For the second straight season, Ole Miss ends the season in the city where the season began. Last year, Ole Miss opened at Vanderbilt and wrapped up the season with a win in the Music City Bowl, while this year the Rebels finish up in the Peach Bowl after opening the season against Boise State in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game.
For Ole Miss, it is the second appearance in the Peach Bowl after the 1971 edition against Georgia Tech, while Wednesday's opponent, TCU, is making their first appearance in the Atlanta bowl game. TCU and Ole Miss have played twice before in bowl games, with match-ups in the 1948 Delta Bowl and 1956 Cotton Bowl both won by the Rebels. Overall, Ole Miss leads the series record 5-1 with the last game having been played in 1983.
At the beginning of the season, both of these teams likely would have taken a bid to an "Access Bowl" in a heartbeat. But, with the outcome of the season, this game must feel like a disappointment (to different degrees). Ole Miss was probably nine points (LSU and Auburn) from a playoff berth and TCU surely thought they had a playoff bid all but wrapped up as the games ended the evening of Dec. 6. Despite the potential disappointment, this is a prime bowl for both teams and offers a fantastic match-up between Ole Miss' hard-hitting defense and TCU's high-octane offense.
1TCU's Offense vs. Ole Miss' Defense. As alluded to above, this match-up offers two of the more highly ranked units in the country on their side of the ball. SEC loyalists would have you believe that the TCU offense is a product of facing lesser defenses most of the season. TCU faced four teams ranked in the top 40 in this year's DFEI Rankings and only three teams outside the top 100. Ole Miss' defense enters the game as the third-ranked DFEI defense on the 2014 season and has forced 19 interceptions (placing it sixth nationally in interceptions). TCU has only thrown eight interceptions on the year on 492 passing attempts. Something has to give, but which unit will it be?
2Big 12 vs. SEC. The Big 12 took it on the chin against the SEC (and the ACC...) on Monday, and if it wants to save face as a conference for this bowl season, this game seems like practically a must-win for conference pride. With two games against the Pac-12 and one against the Big 10 remaining, the Big 12 must surely be looking for a win to stump behind. With TCU being the higher-ranked team and a 3.5 point favorite, the game becomes even more imperative for TCU to win.
3Bo Wallace's Legacy. Forget Good Bo/Bad Bo. Bo Wallace came to Ole Miss and, along with Hugh Freeze and his coaching staff, has led a turnaround from 2-10 in 2011 to 24 wins in the last three seasons. With a third consecutive bowl win, Wallace would surpass Eli Manning's win total, and Wallace has already broken several of Manning's offensive records. Is Wallace better than Manning (any of them)? No, of course not. But after a quarterback roster since Eli Manning that has peaked with Jevan Snead and Jeremiah Masoli, Wallace has offered consistency (including interceptions at times), and his legacy is surely above those two and among the best in Ole Miss history.
4The Ole Miss Wide Receiving Corps. Laquon Treadwell is out until next year and senior Vince Sanders is out with a knee injury suffered in the Egg Bowl. Evan Engram is a known quantity at tight end, but beyond Engram, this game is an opportunity for the receiving corps to stake their claim on a prime spot in the rotation for 2015. Quincy Adeboyejo, Markell Pack and Cody Core will be leaned on, but other than Core, none have offered more than a few glimpses of potential. With transfer Damore'ea Stringfellow, a few redshirt freshmen and some highly ranked recruits coming in for 2015, playing time will be at a premium, and the Peach Bowl will offer an opportunity to emerge entering the off-season.
5Ole Miss' Rushing Offense vs. TCU Defense. Ole Miss dedicated itself to the run game early in the Egg Bowl, and the plan worked to the tune of 205 yards and 6.6 yards per carry. While those numbers are far from eye popping (and they are boosted by Jaylen Walton's long touchdown run), the running game helped keep pressure off a hobbled Wallace. With TCU's strength at defending the run, the Rebels will need to manufacture some ways to move the ball on the ground, whether through the option or traditional running plays, to repeat the results of the Mississippi State game.
I honestly have no feel for how this game will play out. Between the motivational aspects and contrasts of strength, it really feels like the game could go in any direction. On one hand, I could see it being a high-scoring shootout, but at the same time, I could envision a defensive struggle. Roll Bama Roll has an excellent statistical analysis and concluded that TCU would pull out the win. I tend to agree, but think it will be close throughout with several lead changes. TCU 34, Ole Miss 31