Even though preseason polls are fun to discuss and debate, they’re far from 100- percent accurate. Even the most well-read, best-researched experts will end up getting a pick or two wrong every season.
This weekend’s SEC primetime contest proved that point. Ole Miss – picked to finish fifth in the West – went on the road and beat Alabama, ranked second in the AP poll and third in the all-important TSS poll.
Please note that I did not refer to the final outcome as an upset: the Rebels were the better team on Saturday night.
That’s not to say that this victory was perfect. Although Mississippi’s defense played extremely well at times, it still gave up 37 points and 502 yards of total offense. In addition, the Rebel ground game – which came into Saturday night’s action averaging 276.5 yards per game and 7.79 yards per carry – had no answers for Alabama’s front seven, managing just 92 yards on 32 carries (2.9).
With that said, I’ve got to tip my hat to Ole Miss for how well it played in this contest. Sure, the defense gave up its share of yardage, but it came up with stops when it needed to, forcing five Alabama turnovers, including a pressure-induced pick, which ended any hope of a Crimson Tide comeback.
More impressively, the Rebel D got the job done on fourth down, allowing Alabama to convert just one of four opportunities. This total includes a crucial stop early in the both halves, when a score could have changed the entire complexion of the contest.
Of course, the game ball has to go to quarterback Chad Kelly. Making his first career road start in an extremely hostile environment, Kelly played with the poise of a champion, completing 18 of 33 passes for 341 yards and 3 TDs. His ability to avoid the rush and keep plays going paid dividends, especially on this highlight-reel touchdown, which put the Rebels up by two scores.
So, what does this contest mean in the grand scheme of things?
Simple: the win should vault Ole Miss into the top four in the polls. While we can argue over whether or not Ohio State should lose the top spot even though the Buckeyes didn’t lose, there’s no denying that the Rebels have a very strong case to be ranked No. 1. Teams simply don’t walk into Tuscaloosa and come away with a more-decisive-than-it-looks type of victory. In fact, the last time Alabama lost at home was back in 2012, when Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M upset the Tide.
Ironically, the Crimson Tide still managed to win both the SEC and national championships that season.
Could it happen again in 2015-’16?
That doesn’t seem likely. By virtue of Saturday night’s victory, Ole Miss would need to lose twice for Alabama to have any chance to capture the SEC West crown. Considering how well the Rebels played on the road, I don’t see that happening, even with the brutal schedule they have remaining.