So here's something: This is the only top-25 matchup on Earth this weekend!
And though hollow, that designation'll give this bout a bit of much needed cachet to boost ratings, because otherwise, after last week?
You remember last week. Texas A&M lost by 18, Ole Miss lost by 13; both lost essentially all playoff hope—Ole Miss especially. Especially. In an SEC vacuum however, both teams are OK! They have only one conference loss each, so theoretically, mathematically, both can still do it (and by "it," I mean, go to Atlanta).
But, that said, loser of this one can start looking ahead to 2016.
1. Laremy Tunsil will definitely play! Last July, Laremy Tunsil's stepfather allegedly pushed Tunsil's mom. Tunsil responded in kind, punching his stepfather in the face. Charges against Tunsil were dropped, but only after the stepfather got all pissed and snitched to the cops and the NCAA about some stuff Tunsil might've done that he's not allowed to do. He was suspended for seven games. This was a blow for Ole Miss because Tunsil might be the best offensive tackle in the country. However now that he's back, a couple Rebel linemen can resume playing their more natural positions—Fahn Cooper goes back to right tackle, Justin Bell goes back to center—and, Ole Miss now has someone trustworthy it can deploy to try blocking the best defensive end in the country, A&M's Myles Garrett.
2. Robert Nkemdiche will probably play. Nkemdiche is arguably the best defensive tackle in the nation, but he's inarguably the best defensive tackle-cum-running back in America, bar none. While performing in the latter of his two roles last week, he was at one point gang-tackled by four angry men, resulting in a violent, headlong tumble into the turf. He sustained a concussion, and left the game for good. At the time of this writing, depending on whom you ask, Nkemdiche is either definitely playing or is probably playing. He will likely play. Though his presence on offense is sort of necessitated by Ole Miss' otherwise lack of a short-yardage option, his imperativeness to the defense's success outweighs that; naturally, some are questioning if he will or even should, play offense anymore. He seems to want to: "[Nkemdiche] came to see me to make sure I wasn't thinking of keeping him from (playing offense)," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said this week. "The package is in, and it's just a matter of whether we decide to use it or not."
3. Kyle Allen needs a comeback. Allen threw three touchdowns for Alabama last week, while the actual Alabama quarterback threw none. It was a god-awful performance by any measure, and at home no less. Now, Allen and his offense will play on the road for the first time all season; and though Vaught-Hemingway Stadium won't make any "most intimidating venues" lists, Rebels fans won't be hushed when Allen takes snaps, lest his concentration should lapse. So Allen's night should be an interesting follow: a quarterback coming off probably his worst game ever in life, and playing for the first time all year in a stadium filled entirely of people yelling his way, imploring him to do bad things.
4. The Chavis Effect is kind of, maybe, for real. Sure Derrick Henry ran unmolested in the first half, and you can make a case for the ‘Bama offense needn't having to try in the second; but the A&M defense did give up only two touchdowns last week, and none in the second half, and dammit, that's commendable. John Chavis is earning his check so far. The task this week diametrically opposes last week, however: unlike ‘Bama, Ole Miss prefers to get it done in the sky. The good news: the Aggies didn't look terrible in allowing ‘Bama 138-receiving yards. However, the test Ole Miss will provide the back end and the D as a whole, outweighs significantly, any administered by any other team during Chavis's brief tenure as coordinator.
5. No seriously, lose this game and the season is over. Loser of this contest thusly begins playing for bowl placement, and maybe pride, but that's it. There will be nothing of significance left to play for this year, besides draft stock and monies tethered to said draft stock. Lose this game and you will have two conference losses. The three teams ahead of you will have one or none, and the likelihood of all three losing enough games to catapult you back into contention is nigh zero. I feel badly already for whoever loses this game.
THREE TO WATCH
1. Myles Garrett, Texas A&M Defensive End — It's an unwritten rule that Myles Garrett be named first on a players-to-watch list, and if you've seen him play, then you understand. As per usual, Garrett's stat sheet was nice and full last week: five tackles, two for loss, a sack, a pass break-up, a blocked punt. He did this largely against Cam Robinson, who happens to be one of the conference's—and by that virtue, the nation's, I guess—best offensive tackles. As aforesaid, this week he'll line up sometimes against Laremy Tunsil, who could be the best—not one of the best, the best—tackle in all of North America, really. On the occasions that Garrett is lined up over Tunsil, don't follow the ball at all. Just watch these two wonderfully-made specimens ram into each other.
2. Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss Offensive Tackle — He hasn't played in damn near a year, and his return game pits him against the best defensive end in the country, I mean c'mon. These storylines happen never for fat people. Never.
3. Kyle Allen, Texas A&M Quarterback — In starting near half the season last year, Allen threw only two picks. What happened last week was practically unforeseeable. We have enough cutesy storylines for this game as noted above, but if you're a fan of redemption stories, then he's probably your guy to watch. Lost to some following last week's debacle was the nigh-universal agreement beforehand, that Allen was the SEC's best NFL QB-prospect. He's good. I expect him to suck much less Saturday, if at all.
Following its first game, I predicted Ole Miss to win the SEC, and I couldn't have been more wrong. I stink at making predictions, apparently. I think Ole Miss is probably, maybe, the better team, but I keep thinking A&M wins this game. My guess? Allen plays well, and his receiving core, extremely well. I think Garrett wins the battle over a rusty-ish Tunsil, and notches a sack or four, of Chad Kelly. Ole Miss will keep pace with a few deep plays to Laquon Treadwell, and Evan Engram I think has a nice game; but Ole Miss's lack of a running game will again do it in. Texas A&M 30, Ole Miss 28