Ole Miss has a free shot at defeating the top-ranked team in the country Saturday when the Rebels travel to Tuscaloosa to take on Alabama.

When Keith Carter hired Lane Kiffin, this is where he hoped Kiffin would take the program — on a path to relevancy, playing in games that matter on big stages and having a puncher’s chance when squaring off against the best in the sport. I’m just not sure Carter, even if he had the loftiest of expectations, imagined this would happen just 13 games into Kiffin’s tenure.

The overarching reason Ole Miss is in this position is Matt Corral. He has ascended from a talented prospect without a clear direction and dysfunction surrounding him to a Heisman favorite under Kiffin and Jeff Lebby.

Corral had every reason to leave. He’d been undercut by an incompetent offensive coordinator in Rich Rodriguez and given up on by a head coach in Matt Luke, who tied his professional fate to Corral when he convinced him to sign with the Rebels in December of 2017.

Corral’s maturity through the adversity and instability he’s faced is perhaps the most crucial reason for his rise.

“He’s here at 5:30 in the morning every morning,” Kiffin said, “The way he prepares and comes to meetings, his approach to it and getting on the players when they’re not doing things right, even defensively. Those leadership things when you guys aren’t looking.”

Corral has yet to throw an interception through 12 quarters this season. Whether that streak continues Saturday remains to be seen, but even if he does make a mistake early in the game, this more veteran version of Corral will be able to bounce back mentally. His unflappable nature is nearly as invaluable as his elite arm talent.

The moment won’t be too big for Corral, and the confidence he exudes positively affects those around him, which is an enormous asset for a team that hasn’t yet been in this position before. He is the best player on the field, and he’s playing like it.

Part of that confidence is his ability to have an inward focus while preparing for the biggest game of his career. Corral is hardly concerned about the stature of the opponent and more so his individual performance and that of the offense as a whole.

“I think last year we were more worried about playing Alabama than we are this year,” Corral said Monday. “We’re not worried about who we’re playing. We’re worried about how we handle each practice individually. We’re worried about today. We’re not worried about Alabama, even though they are a great team and they are the best team we’re going to face this year. We’re not worried about them right now. We’re worried about having the best practice that we can today.”

That mindset is shared by his teammates and it’s largely due to Corral’s maturity. Sophomore running back Jerrion Ealy declared last week that he believed there is no one out there that can beat the Rebels without them contributing to the cause and beating themselves.

It’s no coincidence his sentiment mirrors the mindset of his quarterback.

Whether that confidence is warranted remains to be seen, but Corral’s unflappable nature and unbreakable confidence will serve a relatively inexperienced Ole Miss team well in a game that will largely shape how the SEC West is decided.

And for Corral, Saturday offers a chance to cement himself as the favorite in the Heisman Trophy race and propel his team toward national prominence.

“That’s cool, right?” Corral said. “That’s awesome that people are saying that, but it’s not a point of focus. I’m not putting any energy into it, so the team shouldn’t either, and they don’t. It’s just really focusing on the now rather than later.”