It’s officially crunch time for Ole Miss. The practice and workouts are over, and all the planning, preparation and heavy lifting is no more; it’s game time, and Ole Miss sets out against the Big East’s Pitt to finish the mission of a complete turnaround in 2012.
Bowl games don’t necessarily mean so much for some SEC teams, but for Ole Miss, this game means they continue to roll with momentum; it means they get to drown their in-state rival in the process; it means that this offense will continue to roll right into next season, losing only one offensive lineman.
There’s so much anticipation stemming into 2013 with recruiting and continuing success, but first, the Rebels have a date with Pitt in the Compass Bowl to continue the turnaround mission Hugh Freeze set out for his club before the season.
After finishing 6-18 in the last two years, with a combined record of 0-16 in SEC play, there’s an energy around Oxford and within the program that has been noticeably absent. Houston Nutt left things on life support for an unknown coach at Arkansas State who breathed life back into an exhausted fan base.
Freeze not only changed momentum and expectation, but he made a culture change. And that’s not easy to do, inheriting a disgruntled and non-optimistic team. Freeze has the program well ahead of schedule and on schedule to compete with the big boys starting next season.
A Compass Bowl loss will still result in a great season for the Rebels, who went from 2-10 to 6-6. Let’s not forget losses against Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and LSU all came late in the fourth quarter by a combined 10 points. But winning it becomes that much of a cherry on top for this program and extra bragging rights, too.
Let’s turn our attention now to Pittsburgh.
Too close to call: These two teams are just about as even as you can get. Both hold 6-6 records with two new head coaches vying for their seventh win and to finish with a winning record. Similarly, each are playing their best football right now, as Ole Miss finished very strong, nearly knocking off LSU and thumping Mississippi State, and Pitt won their last two games by a combined 54-9.
Key Stat: The one glaring stat that jumps out and smacks you in the face is the difference in turnover margin. Pitt is +12 while Ole Miss is -1. That speaks volumes to Ole Miss’ turnovers on offense and bone-headed plays by Bo Wallace at times, and it tells us that Pitt doesn’t beat themselves too often with turnover troubles. In fact, Ole Miss turned it over 27 times on offense, which is next to last in the SEC.
Key matchup: Have you watched Ole Miss’ offense yet? Of course you have. They’re exciting and up-tempo, but Bo Wallace has to be on his game. As Bo Wallace goes, so goes the Rebels’ offense. Wallace has been magnificent at times throwing for 2,843 yards with a combined 27 touchdowns. But he’s also been really questionable at times and has thrown 19 picks. If Wallace is on, expect Ole Miss to win this game. Wallace to Donte Moncrief will be a big connection come Saturday.
Photo Credit: Beth Hall-US PRESSWIRE