Ole Miss and Lane Kiffin keep busting my…well…brackets. Last week I rather boldly predicted I thought these Rebels could win five of their last six games and finish the regular season with an overall record of 6-4.
Another false prophecy in the waste basket. Thanks Auburn. Thanks SEC replay official. Thanks questionable clock management. Thanks turnover at the goal line for the second consecutive week. Sarcastically all, of course.
Ole Miss should have beaten Auburn on Saturday. I saw it coming way back in the preseason. I saw it coming last week. This is not a very good Auburn team like most years. They have a coach half of the Tigers’ fan base wants dismissed, a dip in talent, etc., etc. Ole Miss fans aren’t far removed from identifying with that scenario. It isn’t an environment conducive to winning with all of the undercurrent on the Plains.
I was so wrong.
What I didn’t calculate was the fact that this Ole Miss team is not ready to win close games just yet. Yes, they won a close one at Kentucky thanks in part to the Wildcats missing an extra point in overtime. The Good Lord only knows what might have happened if not for that misfire. The Rebels could have been staring down the pipes at an 0-5 start. That win counts all the same, though.
So, too, do the losses, despite being only one score down to Alabama in the fourth quarter, despite having the football and an opportunity to win at Arkansas in the final seconds and despite getting screwed on a call versus Auburn and wasting away a chance for a game-winning drive.
Kiffin pretty much summed it up in his post-game press conference Saturday: These Rebels have to learn how to win. That’s another way of saying this team can’t close things out. And there is no book of analytics for that.
So, what about the rest of the way? The Rebels are 18-point favorites to beat Vanderbilt in Nashville on Saturday. They should win this game. I’ll be picking them to beat the Commodores. If Vandy just sticks to the anticipated script, Ole Miss ought to leave Nashville with a 2-4 mark, and that will be something to build on down the final four-game stretch.
There are very winnable games left ahead after Vanderbilt. Right now, games with South Carolina and Mississippi State, both of which will be played in Oxford, could be wins. I emphasize could.
Honestly, I don’t see wins over Texas A&M and LSU on the road right now. LSU seems to be finally finding itself and Texas A&M in College Station is just too much to ask. Sure, the Rebels could beat either or both, as the SEC resembles the NFL this season in regards to competitiveness.
Yes, I’m just Monday-morning-quarterbacking from 10,000 feet. But the facts are this is a team that entered the season with razor-thin depth on a defense that has been further handicapped by injuries and COVID-19 related problems. This is an offense that has the ability to be effective but has a tendency to blow off its toes several times a game. I don’t know if either will change this late into the season.
My expectations have been tempered.
Take it all with a grain of salt and remember this is year one of a rebuilding job at a program that is on its third head coach in a span of five years. This is a program that is coming off NCAA sanctions. These are strange times in recruiting, as COVID-19 has reduced that process to online dating. We’re playing poker with a deck of UNO cards, but there is no plan to fold.
I’m adjusting my prediction for the Rebels’ final record to 4-6. I believe there are three solid chances for wins remaining (Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Mississippi State). I believe there are two opponents that might just be a bridge too far (road games at LSU and Texas A&M). Depending on what happens this Saturday in Nashville, I’ll be back next week for further adjustments.
Four wins might get you a bowl game this year, and this program needs it. Take it, win it, use it in recruiting and flip the page to year two. Then the wind will be at the back of this program and in the process, this team might just figure it all out.