The Southeastern Conference’s “Road to Atlanta” was supposed to reach a major intersection this week on the campus of Ole Miss, but one powerhouse school’s hopes of making the SEC Championship Game have diminished while the host school will a little need help, too.
On Saturday afternoon in Oxford, Miss., the No. 11 Ole Miss Rebels will welcome the No. 9 Alabama Crimson Tide, with neither team having any margin for error if it wants to entertain the possibility of going to the conference title game in Atlanta.
Ole Miss (8-1, 4-1 SEC) lost 45-20 at LSU on Oct. 22, putting the squad in a must-win situation if it wanted to make this season even more special than last year’s 10-win regular season and Sugar Bowl appearance.
Now, the Rebels find themselves needing two situations to take place in order to make it to the SECCG on Dec. 3 — win out, and hope the No. 7 LSU Tigers, holding the head-to-head tiebreaker, fall at least once in one of their final two conference games at Arkansas or at Texas A&M.
So first, they have to take care of Alabama (7-2, 4-2), which fell 32-31 in dramatic fashion last Saturday night on the road at LSU’s “Death Valley.”
Rebels coach Lane Kiffin even reached out to a popular SEC college football host and urged him not to egg on Nick Saban even more. Falling on Saturday would mark the first time Alabama has lost back-to-back games since 2013.
“I texted (Paul) Finebaum on the way over here when I saw his quotes when he normally does and he says the Nick Saban dynasty is over and all that,” said Kiffin, a former Alabama assistant. “Every time he says this — which I tell him — all he does is, I call it, like, GOAT fuel. The opposite of rat poison. You’re just like, giving the GOAT fuel, which for him, that works. He goes and proves them wrong every time.
“So really appreciate you, Paul, saying that right after the game. I’m sure that was on his desk Sunday morning.”
Alabama’s two SEC defeats — to Tennessee and LSU — are uncharacteristic for such a juggernaut of a program, which has struggled four times so far.
While some could argue that the Crimson Tide could have beaten the Volunteers with a shorter late field goal or won in overtime with better clock management, the naysayers will point to a last-second field goal at Texas and a goal-line stand at home against Texas A&M that could have added two more losses to the Tuscaloosa team’s ledger.
“I know people have kind of written us off to some degree,” Saban said. “We’ve had four games that have come down basically to the last play of the game. We won two of them and lost two of them by a total of four points.
“We’re going to play a good team this week, and I’m sure they’re going to want to put up on their mantel, ‘We beat Alabama, too.’ It’s just a matter of whether we’re going to allow that to happen or do everything we can to avoid it.”
Alabama has won six straight in the series after losing to former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze in 2014 and 2015. However, that 2014 triumph was vacated for Freeze using ineligible players.
–Field Level Media