The SEC had been rocking along with COVID football without really having a lot of COVID issues – at least not obvious issues.

We were told from the beginning that this season would be different, that a conference-only schedule allowed for maximum flexibility and that we were going to need that flexibility.

But as games were postponed and rescheduled at some other places – Baylor, Houston and Louisiana Tech to name a few – the SEC rocked along.

And then came Dan Mullen.

The now-Florida coach, after his team’s 41-38 loss at Texas A&M, urged his administration to allow for a packed house at the Swamp for the Gators game with LSU this Saturday.

Then on Sunday Florida football announced five COVID positives. On Tuesday it announced 14 more, and the Florida-LSU game was postponed.

Also this week Vanderbilt at Missouri was postponed because of a COVID outbreak at Vanderbilt.

Both of those games will now be played Dec. 12.

Ole Miss had navigated COVID well through the first three weeks. Lane Kiffin announced a couple of weeks with no cases, and we kind of relaxed on the topic.

I asked the question yesterday since we were seeing the outbreaks at Vanderbilt and Florida, and Kiffin responded with news that “a number” of guys are out. I asked about COVID numbers so I assume Kiffin’s “number” means positive cases, but he didn’t mention how many other players might be affected by contact tracing.

It was the tracing more than the positives that bothered Kiffin at the end of preseason camp.

Kiffin went on to say that he felt like Ole Miss could play against Arkansas “today,” implying that any further hit from today’s final round of testing might lean toward a postponement of the game.

“We are not in a great situation numbers-wise at all,” Kiffin said.

Kiffin said he know “who” was at the center of the outbreak and that he didn’t think it “was anything they did while they were here.”

That’s clear right?

It at least has the tone that Ole Miss might have gotten out in front of this and that perhaps tomorrow’s results from today’s testing won’t return a high number of cases.

Kiffin went on to say the Rebels were beaten up from the Alabama game.

It’s a strange COVID world for football.

When you consider football at all levels – high school, college and the NFL – and you think about the number of games that have been played relative to the number of postponements I think things have gone about as well as you could expect.

But we’ve also said from the beginning that starting a season and finishing a season are two different things.

Is this a rough patch that Ole Miss and the SEC will navigate or the beginning of something more as we see COVID cases begin to rise around the country – as we were told they would in the fall?

Honestly, this could also be a head game from Kiffin trying to poke Arkansas coach Sam Pittman and his coordinators. Not that the positive cases aren’t there, but are they managed and, perhaps, a football coach is sending up a false flag? It wouldn’t be the first time.

The drama makes it hard to guess Ole Miss at Arkansas.

Kiffin has alluded to massive shifts in the two-deep but gives no names.

Might Matt Corral be one of those who could miss the game?

The Rebels’ dynamic offense would look a lot different if that’s the case. Corral has played at a high level and has earned the respect of his teammates on both sides of the ball.

If Corral is out would Kiffin and Jeff Lebby turn the whole offense over to John Rhys Plumlee or would they get Kinkead Dent involved?

You don’t want to subtract any of your best players, but the Rebels would look a lot different if Corral, Kenny Yeboah, Elijah Moore or any combination of those three are not around.

There’s not a lot of tackle depth either.

On the other side of the ball it might not be a bad thing to see an opportunity for younger players. I’m thinking specifically of Brandon Mack, DeSanto Rollins, Demon Clowney and Marc Britt. Rollins had the knee injury in camp. This is about the time he was supposed to be back. I have no idea what his health is like right now.

It wouldn’t be stunning for one of those guys or an unknown name like that to get an opportunity in a situation like this then play well and remain a factor moving ahead.

If I’m guessing the game with the Ole Miss team I’ve seen for three weeks I like the Rebels’ chances to score.

Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom, last year’s Missouri coach, had a good defensive plan for Mississippi State, and the Hogs executed that plan.

Still, the Hogs have been middling in the SEC in both rushing and passing defense. There should be opportunities there.

It hasn’t been a flashy offense either, but it was a group that played very well at Auburn after a slow start.

Quarterback Feleipe Franks, the Florida transfer, has six touchdown passes on the season. Four of them came against Auburn.

Part of Arkansas’ problems on offense has been that they’ve played two of the SEC’s best defenses so far in Georgia and Mississippi State.

They won’t play one of the SEC’s top defenses this week.

Kiffin, before the mid-week COVID drama, said he believed his defense would play better this week.

That sounds like some wishing and hoping there, but maybe they will.

While Arkansas has played two of the top defenses, the Rebels played one of the league’s top offenses last week against Alabama.

While there are a lot of unknowns for this one, it’s still Ole Miss and Arkansas so you can probably count on something bizarre along the way.

Prediction: Ole Miss 43, Arkansas 39

Twitter: @parrishalford

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