Alabama fans think their team will roll over the Rebels of Ole Miss on Saturday and most analysts concur. Ole Miss fans think their team will win for the first time since 2003, and those who cheer against the Crimson Tide choose to believe that as well. Alabama vs. OIe Miss, tomorrow, for all the marbles.
We can break it down by the offense; we can break it down by the defense. Alabama has Blake Sims, Amari Cooper, and the trio of running backs in Derrick Henry, T.J. Yeldon, and Kenyan Drake. Ole Miss has Dr. Bo Wallace, Robert Nkemdiche, and Laquon Treadwell, all big-time recruits, all key contributors. So what gives me such confidence that Ole Miss will keep this game close? Well, really, it's the fact that Alabama fans' overconfidence is due to the lack of knowledge on this Ole Miss team. Hugh Freeze built a structure in this program over the past few years. He's provided a recruiting spark. This Rebels team has the 5-stars that Alabama has and the athletes, yet, many people don't acknowledge that.
"In this room, we expect to compete Saturday," Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze said in comments featured on Ole Miss's website. "We expect to have a chance to win it. I know our kids feel that way, and our coaches feel that way. I don't know that we will. I have no idea what the scoreboard will say at the end, but I expect our kids to go and compete and have fun and do a good job."
I've heard comments such as "Ole Miss's defense is overrated, who have they played, Bo Wallace sucks." Those may be good points, but here's my argument: Look at the statistics, look at the defensive numbers between Alabama and Ole Miss. The Rebels, coming in ranked No. 3 in total defense, are allowing 133 yards passing and 114 yards rushing; granted, they've only faced a 3-2 Boise State team and a team in Memphis that is 2-2 on the season but has peaked under coach Justin Fuente.
Memphis -- yes, Memphis -- is a good football team this year. You read that and are calling me crazy, right? Trust me. The Tigers boast an offense that's capable, an offense that put up 469 yards and 35 points against No. 8 UCLA. This is a team that will ultimately be 9-3 by the season's end, and a team with a defense that ranks 31st in the nation.
"They were phenomenal, and Memphis is a team that has been putting up really good numbers," said Freeze after the Rebels' 24-3 win last week. "Allowing three first downs is pretty amazing with today’s offenses."
So, besides the formidable Memphis team I mentioned and Boise State (who averages 467 yards on offense), Ole Miss has played nobody. But neither has Alabama. Outside of Florida and West Virginia -- who are both mildly overrated (though most people didn't think much of West Virginia before the season) -- the Tide has faced nobody, and certainly nobody with a defense like Ole Miss'.
Robert Nkemdiche, Cody Prewitt, Antonio Conner and D.T. Shackelford will be out to get Blake Sims and the Bama running backs. And Ole Miss's defense will present a challenge that these Crimson Tide fans, players, and even coaches haven't seen. They're ready, they're hungry, but, no, they're not humble.
"We are going to prepare for them like we do everybody else," said Prewitt, the senior safety, after the Memphis game. "They are coming into our house so we are not going to be intimidated. They are going to be the ones climbing up the hill."
Finally, there's the added effect of GameDay, of the Grove, the spirit of the rebuilt University of Mississippi. The other day, I heard a man talking about Alabama's blunder at South Carolina on the Finebaum show a few days ago. He talked about Stephen Garcia and the quiet-confidence of Spurrier and how that relates to Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss. And still, still I believe that this week's game has garnered much more hype, has commanded much more attention and will most likely end with a different result. But in reality, whether you're a Rebel or an elephant this weekend, enjoy this game, enjoy the lead-up and the hype. This is what makes college and SEC football so great.
"It certainly happened faster than I thought possible when we first got here, so I'm thankful and I thank God every day for this job and the opportunity we have to impact the lives of the kids in our program and also the opportunity to compete," said Freeze. "Whatever happens with this game Saturday, you can't make too much of it -- too much of a win or too much of a loss. There's a lot of season left and a lot to play for. I do think we have been on a short journey and come a long way in a short time."