I’ll remove the drama up front and tell you I do not predict that Ole Miss will win this game.
Upsets happen. I get it.
One trademark of Nick Saban’s time at Alabama is that the Crimson Tide seems to avoid complacency. So looking past Ole Miss because of what the Rebels were last year or looking ahead to another point on the schedule probably isn’t going to happen. Especially after Saban invoked the Tim Tebow speech to his players after Wednesday’s practice. You remember Tebow’s speech following the Gators upset loss to Ole Miss in 2008.
I thought Texas would be a good measuring stick for Ole Miss, and it was, but the results were mixed.
The Longhorns showed that the Rebels have a long way to go defensively, and it’s unclear by last week’s beatdown of Tulane how much progress was made in revamping the secondary.
Alabama will present in A.J. McCarron, a quarterback just as efficient as Texas’ David Ash, and Ash completed 82.6 percent of his pass attempts. The guess here is that Ole Miss is better, that eyes are in the right places, and that discipline with the basic fundamentals will be better than they were two weeks ago.
The question will be how physical the Rebels can be up front. Can they get off blocks and make plays? They struggled with that against Texas.
The positives from the Texas game were on the offensive side of the ball. The Rebels scored 24 points (plus seven from special teams) against a pretty good defense. Alabama will be better.
The Tide came within 3 minutes against Florida Atlantic last week of posting a third-straight shutout.
If the Rebels can hold their own with their offense and put up numbers against Alabama that no one else has, they can leave Tuscaloosa with confidence heading into an important two-game stretch coming up.
The likelihood is that the Rebels’ SEC losing streak will reach 15 games Saturday night. Following Alabama, there are home games against Texas A&M and Auburn and realistic chances to end that streak. That’s the next big step in the Hugh Freeze restoration project … getting in the win column in the SEC.
It won’t be against Alabama, but as Freeze so often says, you can’t let one game beat you twice. The Rebels need to avoid injury Saturday night and also announce their presence with ball-protection, ball-control offense and by taking advantage of scoring opportunities.
If they do those things they can make a statement on a national stage that Ole Miss football really is on the up-swing, and they can carry some confidence into an important couple of home games.
The Rebels may not win the football game, but they can finish with more pride than in last season’s 52-7 loss when Alabama scored 28 points in the third quarter at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Prediction: Alabama 35, Ole Miss 11