COLUMN: No one on the red and blue side of this weekend’s sideshow of a football game is going to admit it’s a mulligan, but in the grand scheme, it is.
Ole Miss enters a game with Big 12 power Texas with virtually nothing to lose. The Rebels have matched their win total of 2011 before September 15, and having been tabbed as likely the worst team of 2012 in the SEC before the year started, no one expected — or expects — them to beat the ‘Horns.
That’s not to say it’s totally out of the realm of possibility. Ignoring the circumstances of the Rebels for a second, Texas has spent the three years since they were out-muscled by Alabama in the BCS National Championship game suffering a spate of embarrassing upset losses. By their own standards they’ve underperformed, and it’s nearly impossible for talent as babied as a gaggle of five-star recruits from the Lone Star to not overlook a 2-10 team, even on the road. And — albeit against inferior teams — Ole Miss looks nothing like its prior self.
Expect Hugh Freeze to gamble now. There’s no pressure for the Rebels’ head coach and play caller to dial up an exotic trick or two, even if it costs a turnover. For Texas, Ole Miss should be inconsequential right now, and as long as they aren’t blown out completely (more than 21 points) Saturday, Freeze’s path to reclamation will continue unharmed.
There are caveats to such a breezy attitude. Writing off the Texas game comes with an assumption that Ole Miss beats Tulane in New Orleans next week, and that the recent developments inside the SEC hold true. A 3-1 Rebel program suddenly looks healthier given the fact that Auburn — coming to Oxford in October — has begun what looks to be a full implosion and that Arkansas — playing Ole Miss in the same Little Rock venue they were upset by ULM in — can’t fix their defensive lapses.
Most rational pundits pegged this team to finish with four or five wins this year, and said that anything more would earn Freeze the title of SEC Coach of the Year. It still feels far-fetched to discuss bowl eligibility, but the idea of finding three more wins after non-conference play isn’t as fantastic as it was just two weeks ago. Vanderbilt is 0-2 already and, Texas A&M has shaky young quarterback play and will also have to travel to Oxford.
Surely these are bold assumptions, but they serve a greater good for Freeze and his young, thin roster — play without fear, because no one’s expecting much from you. That kind of attitude has served more than a few spread offenses well headed into games against heavily favored teams. It will take the intangible of faith — and a loud, biased home crowd — to build the kind of momentum that could create a key turnover or defensive stop.
It says something terrible about the state of this program that by simply entering a game with a 2-0 record that Ole Miss is basically ahead of schedule. But it’s the truth, and it should inspire the Rebels to attack without fear.
(Steven Godfrey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @38Godfrey.) (September 13, 2012, Page 10)