Ole Miss faces key stretch of SEC games
By By STAN TORGERSON / Columnist
Oct. 14, 2002
The Week in Review …
The fun part of the season is over for Ole Miss. Now it's time for the Rebels to get down to serious business.
Being 5-1 is fine but let's be realistic. Four of those wins came against cupcake opposition Louisiana-Monroe (31-3), Memphis (38-16), Vanderbilt (45-38) and Arkansas State (52-17). One was earned against a quality team, Florida (17-14). The loss was to another legitimate 1-A opponent, Texas Tech (28-42).
At this point all Ole Miss fans really know is that their team can score 211 points in six games. While the defense played well against the Gators, the fact is it has given up a lot of points too, 116 to be exact.
From this point, the schedule gets serious. It was tailored to give the Rebels a chance to grow and bond and it has done that. Now we'll find out to see how strong the bond is.
Alabama next Saturday, followed by Arkansas, Auburn and Georgia represents a real gutcheck, particularly since three of the four are played on the road. Only Auburn is a home game. Then comes an open date followed by LSU, also on the road, and Mississippi State on Thanksgiving Day.
The Rebels are in an ideal position to control their own destiny. They could lose to Georgia and still win the SEC West. They can't afford to lose to anyone in their division except Alabama because of the tiebreaker. When two teams tie for first place, the nod goes to the team that beat the other in the regular season. Wins over Alabama, Arkansas, and Auburn would mean the SEC West championship would be decided Nov. 23rd in Baton Rouge against LSU, depending, of course, on whether or not the Tigers run the table too. A defeat by Georgia would not affect the West title at all since they're in the other half of the league. The Rebs could take it all by defeating LSU and beating Mississippi State.
They could also lose at Alabama and still earn a trip to Atlanta for the title game since the Tide is ineligible to go. But in that case Ole Miss would have to win all the rest for an outright title, including Georgia. If the Rebs lose to both Bama and Georgia, wins over Arkansas and Auburn could still make the LSU game the deciding factor, providing the Tigers lose another game to someone else.
Arkansas has already lost two conference games and a Rebel win would make three. Auburn has lost one and the second would be to Ole Miss and act as the tie breaker. Mississippi State is out of it. as is Bama. The season could possibly come down to the LSU game with wins over Arkansas and Auburn, but a win over Alabama would have a decided effect on the future. Georgia really doesn't make any difference if UM wins them all against their SEC West competitors.
The above makes it sound easy. It won't be. This week we'll find out how good the Rebels really are and if it could happen.
It was a disappointing weekend for Golden Eagle Fans. It always is when you lose to a team that you know isn't as good as you are.
I don't believe South Florida is as good as USM. But the truth is when your defense gives up 464 yards it is difficult, if not impossible, to win. But still a look at the statistics makes you wonder. Southern Miss itself had 412 yards. South Florida was penalized 10 times for 90 yards, Southern Miss only 5 for 35. The Golden Eagles had 23 first downs, the winners had 21. The key is third down conversions. While South Florida was 5 of 16, the Golden Eagles went just 2 of 14.
It's one thing to wound the enemy. It's quite another to kill them off amd USM simply couldn't kill the Bulls, not with 2-for-14 on third down. They'll get a fresh start next week in a home game against a Cincinnati team that lost to Tulane Saturday 35-17 and is only 2-4 for the season. The South Florida game wasn't a conference game so all it did was hurt the Golden Eagles' pride.
As for Mississippi State, they really are a poor football team and things are getting testy in Starkville. After State squeezed by Troy State in a game described by one sports writer as "a boring afternoon" coach Jackie Sherrill was asked whether starting tailback Donte Walker had become "more of a hindrance than a help?" Walker had gained only 15 yards in seven carries, had fumbled at the Troy State 3 yard line and had been booed by the fans.
But in the same press conference Sherrill said this.
I'm having trouble between evaluating the implied criticism in the sports writer's question and the plain out-front criticism the coach himself leveled against his kids.
Normally all parents and their friends think their baby is beautiful. Apparently last Saturday it would have been difficult to find either at Mississippi State who did.