In college football, there is a big difference between September and December — just ask the Ole Miss Rebels. The last two seasons, the Rebels have been the only team to defeat the Alabama Crimson Tide in the regular season. However, in both seasons, the Tide has gone on to win the SEC and make the College Football Playoff.
This upcoming Saturday, the Rebels have the chance to do the unprecedented by beating Alabama and Nick Saban for a third consecutive season. The Rebels are already one of just two teams to defeat the Tide in back to back seasons. The other was LSU, which beat Alabama in 2010 and 2011.
As much as it would mean for Ole Miss to upset the No. 1 team in the country, the win won’t mean as much if the Rebels again fail to build on it and make the program’s first appearance in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game.
Ole Miss is essentially on the verge of becoming the Mark Richt-era Georgia of the SEC West. In the past two seasons the Rebels have had the talent to win big games against Alabama and LSU only to squander a chance at a division title by losing to Arkansas. Last year, the Hogs kept Ole Miss from reaching Atlanta when Hunter Henry’s fourth-down miracle lateral to Alex Collins led to a touchdown in a 53-52 win in Oxford.
A third straight win over Alabama would mean Ole Miss has had more success against the nation’s best program than anyone else over the last seven years – Alabama has won four national championships during that span. However, that accomplishment can no longer stand alone.
If Hugh Freeze’s squad pulls off the upset, it must validate the win by making a strong run through a difficult conference schedule that includes trips to Arkansas, LSU and Texas A&M. The very next week Ole Miss’ resilience will be put to the test when the Georgia Bulldogs stroll into Oxford.
The importance of remaining strong after a (hypothetical) win over the Crimson Tide would not only determine the Rebels’ place in the SEC, but also become crucial to remaining in the conversation for a place in the College Football Playoff. The Rebels already have an early loss on the season, a 45-34 collapse against the Florida State Seminoles after leading by 22 points.
In the first two seasons of the College Football Playoff, no team with more than one loss has earned a spot in the four-team field. That said, the Rebels might not have to win out to have a chance; a two-loss SEC champion would have to be considered. Any more than two losses would effectively eliminate any team in the country from the playoff picture.
Most fans in Oxford would probably agree that it’s time Ole Miss finally goes to the SEC title game, something every other longtime SEC West school (this excludes recent arrival Texas A&M) has done since the SEC created the event in 1992. Defeating the Crimson Tide for the third year in a row could jump-start a season that began with a blown 22-point lead against Florida State and an uninspiring 38-13 victory over FCS opponent Wofford… but for it to mean anything, Ole Miss has to carry the same level of success through November.