Welcome to this week’s Prediction Post. I’ll begin with a spoiler alert: Alabama wins the game.
Feel free to dispute this.
The magic and wonder of college athletics is driven by the idea that the underdog always has a chance. It’s what draws us to the opening round of March Madness.
I was looking through some of the great college football upsets of all time this week and found a list compiled in a 2010 article for Bleacher Report.
Ole Miss makes appearances, by the way, at No. 39 for its 2008 win over eventual national champion Florida and at No. 27 for its 2010 loss to Jacksonville State.
In discussions like this Appalachian State over Michigan in 2007 is always my go-to example. I was glad to see it listed at No. 1.
So there’s more than ample evidence of the outmanned coming alive, playing with spirit, with fight and finding a way to win. It happens.
There’s not a body of work in recent seasons that suggests Ole Miss is ready to pick off a team of this caliber.
But there are still things that Ole Miss needs to accomplish in this game.
The Rebels have been outscored by Alabama 128-10 over the last two seasons, losing 66-3 here two years ago during Matt Luke’s interim season as coach and 62-7 in Oxford last year when the feeling was that Ole Miss would at least score a few more points. It didn’t work out that way.
The Alabama scores have been disappointing, but the greater problem in 2018 was how Ole Miss looked against upper-tier SEC teams.
In addition to the Alabama thrashing, the Rebels lost 45-16 at LSU, 31-16 to Auburn and 35-3 to Mississippi State.
It took Auburn a little while to push the margin out, but there was no real pressure applied by the Ole Miss offense before that time.
Ole Miss coaches this week are preparing with winning as the goal because that’s their job, and because nature is funny, and sometimes blind squirrels find acorns.
Winning is a long shot, but this is not a game without meaning. There’s still much Ole Miss needs to accomplish in Tuscaloosa to compete and show it can look better against the better SEC teams.
For one, the Rebels have been a stout defense against the run this season. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to write that sentence, but Ole Miss has held three-straight opponents to fewer than 70 yards rushing, a first for the Rebels since 1999.
If the Rebels can hold the Tide to less than 120 they’ll party like it’s 1999.
It’s going to be hard for an Ole Miss secondary that has been victimized by an FCS team in Southeastern Louisiana and a Cal passing game that was averaging less than 160 yards to slow down Tua Tagovailoa and a deep group of receivers.
Defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre can point to improvement for his players – and increase their confidence for the weeks to come – if the Rebels can stick to receivers better and limit the big plays.
On offense, Ole Miss needs to score points.
If the Rebels can possess the ball, sustain drives and get in the end zone multiple times it will be a huge improvement from what they’ve shown the last two years.
Statistically, Alabama doesn’t have quite the smothering defense it has had in the past.
The Crimson Tide is No. 20 in pass defense efficiency and No. 29 in rushing defense, very pedestrian numbers by its standards.
But Ole Miss, at best, will go with a redshirt freshman making his fifth college start, and Matt Corral’s status right now is very up in the air because of bruised ribs.
If Corral can’t go the Rebels will use a true freshman in his first college start, most likely John Rhys Plumlee.
Then there’s the matter of inconsistency along the Rebels’ offensive line. They’re just not very good up there right now.
Maybe Plumlee’s quickness can make an impact, and maybe Jerrion Ealy can get into a rhythm. I thought the Ole Miss receivers took a step forward against Cal when the Rebels were able to get things done against a secondary judged by many to be among the nation’s best.
It’s not going to be easy, but scoring points is part of the equation if the Rebels are going to show improvement in these games.
From a personal standpoint, the game is at 2:30 and not 8:30 which means I have a chance to get home before midnight.
That’s a win for me.
Hopefully the Rebels will find their wins within the game along the way.
Prediction: Alabama 45, Ole Miss 17