By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
The eyes of college football are focused on the SEC this week, and it’s not because of the epic battle in Lexington, Ky.
As the media crush centers around No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama, Ole Miss and Kentucky, who are a combined 1-16 in their last 17 SEC games, will draw their own morbid curiosity from national analysts.
That one win in the stretch was the Rebels’ 42-35 victory over the the Wildcats last October in Oxford.
Tennessee is also in the mix of winless SEC teams, which raises the question, what defines an elite conference?
Is the SEC the nation’s best this season because the two best teams in the nation may very well be in the same division?
Or is it the Big 12? Texas doesn’t play well with others, and defections have had the league on the brink of extinction, but it has its own elite teams and a stronger bottom than the SEC. Kansas is clearly the weakest team, but among the next three, Baylor has been ranked, Missouri just won at No. 16 Texas Aamp&M, and Iowa State routed Texas Tech, which beat Oklahoma.
There’s a formula somewhere that would have Iowa State in the BCS championship game.
For Ole Miss and Kentucky, there are similarities beyond the goose eggs in the conference win column.
Both have struggled to score points. Kentucky’s defensive numbers are a little better, though the Wildcats gave up an average of 45.6 points in losses to Florida, LSU and South Carolina.
Ole Miss players say they’re playing hard and with excitement as the SEC losses mount.
Both teams will get up for this game. Both have it circled as a quick dose of over-the-counter medicine to provide instant – if only temporary – relief.
That’s what a win could bring. But a loss …
Would the effort and focus be there the following week against an inspired Louisiana Tech team – one that almost won in Starkville earlier this season – sensing a vulnerable SEC opponent?
If Kentucky doesn’t beat Ole Miss, it has Tennessee and Vanderbilt remaining. Wins are not given but also are not outside the realm of comprehension.
The Rebels have LSU – which makes success seem highly unlikely.
After that it’s the rival game against MSU, which will be playing for its sixth win and bowl eligibility unless it upsets Arkansas the week before. The Bulldogs aren’t an elite conference team, but their physical rushing offense will give them a distinct advantage in the game. As Auburn’s Michael Dyer celebrated the SEC offensive player of the week award Monday, it marked the third straight week for an opposing running back to be so honored after running against the Rebels.
Beating Kentucky won’t cure the on-field problems that have accumulated over time, nor will it unite an Ole Miss fan base divided by off-field issues.
Losing, though, would continue an embarrassing streak and could bring a further downward turn in a disappointing season.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at NEMS360.com.