Watch Oxford they say. Ole Miss beating Auburn has become a trendy pick among the national media largely because of time and place as it applies to Auburn, which is coming off last week's emotional 24-17 win over LSU to move to 8-0.
I am not picking that upset.
I believed a couple of weeks ago that Ole Miss matched up best with Auburn on this “A team” stretch on the schedule. The Rebels had made strides in run defense, and I was looking to see Cam Newton against one of the better defenses in the league.
Well, Newton trashed LSU with 217 yards last week while the Rebels were struggling to tackle at Arkansas. Auburn kept moving forward while Ole Miss took a backward step.
One backward step does not mean hope is lost, but looking at this from a matchup standpoint, it will be tough for the Rebels before what is expected to be a record crowd – with a heavy Auburn influence – at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
The Ole Miss team I saw last weekend will have great difficulty in slowing down Cam Newton, as many teams have.
Newton, a 6-6 250, will be 62 pounds heavier than the Rebels' heaviest cornerback, Marcus Temple.
He will be 20 pounds heavier than anyone who will come at him once he breaks past the defensive line.
For Ole Miss, the roadmap to success will have to be unconventional. Tyrone Nix will have to commit as many people as possible to stopping Newton. That means plenty of 1-on-1 coverage in the secondary.
If Newton throws for 300 yards and four touchdowns and Auburn wins handily, you know you were beaten by a superior athlete on top of his game. To this point, Newton hasn't proven he can do that. He has proven he can crack 200 yards against a physical run defense, and that attention he attracts in doing that creates big-play opportunities for his teammates. It was actually a 70-yard run by speedy Mario Fannin – not a Newton run – that was the game-clincher against LSU.
There's an equally daunting matchup issue for Ole Miss on the offensive side. It appears after Wednesday's practice that sophomore A.J. Hawkins will start at center. That still leaves Patrick Junen and Jared Duke – two true freshmen – as the starting guards, and Hawkins himself is a sophomore in his first season as a starter.
The Rebels are terribly young along the OL interior and are playing the SEC's leader in tackles for loss, Auburn DT Nick Fairley with 17. When former Ole Miss star Peria Jerry was an AP All-American in 2008 he had 18 TFLs for the year.
The Rebels' offensive line, remember, struggled to keep Arkansas out of the backfield last week.
Ole Miss was more successful in the second half when it got away from trying to establish a traditional run game.
That's what Houston Nutt needs to do this week. Take a few cracks with the run, because you need to give it a try, but don't spend all of two quarters trying to get it done. Let Jeremiah Masoli play a little flag football, take a shotgun snap, make a read and throw the ball downfield.
The receivers are capable and are getting better. Use them. It's out on the edge that Masoli makes his best reads in the run game too.
There aren't a whole lot of paths to success, but those are two. The Rebels would also benefit from a flat, unfocused Auburn team and a revived Ole Miss home crowd.
Maybe all those things will come together, but I'm saying …
Prediction: Auburn 36, Ole Miss 19