Alabama (4-0) at Ole Miss (4-0) Oct. 4, 3:30, CBS
Here’s The Deal: There are certain games that define a program and become part of the fabric of the history. Ole Miss thought that last year might have been that time, starting out the year 3-0 with road wins over Vanderbilt – back when it was playing college football – and Texas, and with the Tide still reeling from a shootout win over the Texas A&M Manziels a few weeks earlier. Instead, Alabama yawned, got out of bed, won 25-0, and it was back to business as usual. This time, though, things seem to be different.
Rankings don’t matter anymore, but in some way, shape or form, Alabama is No. 1 at best, top three at worst, but now it’s time to flex a little more muscle. The dominant Alabama teams under Nick Saban eat games like this for breakfast – they’re used to being everyone’s biggest game ever, and this is just part of the fun. So yes, GameDay is rolling into Oxford. Yes, there’s plenty of excitement and lots of high expectations. And yes, the Tide can’t get caught up in it. With two weeks off to rest up and get ready after blowing up on Florida, this begins the tough stretch with four road games in the next five with Texas A&M as the oasis in the middle. After that are home dates with Mississippi State and Auburn to deal with, so outside of a breather against Western Carolina, every week is a big one when you’re Alabama.
This can’t be the be-all-end-all for Ole Miss, either, with a trip to Texas A&M up next and several massive SEC West games to deal with. But there are only so many times when you’re a program like Ole Miss and you’re looking for that one big thing, like Texas A&M’s win over the Tide two years ago, and that’s what Hugh Freeze needs. He came up with a whopper of a recruiting class two years ago that’s paying off in a huge way, and now he and the Rebel fans are hoping everyone has matured and the team is ready for a game like this.
Can all the young players get over the emotion and take care of business? Are they ready for the big atmosphere? If not, the Crimson Tide might have another 25-0-like balloon pop waiting for them.
Why Alabama Might Win: You have to be nearly perfect to beat Alabama, and Ole Miss isn’t. Penalties have been a big issue, getting flagged 14 times against Boise State and ten more against Memphis. You can’t turn the ball over, and while the Rebels are great at coming up with takeaways, they gave it up three times against Boise State and four against Memphis. Alabama has hardly been air-tight with the ball, but it can afford not to be – Ole Miss can’t. The key for the Tide will be to grind out drives, take the crowd out of the game, and make sure it forces its will on the talented Rebel defensive front seven. Teams haven’t really committed to the run so far against Ole Miss, and there hasn’t been anyone who can get physical like the Tide will. There might be more flash and dash to Alabama’s O now, and there might be better pacing and tempo, but the more long, sustained marches, the better.
Why Ole Miss Might Win: Can the Alabama secondary stop a deep passing game? Florida, despite what it might have seemed, actually does have some playmakers, but it’s the wrong fit for a team like Alabama, who makes a living off of teams that need to run the ball to win. How you beat the Crimson Tide is with a crafty quarterback who can make plays down the field, and a deep passing game that isn’t afraid to take a few chances, which is why Johnny Manziel became Johnny Football. Bo Wallace might not be the most effective passer around, and he’s always good for at least a pick or two a game, but he’s hitting 71% of his throws and he’s never shy about taking his shots. It takes a mixture of fearlessness and recklessness to beat the Crimson Tide – again, your table is ready, Mr. Manziel – and Wallace and the Ole Miss passing game might be able to expose the Achilles’ heel.
Who To Watch Out For: No one is playing any better at his position right now anywhere in college football than Amari Cooper is at wide receiver. Not quite right last season, he didn’t show off his explosiveness and quickness until late in the season, but this year he’s tearing everyone up with four straight 100-yard games – six going back to last season – with 43 catches for 655 yards and five touchdowns. With what Alabama wants and needs to do with this offense, he’s been the perfect fit and playmaker. That means the Ole Miss defensive backs have to do everything right. Four of the team’s top six tacklers are in the secondary, and in this game, more than any other, safeties Cody Prewitt – who made some noise this week about the Tide not being as strong as people think – and Tony Conner have to be swarming.
What’s Going To Happen: Ole Miss will come out roaring with a few big plays and even a decent first half lead, and then the Crimson Tide running game will take over. With QB Blake Sims nursing a shoulder injury, he’s going to play, but he won’t be the main focus of the attack. The Bama D will come up with three second half takeaways, Sims will be efficient, Alabama will win, Alabama will get on the bus, and then Alabama will go play someone else’s biggest game of the year.
Prediction: Alabama 45 … Ole Miss 31
Line: Alabama -5.5 o/u: 51
Must Watch Factor: 5: Gone Girl – 1: Mulaney … 5
Alabama (4-0) at Ole Miss (4-0) Oct. 4, 3:30, CBS