Feel free to have a seat. This could take a while.
The Thursday Prediction Post is a DJournal.com tradition, and it’s one where I usually ignore the online trend of the quick read.
So I’ll sometimes stray from the path, wander left and right, chase a rabbit, perhaps become distracted by bright, shiny objects but will always come back and get to the objective at the end which is the guess of the week and a final score.
I don’t always pick the Rebels.
I’m not the guy that for years at SEC Media Days would pick Ole Miss to win the conference championship.
My thinking has always been pick local when the guys or ladies give you a chance. Why not? It seems to be good business sense, and when the players invariably say, “Nobody believed in us,” it makes me free to respond “Go back and look at DJournal.com.”
That said, I present the season’s first contradiction. There are reasons to pick the Rebels to beat Memphis, but I won’t because of one reason – one position -- that I consider important above the others.
So, I’ve cut to the chase, but I encourage you to hang in here. The joy’s in the journey, right?
For starters, I’m always disappointed to see this game at Memphis on the schedule.
This is not a knock on the good folks at Memphis. It's about the press box which isn't very user friendly. The Memphis media relations folks do great work in spite of the physical limitations in the box.
Speaking of those folks it was great to see game credentials waiting on me at home when I got back Tuesday evening. Some schools feel the need to really test FedEx’s overnight promise.
To the game …
I find it interesting that Memphis coach Mike Norvell is playing the “disrespect” card. He spoke during the week about players on the Memphis roster, Mississippi guys, who were not recruited by Ole Miss. It’s reasonable to think they would like to have been recruited by Ole Miss.
There are guys on the Memphis roster who also were not recruited by Arkansas, LSU, Tennessee and on and on and on.
This is not a Memphis-Ole Miss story line. It’s a Group of Five Conference-Power Five Conference story line.
If that helps Norvell motivate Memphis players then have at it. Whatever works.
The reality here is the guys in Vegas respect Memphis as a touchdown favorite.
The Tigers have weapons returning at every position from last year’s dynamic offense. They’re facing off against a defense that has been woefully inadequate against the run for three-straight seasons over two defensive coordinators.
You haven’t needed a bulldozer to run over the Rebels lately, a Tonka truck would suffice.
The Rebels are eager to move beyond their recent past. Defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre has instilled confidence in his group.
When you haven’t played a game, though, that confidence could be a little wobbly. This thing could turn one of two ways quickly Saturday morning. If the Rebels get a couple of early stops the confidence they built in camp will surge. If Memphis drives, hits big plays and/or scores quickly doubt will creep in.
In that case, among the many challenges MacIntyre will face in his Ole Miss debut will be to keep his guys believing.
Ole Miss returns eight starters on defense. Sometimes that’s not a good thing, but I think there are guys on the roster who can compete, guys who have a chance in new positions to thrive in the 3-4 – I’m thinking Qaadir Sheppard here.
In addition to the outside linebackers pay attention to the inside backers. Can Donte Evans live up to the camp he’s had? Will he and the other inside backers truly benefit by being responsible for fewer gaps? Will they and others tackle better?
There’s also something to be said for the energy that comes from a fresh start.
It’s a different feel offensively for Ole Miss. I think it’s easier to go into this game with more confidence on that side of the ball even though many players are young and inexperienced.
Yes, there’s excitement for Rich Rodriguez and what he might be able to do in a run-based spread offense, but on this side of the ball Ole Miss has had at least some measure of success the last two years.
Keep an eye on the matchup of Rodriguez against Memphis defensive coordinator Adam Fuller. Norvell called Fuller “one of the top defensive minds in college football” when the hiring was announced last December. Fuller is entering his sixth season as a defensive coordinator. He was coordinator at Marshall last season and before that at Chattanooga from 2009-2012.
Coaching matters, and it’s why Ole Miss has a chance to win this game.
Rodriguez, though, is working with a redshirt freshman quarterback making his first start. Right now he doesn’t have some of the tools he had in previous seasons.
MacIntyre has more experience on his side, but he’s also counting on three first-year junior college transfers as starters, and there’s precious little depth in the secondary.
The most important position on the field is quarterback, and Memphis has the edge there with junior Brady White, who passed for 3,296 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season.
He’s being directed by Norvell, a coach who hasn’t been in the business as long as MacIntyre or Rodriguez but is by no means brand new and has shown himself to be good at what he does.
I’m expecting to see an improved Ole Miss team on both sides of the ball, but I’m thinking White’s quarterback experience in a comfortable home environment gives the Tigers an edge Saturday.
Prediction: Memphis 26, Ole Miss 24