nice, easy win and a date with College Gameday next weekend.

Ole Miss 41 – Memphis 17

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

 

2013 AutoZone Liberty Bowl Preview: Mississippi State vs. Rice

liberty bowl logoThis marks the 55th year of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl and it is sure to be an exciting contest between the Mississippi State Bulldogs and the Rice Owls.

The Bulldogs have played in this bowl three times in the past, and have an all-time record of 2-1 at the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.  The last time they were here, the Bulldogs faithful came out in full support as nearly 64,000 fans attended the game.

Rice has never played in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, but they are familiar with Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.  The Owls and the University of Memphis used to be in the same conference, so Rice has made more than their fair share of trips to the Bluff City.  Their most recent trip to Memphis was last year in a game that saw Rice fall 14-10 to the hometown Tigers.

Both teams took different paths getting here with Rice winning the Conference USA Championship, and the Bulldogs needing to win their last two games of the season in overtime to become bowl eligible.

Below is a preview of the match-up between Rice and Mississippi State…

Mississippi State Bulldogs:
The college football season may not have turned out quite the way that Mississippi State fans expected, but head coach Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs are headed to a bowl for the fourth straight year.  This is the longest streak of consecutive bowl appearances in the history of the football program, and it was not easy.

Half of the Bulldogs schedule was comprised of teams that are currently ranked in the BCS Standings with three of those teams currently ranked in the top ten (Auburn, Alabama, and South Carolina).  Mississippi State lost to all of the ranked teams they faced this year, making the Bulldogs record against top 25 competition under Mullen 2-23, but they found a way to beat the teams they were supposed to and pulled off the upset against their instate rivals Ole Miss to secure a bowl bid.

Close wins over inferior teams combined with three straight losses in November against divisional opponents put their bowl hopes, and Mullen’s job, in serious jeopardy.

However, when Mississippi State needed to win out to become bowl eligible in the final two weeks of the season, coach Mullen’s Bulldogs responded with the mental fortitude necessary to hold off an Arkansas team that was hungry for their first conference win and knock off the hated Rebels.

The win over Ole Miss did more than secure a bowl berth for the Bulldogs, it bought the Golden Egg back to Starkville, and saved Mullen’s job for another season.

Players to watch:

-FUMBLE (AP Photo/The Daily Mississippian, Thomas Graning)

FUMBLE- Mississippi State defensive back Nickoe Whitley forces Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace to fumble, thus securing a Bulldogs win.  Whitley will be looking to make big plays like this in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. (Photo by AP Photo/The Daily Mississippian, Thomas Graning)

On the offensive side of the ball all eyes will be on Dak Prescott who has shown flashes of brilliance at times this season.  He leads the team in both passing and rushing and is sixth in the SEC in total offense.  Prescott is as lethal an offensive weapon as there is in college football and is able to score in every way imaginable.  He has seven passing touchdowns, 11 rushing scores, and two receptions for touchdowns too.

Defensively Nickoe Whitley is going to be a player worth watching as this will be his last collegiate game. The senior defensive back is second in the SEC with five interceptions, earned Second Team All-SEC honors this season, and do not forget it was Whitley that forced fumble to secure a Mississippi State victory over the Rebels.

(click here to see the Bo Wallace fumble and get a behind the scenes look at MemphiSport Live)

Rice Owls:

Unlike Mississippi State, the college football season turned out the way most Rice fans expected, with the Owls competing for the Conference USA crown.  However, Rice did more than simply compete, they won the C-USA Championship.  This is their first outright conference title since 1957 when they were in the Southwest Conference.

The Owls could not be stopped on the ground this season.  They are 16th nationally when it comes to rushing yards per game, averaging just over 240 total yards on the ground.

(Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle)

TOUCHDOWN- Rice feature back, Charles Ross, scores a touchdown in the Owls 52-31 loss to Texas A&M.  Ross finished the day with 19 carries for 107 yards and two touchdowns.  He will have to have a similar performance if Rice is going to knock off Mississippi State (Photo by Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle)

Thanks to a dominate rushing attack, the Owls recorded their first ten win season since 1949 under renowned head coach Jess Neely.  Current head coach, David Bailiff, might not have the legendary status of Neely, but he is building a rather nice resume for himself.  This season, Bailiff was named C-USA Coach of the Year which is his second time earning the distinction in his seven year tenure at the school.

In addition to the accolades Bailiff earned this year, Rice had10 players make the All-CUSA team with five of them earning first team honors.  Rice is 15-3 in their last 18 games dating back to their 44-17 win against Southern Mississippi in 2012.

A midseason slip up against North Texas and a near loss to lowly UAB almost cost the Owls a chance to play for the conference title, but they were able to regroup and literally run over the rest of C-USA in route to their conference title.

Players to watch:
With a ground game like Rice has, it will be nearly impossible not to have your eyes glued to senior back Charles Ross.  After all, Ross has proven to be a tough back to bring down eclipsing the 100 yard mark on the ground seven times this season.  He is also 19th in the nation with 1252 total rushing yards, he averages 6.2 yards per carry, and has 14 rushing touchdowns on the year.

Senior cornerback Phillip Gaines is a player to keep your eyes on when the Owls take the field defensively.  He is a two time First Team All-CUSA selection who shuts down the opponent’s best receiver.  Opposing receivers have just 13 receptions on 40 targets against him and he leads the team with four interceptions.

The Winner:

-Who will hoist the trophy-

You can ring my bell- The winner of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl will get to hoist this unique trophy after the game.

It has been three years since the SEC last won the AutoZone Liberty Bowl thanks to losses by Georgia and Vanderbilt (the SEC did not send a team to the bowl game last year).  However, after a two year hiatus there will be a SEC vs. C-USA matchup and it does not bode well for Rice.  The SEC is 4-1 all-time against C-USA in the Liberty Bowl with the lone defeat belonging to Georgia who lost to Central Florida in 2010.

Rice will look to continue the SEC’s three year losing streak, but they will have to find some type of offensive balance if they expect to pull off the upset.

While Rice has a stellar running game, they are the 22nd worst passing team nationally.  It does not matter how good the ground game is, Rice is going to struggle because they are not good enough through the air to prevent Mississippi State from loading the box to stop the run.

Led by an All-SEC Freshman defensive end Chris Jones, the Mississippi State defensive line is more than capable of stopping the Owls run game.

This will be the seventh team the Bulldogs have faced this season who averages over 200 yards rushing per game.  Of the other six teams just two (Arkansas and LSU) ran for over 200 yards against Mississippi State.  The Bulldogs held the explosive Auburn ground game to 120 yards on the ground which was the Tigers season low and only game all season that they did not eclipse the 200 yard mark on the ground.

Prescott and the Bulldogs offense will be in for a bit of a struggle too, as the Owls are the 24th best total defense in the nation.  However, Prescott’s ability to make something happen when he gets outside of the pocket will alleviate some of the Bulldogs struggles offensively.

When it is all said and done Dan Mullen and Mississippi State will cover the spread and hand coach Bailiff his first bowl loss.

SEE ALSO:

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.

SEE ALSO:

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, 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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