Ole Miss' Egg Bowl win should send it to a New Year's 6 bowl, but it likely won't for a frustrating reason
According to sideline analyst Cole Cubelic, Lane Kiffin smashed his headset into the ground during the final minutes of Ole Miss’ Egg Bowl victory on Thursday night.
He had a couple of good reasons to exhale. By going on the road and winning ugly to avenge last year’s loss against Mississippi State, Ole Miss clinched its 10th regular-season victory, which was a feat that the program had only reached once in 2021. That season, Ole Miss’ 10-2 regular season record was good enough to play for a New Year’s 6 bowl. This season, we don’t know if Ole Miss’ 10-2 regular season record will be good enough to play in a New Year’s 6 bowl.
If it isn’t — something that seems likely based on Ole Miss being left out in several pre-Rivalry Week bowl projections — it’ll be for a couple of frustrating reasons.
No, this isn’t the part where I go off about the execution issues in the second half against Alabama, nor will I hark back to Kiffin’s post-Georgia loss comments that raised eyebrows about the talent disparity.
Ole Miss should not be held out of a New Year’s 6 bowl, but unless it gets some chaos within the top 11 of the Playoff Poll or a “come to Jesus” realization that Penn State is still being given too much credit, that won’t happen (more on that in a second).
But wait! It gets worse.
To get into the New Year’s 6 bowls, it’s based on the final Playoff rankings. Once the top 4 are selected, the 4 non-Playoff New Year’s 6 bowl games are selected. It isn’t as simple as earning a spot in the top 12. If that were the case, Ole Miss would be sitting pretty having entered Rivalry Week at No. 12 in the Playoff rankings. But it’s not. The top-ranked Group of 5 champion is automatically in the New Year’s 6, as long as that team isn’t in the top 4 (like 2021 Cincinnati).
Who is currently the top-ranked Group of 5 team? No. 23 Tulane, who suffered just 1 loss this season … but it was to Ole Miss.
Now is the part where you remind me that Tulane QB Michael Pratt was out that game, and it was actually much closer than the 37-20 final score indicated. Both of those things are true. What else is true? Ole Miss won that game in New Orleans, fair and square. That means in all likelihood that Tulane will earn a New Year’s 6 bowl berth if it can beat UTSA and then win the AAC Championship.
In that likely scenario, Ole Miss would get bumped to a lesser bowl game because the team it beat came from the Group of 5 level. Yeah, weird. Frustrating for Ole Miss.
That wasn’t the intent of the rule when the 4-team Playoff and New Year’s 6 bowl system was created. The intent was to make sure that the Group of 5 got a chance to have representation in 1 of the 6 premier bowl games. Clearly, this bizarre scenario wherein a 10-2 Power 5 team had the head-to-head advantage over the top-ranked Group of 5 team wasn’t forecasted.
The irony is that if this were 2024, we’d be talking about Tulane potentially blocking Ole Miss out of a spot in the 12-team Playoff. Let’s just be thankful that this snub is only related to a New Year’s 6 bowl and not a Playoff spot.
That’s not my way of diminishing New Year’s 6 berths. They’re significant. It’s a marquee matchup on a national stage. Ask Tulane about that after it knocked off Caleb Williams in the Cotton Bowl. Shoot, ask Ole Miss about that. That’s why it felt like such a bummer when Matt Corral got injured in the first quarter of the 2021 Sugar Bowl against Baylor. Getting back to that stage and getting over the hump is, by all accounts, the next best thing to earning a spot in the 4-team Playoff.
That’s something that Penn State has also failed to do. Just like it does year after year, Penn State lost the 2 games on its schedule that mattered against Michigan and Ohio State.
I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t that what Ole Miss did? Didn’t it lose at Alabama and Georgia? Yes, just like all but 1 team in the entire 2020s decade (2023 Texas), Ole Miss lost both of those games. So then what’s the argument for Ole Miss to be ranked ahead of Penn State?
Look at their résumés and tell me why Penn State is ranked higher:
If your argument is “Ole Miss can’t be ranked higher because it got smashed by Georgia and nobody has blown out Penn State,” it’s foolish to base any argument on the 2-time defending champs riding a 28-game winning streak. Also, Georgia hasn’t lost a night game at home since 2009. That’s different than blowing an opportunity at home against a Jim Harbaugh-less Michigan team.
But fine. Do you want a tie for Ole Miss and Penn State based on résumé? Ok. I’ll break the tie.
Ole Miss beat a more talented LSU team and it outscored Heisman front-runner Jayden Daniels. That’s a whole lot more impressive than Penn State’s top win, which was shutting out an Iowa team that moved on from OC Brian Ferentz and “the drive for 325.”
(By the way, Iowa can technically still bump Ole Miss for a New Year’s 6 berth if it pulls off a miracle and beats the Ohio State-Michigan winner in the Big Ten Championship because Power 5 conference champs are guaranteed a spot … but don’t hold your breath.)
Yet unless Penn State loses to a 4-7 Michigan State team with an interim coach, one shouldn’t expect a change in how the selection committee views those teams.
What would help Ole Miss is if it could get some chaos at the top. Mizzou losing to Arkansas would be a major boost to the New Year’s 6 cause. Maybe a Jordan Travis-less Florida State or a “punching above its weight” Louisville team losing 2 in a row would open the door.
Go figure that all 3 of those scenarios involve top-10 teams losing to SEC teams who currently have between 4-6 wins entering Rivalry Week. In other words, don’t hold your breath on that, either.
Of course, chaos like that can happen and we could still see Oklahoma, Oklahoma State or even Arizona get into their respective conference championships, win them and keep Ole Miss out of the New Year’s 6. If that happens, though, that’s a much easier pill to swallow than getting blocked out by Tulane or Penn State.
If that’s what’s in store for Ole Miss after a historic season, that doesn’t feel right. That’s not a knock on the Citrus Bowl, which would be the likely destination for Ole Miss if a New Year’s 6 bowl berth isn’t on the table on Selection Sunday. It’s a knock on a head-scratching ranking of Penn State, as well as the head-to-head caveat that should’ve prevented Tulane from boxing out Ole Miss of a New Year’s 6 bowl.
If I were Kiffin, I would’ve slammed my headset, too.