What now appears right and wrong about our preseason look at a critical game.
What's at Stake: A legitimate claim as a contender in the SEC West. It's difficult to place this game, because it will not give us an idea as to who will be the biggest challenger to Alabama -- both Ole Miss and LSU will have played the Tide by the time late November rolls around. But the winner could still very well determine who emerges from the West -- especially if it creates the kind of three-way gridlock that wreaked havoc in the Big XII South last season. But it is still the showdown between the two challengers; the winner of this game could end up locking up the division or merely winning a higher spot in the bowl order. Which one it is really depends on which preview magazine you like.
Luckily, I hedged my bets a bit on this one. Obviously, there is no reason to believe this game will produce "a legitimate claim as a contender in the SEC West" for the winner, since Alabama has already sewn up the division. The best that can be done is to retrospectively tell us which was the bigger threat to the Tide in the past and give us an idea of who will be playing in Orlando on Jan. 1, 2010.
Where It Falls on LSU's Schedule: ... At this point, we'll have a pretty good feel for whether 2008 was a fluke or a warning; the only game left on the slate is a nonetheless tricky showdown with Arkansas.
Wrong. I don't know about you, but I'm still not entirely sure whether a team that won all its games against average and bad teams and then lost all its games against good teams is any better than the 2008 edition of LSU. So we're still lost on this one.
Where It Falls on Ole Miss' Schedule:The Rebels will have mostly cruised through one of the easier schedules in the league: at Memphis, vs. Southeastern Louisiana, at South Carolina, at Vanderbilt, vs. Alabama, vs. UAB, vs. Arkansas, at Auburn, vs. Northern Arizona and vs. Tennessee. The Alabama game is the most severe test in there by far, and the East rotation shapes up about as nicely as you could ask. The Rebels' final game is at Mississippi State -- meaning where they stand at the end of this game will be a strong indicator of where they'll end up in the standings.
Prediction FAIL. Three losses at this point in the season was more than most were willing to give the Rebels at this point, mostly due to the poor play of Jevan Snead in the South Carolina game and one of Auburn's mood swings. But the Southeaster Louisiana and Northern Arizona games turned out to be almost as easy as expected.
What Will Decide the Game This Year:Line play. Ole Miss lost its best player on each line with the depatures of Michael Oher and Peria Jerryto the NFL. Most of the starters are back, but the loss of the Oher is the No. 1 reason to doubt the Ole Miss hype this year. LSU's defensive line also loses several key pieces, including Tyson Jackson and Kirston Pittman. Sack leader Rahim Alemreturns; one of his eight quarterback stops came against Snead. The offensive line is anyone's guess. One of the biggest reasons Ole Miss won this game last year was dominant play by the defensive line. The trenches will also play a significant role in determining who wins in 2009.
Despite the bad press they've gotten in some of their SEC performances, the Rebels'offensive line really isn't all that bad this year. They've allowed 13 sacks in 10 games, good for a tie for 33rd place in the nation and fifth in the SEC. Meanwhile, LSU has allowed more than twice as many (27) in the same number of games, 99th in the NCAA and 11th in the conference. (South Carolina comes in 12th.) On the number of sacks by the defense, also give the advantage to Ole Miss 26, or 2.6 per game, good for 25th in the nation and third in the league. LSU has 17, 77th in the nation on a per-game basis and ninth in the SEC. Ole Miss' rushing offense is also much better, though how much of that is the line and how much is Dexter McClusteris anyone's guess. The rushing defense is a little bit better for the Bayou Bengals, though only by 5.8 ypg.
LSU Will Probably Win If ... Jordan Jefferson has time to throw and Charles Scott has room to run -- see above. Ole Miss' offense might not ring up more than 400 yards, as it did last year, but the Tigers will have to be able to score some to win this game.
True enough, though the emphasis on Charles Scott was obviously misplaced. Can you really blame me?
Ole Miss Will Probably Win If ...The skill players can perform. Snead, Dexter McCluster and Shay Hodge have a legitimate shot at being the core of the most dynamic offense in the West -- if they get the protection they need and the contributions of other players on offense.
Not exactly. When it comes to total offense, Ole Miss is fifth in the SEC and well behind fellow division member Arkansas. So the "most dynamic offense in the West" bit was obviously wrong. And it's not at all clear that a team needs to score that many so-called "points" to defeat LSU this year.
Conclusion:I get tired of saying I'm not exactly sold on LSU this year -- but I'm not. I don't think either team will win this game by 18 points this year; LSU is significantly better, and how much Ole Miss has improved is an open question. But since the strongest argument I've heard for LSU winning this game is the one sports cliche I would ban if I had a choice -- "Ole Miss won't sneak up on anybody this year" -- I'm going with the Rebels.
I would still like to ban that cliche, and I don't think that the Rebels' disappointing record to this point has anything to do withthem not "sneaking up" on teams this year; I think it has to do with the fact that three opponents have played better football during that particular game. And I'm still not entirely sold on LSU and might not be able to make heads or tails of them to my own satisfaction until the end of the year or later.
I know this: Les Miles already has his requisite two losses for the season, but Ole Miss is right at the point when Houston Nutt's teams have made noise in the last couple of years. If I had to choose a team to win, it would probably be Ole Miss. But I'll take a bit more time between now and the weekend preview to decide for sure; after all, so much has already changed between when I wrote the previous post on this game and now.