It's easy to lose a bit of perspective about how rare it is to have an Ole Miss-LSU game where the Rebels look to be a pretty clear choice. The line is kind of thin on this one, but part of that comes from the mystique of playing in Baton Rouge at night. Ole Miss isn't likely to walk away with this game, but they should be considered the clear favorite.
And, as said just a moment ago, that's weird. LSU has won nine of the last 12 games between these teams (though it's worth mentioning that each side of the rivalry is 3-3 over the last six seasons.) Ole Miss has won more than two in a row against LSU once since 1952-57; the Tigers have done the same thing five times. It hasn't been total domination by the Bayou Bengals in the annual series, but it has been a pretty hefty advantage over the last half-century.
That actually puts LSU in a position to get a little bit of payback this season. Each one of the last three Ole Miss wins in this series have come with the Tigers ranked, and sometimes ranked highly. LSU was in the Top 10 when it went to Oxford last season -- only to get ambushed by the Rebels for a second conference loss. (Ultimately, the game didn't matter that much in the standings, because LSU would go on to lose to Alabama.) None of those losses derailed what was a national championship season in the making -- though that wasn't always clear at the time. The losses were heart-breaking when they happened, and now the Bayou Bengals get a chance to crush the Rebels' dreams as well.
1Billy Cannon. This game is more of a rivalry than outsiders might understand, and this weekend (kinda) marks the 55th anniversary of the most famous play in the rivalry: Billy Cannon returning a punt for the game-winning touchdown:
2Switching roles. As pointed out a moment ago: In recent years, when one of these teams has played the other with something on the line, it's generally been LSU. At least one of these teams has been ranked in each of the last 12 meetings against each other. LSU has been ranked each time. Ole Miss has been ranked once -- and the Rebels were ranked lower than the Tigers that season (2003). This year, of course, it's No. 3 Ole Miss with the most on the line -- the opportunity to win the SEC West, which is tantamount to winning the SEC this year, and likely play in the college football playoff. No. 24 LSU is just trying to hold onto a ranking and give itself a higher spot in the SEC bowl pecking order.
3Defensive showdown. Hugh Freeze is most closely identified with offense, and Dr. Bo Wallace gets a lot of the attention for Ole Miss. But anyone who's watched much SEC football this year knows that the Rebels are being powered in large part by one of the best defenses in the nation. Ole Miss ranks second in the SEC in total defense, first in scoring defense, second in rushing defense, fourth in passing yardage defense and first in passing efficiency defense. Ole Miss also leads the conference with 15 interceptions in seven games. LSU in those respective categories: fourth, third, tenth, first, seventh. Being ranked in the bottom of the league in rushing defense likely won't hurt them that much against Ole Miss, which can't run the ball very well.
4Sacktoberfest? Here's an interesting match-up to watch: Both of these teams give up a lot of sacks, but neither gets a ton of them. The Rebels and the Tigers have both seen the quarterback go down 16 times -- which is slightly worse on a per-game average for Ole Miss, which has played one fewer game that LSU to this point. Ole Miss is decent on getting to the other quarterback, having put together 18 sacks on the season, which is tied for fifth in the SEC. LSU is near the bottom, with 13 in eight games -- which ranks 12th on a per-game basis.
5Special teams. If you're looking for an opportunity to tweet #CollegeKickers, this could be the game for you. Ole Miss is subpar on field goals, and that's putting it kindly -- the Rebels have missed four of ten field goals this year, giving them a conversion rate of just 60 percent. LSU has done that well -- the Tigers are 7-for-7 on three-pointers -- but has missed two extra points, for a 94.1 percent percent rate, next-to-last in the SEC. Ole Miss has also missed a PAT. If it comes down to a critical kick, this could get interesting fast.
THREE TO WATCH
Travin Dural, WR, LSU: Dural started out as one of the few bright spots in the Bayou Bengals' sluggish passing attack, putting up at least 124 receiving yards in three of the Tigers' first four games. But he's slowed down since then, with his 52 yards against Florida being the high-water mark in LSU's last four contests. But Dural still has big-play potential, even with the Tigers' passing woes.
Marquis Haynes, DE, Ole Miss: Haynes is staking his claim to be one of the most disruptive freshmen in the nation. He has 6.5 sacks and three forced fumbles already, along with another tackle for a loss and three quarterback hurries. You could just as easily say that anyone on the Ole Miss defense is worthy of your attention, but there's one new guy to keep an eye on.
Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss: Everybody has been waiting for Wallace to have one of his classic games where he pairs his prolific passing stats with a couple of back-breaking turnovers -- and it hasn't happened. It's a meme that's proving hard to kill, but Wallace hasn't thrown an interception in four SEC games this season. If he can take care of the ball and put up his usual numbers throwing it, the Rebels will be in a great place.
Make no mistake: Playing LSU at night in Tiger Stadium is a dangerous proposition no matter how good or bad LSU is in a given season. And there's a ton of talent on every LSU squad; just ask the recruiting services. But it's hard to trust LSU's offense to do much against what is a dominant Ole Miss defense, even if there's a decent chance that LSU can also slow down Ole Miss' attack just a little. If the Rebels could run the ball better, I'd say this game could get out of hand. As it is, I think it's simply a comfortable win. Ole Miss 24, LSU 10