PARRISH ALFORD: Rebels set up for a strong finish

PARRISH ALFORD

PARRISH ALFORD

OXFORD

I suspect it’s been done since the first time the printed word and football intersected.

Maybe it was the precursor to the online fantasy leagues.

Maybe it wasn’t always done on the poster-sized cardboard schedules and was done instead on napkins, scrap paper or the inside of middle school book covers.

Wherever it was done, writing W’s and L’s on your favorite team’s schedule is a time-honored tradition.

So too are the gasps and moans of fear and respect when you see certain opponents on that schedule.

In what is not a time-honored tradition, Ole Miss played its first four major conference opponents on the road.

Excluding Southeast Missouri, that stretch plus the first two home games against top 10 opponents Texas A&M and LSU created what Rebels coach Hugh Freeze referred to Monday as the “gauntlet.”

With the gauntlet behind them the Rebels are 4-3, a record that likely matches the numbers of W’s and L’s scribbled on many schedules, though some of those probably circled a win at Auburn and gave up a loss at Texas.

The thinking along the way has been that Ole Miss would be in position to make a run at the finish.

The Rebels will likely be solid favorites in at least three of their remaining five games. Idaho visits this Saturday, Troy on Nov. 16. Between them is an Arkansas team that has given up 104 points in its last two games.

The Missouri game looks a lot different now, and the Mississippi State game is a rival matchup that can take unexpected twists and turns.

Ole Miss is not far enough removed from the disaster of 2011 to take anyone for granted. These are clearly different days for the Rebels, but the recent rash of injuries are a reminder of the lack of depth and the frailty of success.

There’s still so much on the table, so much to be gained in terms of program building with a strong finish.

Winning the gauntlet with four victories creates a positive vibe as November approaches. How different might it feel if Bo Wallace had scrambled for only 5 yards instead of 6 on third-and-6 from the 19 with less than 3 minutes remaining against LSU?

If Ole Miss plays with intensity in the first half against Idaho, it may be able to rest some starters in the second.

That plus an open date next week may allow for some of the wounded to heal and return.

The gauntlet is in the rear view mirror, but the Rebels really can’t look at it like fans and their schedules.

In the quest for consistency and the next level of football success this is no time to coast for Ole Miss.

Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@ journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at Djournal.com.