There's an interesting aspect to this game that is getting overlooked right now: Ole Miss is where it wants to be right now. And it's where Arkansas wants to be in a few years.
No doubt, the losses of the last two weeks that have put the Rebels' SEC West hopes in peril and all but destroyed Ole Miss' chances of getting to the college football playoff have been disappointing. The Rebels are still in pretty good position to grab one of the playoff bowls and perhaps sabotage their rival's chance at an SEC West title or playoff berth, which isn't a bad consolation prize if nothing else works out. All in all, you would have to say that Hug Freeze's rebuilding job is close to if not completely finished.
Arkansas, on the other hand, is getting there. Bret Bielema's team finally got its first conference win last week, and really only has one bad loss on the season. There's a decent chance that the Razorbacks can steal a game, either here or at Missouri next week, and lock up bowl eligibility. And if they can do that, it's not that hard to see Arkansas getting close in a year or two to where Ole Miss is now. The catch in this game is that the Hogs aren't quite there yet.
1On the Board. The Razorbacks finally ended a 17-game winless streak in the SEC last week by dropping LSU, 17-0. There are two ways that can go from an intangibles perspective -- either Arkansas is so relieved to get the monkey off of its back that it plays well, or the win against LSU is followed by the inevitable letdown game. On the other hand, Ole Miss hasn't won an SEC game in more than a month, and while some of that has to do with a game against Presbyterian College and a bye, a lot of it also has to do with close losses at LSU and against Auburn. A third division loss would officially remove Ole Miss from contention for the SEC West.
2Run, Arkansas, run? As expected when Bret Bielema came to Fayetteville from Wisconsin, the Razorbacks have one of the most prolific rushing attacks in the SEC. On a per-game basis, it's No. 4 in the conference (232.9 yards a game), and it's third on a per-carry basis (5.5). Then again, the Ole Miss defense is no slouch against the run (or much of anything else). The Rebels allow 3.4 yards a carry, tied for third in the SEC, and have allowed just six touchdowns on the ground -- the lowest of anyone in the conference except Alabama. If Ole Miss can have that kind of success against Arkansas' run game, you have to feel pretty good about the Rebels' chances.
3Red-zone Woes. Both of these teams have issues scoring when they get inside the opponent's 20-yard line, though there's some nuance. Arkansas and Ole Miss rank 12th and 13th, respectively, on turning red-zone visits into points -- ahead of only Vanderbilt. But the Razorbacks rank third in the SEC in the percentage of those trips that turn into touchdowns (71.1 percent). But they've also turned the ball over five times inside the 20. As for Ole Miss, the touchdown percentage is better but still low (they rank ninth in the conference), but the aspect dragging down their overall scores has more to do with missed field goals: The Rebels are just 5-of-8 on red-zone kicks, and have three turnovers to boot. The worse news for both offenses is that each team also boasts one of the best red-zone defenses in the SEC, with Arkansas ranking third and Ole Miss checking in at fourth. Though, in that case, Arkansas slides down the rankings when touchdowns alone are looked at -- the Hogs rank ninth in the SEC in that category.
4Waving the Flag. Whether penalties actually hurt a team's chances to win the game often comes down more to when, where and what kind of penalties the team is committing than just the raw numbers. That said, both Arkansas and Ole Miss are relatively disciplined when it comes to avoiding penalties -- especially teh Razorbacks. Arkansas has drawn just 49 flags this year, good for third in the league, while Ole Miss has 57, tying the Rebels for sixth. (It should be noted that Texas A&M -- which is tied with Ole Miss -- as well as LSU and Kentucky have all played in one more game that Ole Miss and Arkansas.) The Hogs also don't tend to give away a lot of free penalty yards, checking in at fourth in the conference with 43.9 yards a game; Ole Miss ranks seventh, at 46.0 yards a game.
5Field position. When it comes to punt returns, both of these teams are subpar; Arkansas averages 7.3 yards a return, and Ole Miss gets 6.4 per run-back. However, there's a sizable gap when it comes to kickoff returns. Arkansas averages 25.2 yards apiece -- best in the SEC -- and has a touchdown return this season. Ole Miss is doing neither of those things. The Rebels have averaged 18.4 yards per return, next-to-last in the league, and haven't scored yet.
THREE TO WATCH
Senquez Golson, CB, Ole Miss: When Brandon Allen does drop back to throw the ball, he's going to have to keep an eye out for Golson, a Bronko Nagurski finalist who has nine interceptions on the season and has helped power the Rebels to have the second-most picks in the conference this year. Golson has also broken up seven other passes in perhaps the best season any SEC defensive back is having in 2014.
Martrell Spaight, LB, Arkansas: While we're going with defensive wrecking balls, let's not forget Arkansas' Spaight, who currently ranks third in the SEC with 97 tackles. Not only does that by far lead the team -- the second-ranking player has 56 -- but it includes 6.5 tackles for loss. Spaight also has an interception and has forced a fumble.
Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss: He still makes the costly mistake from time to time, but Dr. Bo is so far having his best year at quarterback. Wallace has 22 touchdowns to eight interceptions this year -- easily putting him on pace to have his best TD-to-INT ratio -- and his passer efficiency rating is up a 17 points from last year and is almost 13 points higher than in 2012. Dr. Bo is less prone to malpractice than he's ever been.
Count me among those who expect this to be a really good game. Arkansas gets a bit of a bump from being at home and will be riding high emotionally after taking down LSU. But I think that we would be getting a bit ahead of ourselves and Bret Bielema's rebuilding schedule to give Arkansas the edge in this game. The Razorbacks have much better than a puncher's chance here, but I ultimately think that the Rebels' defense comes up with enough stops to win.Ole Miss 21, Arkansas 20