As crushing a blow as No. 1 Alabama dealt to Ole Miss this past weekend, the 3-1 (1-1 SEC) Rebels still control their destiny for the rest of the regular season. It's important not to forget, despite the nightmare in Tuscaloosa, that Hugh Freeze's young club already boasts three wins in 2013.
With little time to look back at what happened against a stifling Crimson Tide D (which is a good thing), the Rebels collide with the 3-1 (1-1 SEC) Auburn Tigers on Saturday night on the Plains.
It's a game of paramount importance to both SEC West foes, and is a contest that will ultimately prove to either be the game that helped Ole Miss get back on track this year or the game where the ever-growing program momentum came to a screeching halt.
When bowl bids are being handed out in early December, remember what happened back on October 5 at Jordan-Hare Stadium between the Rebels and Tigers. It'll likely prove to be a key "swing game" for both teams in terms of where they end up ringing in the New Year.
Win, lose or draw against Gus Malzahn's club, Ole Miss will then host No. 9 Texas A&M (October 12) and No. 10 LSU at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in back-to-back weeks. Freeze and Co. best be mentally ready for those two divisional matchups, because both the Aggies and the Bayou Bengals will be ready to roll.
Ahead of an extremely important trip to Auburn, let's look at Ole Miss' best- and worst-case scenarios for the rest of the 2013 campaign.
Obviously, the best thing that could happen to Ole Miss right now is to leave Auburn victorious.
If the Rebels can improve to 4-1 (2-1 SEC) before Johnny Football brings his show to Oxford on October 12, they'll be in prime position to chase a New Year's Day bowl bid.
Don't forget that once Ole Miss leaves Auburn on Saturday evening, the Rebels won't leave Mississippi again for the rest of the regular season. Moreover, they'll play six home games over a seven-week span starting with A&M.
While it'll be tough for Ole Miss to knock off two top-10 teams in as many weeks, there's a real good chance Hugh Freeze and Co. pull an upset in at least one of those two contests.
In splitting games against Texas A&M and LSU, the Rebels would sit at 5-2 (3-2 SEC) before entertaining Idaho on October 26. Assuming the Vandals don't cause any trouble in Oxford, Ole Miss would be 6-2 (3-2 SEC) with only four games left on the schedule.
Not bad for a team still working to establish itself, in only Year 2 under Freeze.
After being able to heal some bangs and bruises during an open weekend on November 2, home games against Arkansas (11/9), Troy (11/16) and Missouri (11/23) then await the Rebels.
That three-game stretch may not sound grueling at the moment, but it'll be yet another test for a relatively young Ole Miss club. The Razorback contest will likely be the toughest of the bunch, but Missouri could give the Rebels trouble as well.
Assuming Ole Miss drops just one of the three games during the November homestand, the Rebels would then be 8-3 (4-3 SEC) before traveling to Mississippi State on Thanksgiving night.
In a rivalry game as intense as that between the Rebels and Bulldogs, anything could happen.
However, let's work on the assumption QB Bo Wallace leads his club to the W in Starkville. At that point, the Rebels would finish the regular season with an impressive 9-3 (5-3 SEC) record and head to either the Gator Bowl, Music City Bowl, or Chick-fil-a Bowl.
What could still be a special season for Ole Miss in 2013 could turn south quickly if Auburn upends the Rebels this weekend at Auburn. If the Rebels fall on the road for a second consecutive week, they'd be 3-2 (1-2 SEC) before playing Texas A&M and LSU at home the following two weeks.
A 3-2 mark heading into back-to-back contests with two SEC West powers would be brutal.
Not only would Ole Miss have its collective back to the wall, but it would also likely have lost a great deal of momentum, enthusiasm and confidence. It's the last thing the Rebels would need.
While Freeze would undoubtedly have his kids excited for the opportunity to upset either the Aggies or Tigers in front of the home crowd, a next worse-case scenario would be losses to both teams.
If that were to happen, in addition to the Rebels already having fallen to both Alabama and Auburn, the once rising Rebs would be a measly 3-4 (1-4 SEC) heading into an open weekend.
Alas, the stagnant Idaho Vandals travel to Oxford on October 26. Let's give the Rebels the W.
At that point, the red and blue would need to win at least two of their final four games (Arkansas, Troy, Missouri and Mississippi State) to even become bowl eligible. If they lost to the Hogs, beat the Trojans and fell to Missouri, it would truly create a nightmare scenario for Ole Miss: having to win the Egg Bowl over the Bulldogs just to become bowl eligible.
Lose in Starkville and a 3-1 start to the season would end the season on a 2-6 skid. Win the Egg Bowl trophy for a second straight year and the Rebels would likely head to Memphis for the Liberty Bowl or back to Birmingham for the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Regardless of the destination, a 6-6 season wouldn't sit well with the Rebel faithful.
What's Most Likely to Happen
Thankfully for the Ole Miss offense, it won't have to face the Bama D again this season.
This weekend, the Rebels should provide just a little more offensive firepower than Auburn can handle. Behind another solid performance from the Ole Miss defense, the Rebs should move to 4-1 (2-1 SEC).
Finally done with a grueling four-game road stretch over a five-week span to start the year, Freeze and Co. host six teams over the next seven weeks in Oxford. While pulling upsets over both A&M and LSU would be quite tough, the Rebels should claim one of the two contests to move to 5-2 (3-2 SEC).
Next, a win over Idaho officially makes the Rebels bowl eligible in 2013.
Over the final four games against Arkansas, Troy, Mizzou and Mississippi State, the Rebels should pick up wins in at least two of the four (if not three). That being the case, Ole Miss should still finish the season with a record of at least 8-4 (4-4 SEC).
However, I fully believe this Rebel squad can still go 9-3 this season, as I predicted before the season began. Over the coming weeks, it's going to become apparent just how solid Alabama truly is again in 2013. The Ole Miss loss at Bryant-Denny Stadium looks really bad right now, but the worst is now behind the Rebels.
Pick up the W on the Plains this weekend, Ole Miss, and the sky remains the limit this season.
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