Published August 30, 2011 - 11:08am
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Everyone is talking about LSU vs. Oregon and Georgia vs. Boise State as the must-see opening weekend games. I, too, am looking forward to both of those games, and they are both must-see TV.
However, there is another non-conference matchup that I am particularly looking forward to in which one SEC program needs to make a statement:
BYU vs. Ole Miss
Neither team is ranked, and this matchup doesn’t have the sex-appeal of a No. 3 vs. No. 4 showdown. It has no national title implications. However, it is just as important and can be viewed as a must-win game for all of the Ole Miss Rebels, the SEC and the BYU Cougars.
Yes, Ole Miss’ program is slumping quite a bit at the present time. There’s no hiding it. Coming off of a four-win season in 2010, the expectations are average at best for Houston Nutt’s crew in Oxford this year, and many questions surround this team heading into week one. There will be young players all over the field for the Rebels, who will be getting their feet wet for the first time in a college football game.
The BYU Cougars, on the other hand, bring in experience and a big-time offense, particularly in the passing game, with quarterback Jake Heaps and his veteran-led offensive line. The Cougars return 10 starters on offense, and Heaps is returning from a true-freshman season a year ago that saw him throw for 2,316 yards and 15 touchdowns. Everyone can count on BYU’s offense being well represented in Oxford.
BYU is labeling this as a statement game, and indeed it is a statement game for any non-SEC team playing an SEC program. BYU opens its first year of independence in a probable must-win situation on national TV against an SEC opponent.
“It’s a huge statement game for us,” quarterback Jake Heaps said. “This game means a lot to us. This is an SEC football team, so to walk into an SEC stadium and environment and walk away with a win from a traditional powerhouse program in the SEC, that’s a great thing for us. But it’s going to be a hard fought battle. They’re a good football team, and we’re up to the challenge.”
However, don’t expect Ole Miss to roll over and take one on the chin just because the program is in a recession right now. Rebels’ head coach Houston Nutt has always excelled at being the underdog, and he is certainly the underdog this year and in this game.
Ole Miss’ running game will run early and often and really try to impose their will on this fast and physical BYU defense. The Rebels will be breaking in a new quarterback in WVU transfer Barry Brunetti, and this team will rely on the tailbacks – Brandon Bolden, Jeff Scott and Enrique Davis – and the offensive line to do what an SEC team does to a non-conference opponent: wear the opponent down on the line of scrimmage and win the game in the fourth quarter.
This is a must-win for an Ole Miss program that barely has a pulse and a first-year Independent BYU Cougars team. This is also must-see TV.
So, let’s not forget about the ‘other’ opening weekend game that is a huge statement game. Ole Miss and the SEC both want this one bad, and I am particularly looking forward to watching these two teams go to battle in Oxford on Saturday.