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After Half a Season, Ole Miss is in a Critical Week

The first half of the schedule has been anything but boring. What will the rest of the slate bring?

Michael Chang

Season so far: at Vanderbilt, W 39-35; SEMO, W 31-13; at Texas, W 44-23; at Alabama, L 25-0; at Auburn, L 30-22; Texas A&M, L 41-38

Still to go: LSU, Idaho, Arkansas, Troy, Missouri, at Mississippi State

One of the largest storylines about Ole Miss football in the offseason was the schedule. Four of the first five games are on the road, going to Vandy, Texas, Bama, and Auburn. When the team returns home, it gets games against Texas A&M and LSU.

Here we are, with the road trips passed and almost all of the rough opening behind. The Rebels are 3-3, having gone 2-2 on the road. It has been almost literally an up-and-down ride, with wins in the first three games giving way to losses in the subsequent three games. The excitement of the wins over Vandy and at Texas gave way to a shutout loss to Alabama and a fall at rebuilding Auburn.

It's one thing to say in the preseason that Ole Miss could be a better team and still start 2-4 or 3-3. It's another thing to live through it. The Rebels didn't just fall out of the sky on Sunday as a 3-3 team. They've both won and lost a shootout. They've both beaten a team with a dead coach walking and lost to a team with a brand new coach. They started out of the polls, worked their way into the rankings, and then fell back out of them.

In other words, it's been a turbulent start to the season in a manner similar to the turbulent starts that preseason forecasters imagined for Ole Miss. I don't know how many people nailed both the Texas win and the Auburn loss, but the results are well within the established parameters.

The back half of the schedule is where things ease up at bit. They don't get a break quite yet with LSU coming up on Saturday, but Missouri is the only ranked team in the final five games. The Egg Bowl is also the only road game in the final six, so they'll be enjoying home cooking most of the rest of the way.

This week is perhaps the biggest of the season for Hugh Freeze not just as a coach in the Xs and Os sense, but also in the part of the job description that covers motivation and leadership. The team has suffered three losses in a row, all disheartening in their own ways. A fourth consecutive loss is likely on its way. For an outfit that reasonably could be described as hopeful in August, losing focus would be all too easy right now.

It's up to Freeze and his staff to find a way to push through. This team was never going 10-2, but 8-4 is very attainable and would represent a step forward over last year's campaign. Losing to LSU this weekend won't be fun if it happens—believe me, I know from recent experience—but it won't be the end of the season.

It can't be, if the program is to maintain the forward momentum it has been building since Freeze took over.