Ole Miss football: What's at stake for the Rebels in the Egg Bowl?
It was largely expected that Ole Miss would have its way with Arkansas on Saturday night, heading into the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving night in Oxford with just 2 losses to its name and a chance to play in a prestigious bowl game as long as it took care of Mississippi State the way it has so many teams this season.
Instead, the Razorbacks proved that it is indeed “any given Saturday in college football.” Sam Pittman’s team didn’t just beat the Rebels (8-3), it blew them out in a 42-27 home victory. The defense looked anything but cohesive, and the Rebels really weren’t able to get anything going on offense until the final quarter. Turnovers were also an issue, as the Rebels had 3 giveaways and struggled to get things done in the red zone, particularly at the start of the game.
It was reasonable to see the Rebels finishing the regular season as a 2-loss team, but that doesn’t look so certain anymore as the best Ole Miss will be able to muster is a 9-3 record. And it’s important to note that Mississippi State (7-4) heads into this game with only 1 more loss than the Rebels and put on a dominant performance against the Razorbacks, winning 40-17 on Oct. 8.
If history serves remotely as any indicator in that aspect, that certainly does not bode well for the Rebels. Heading into the matchup against Arkansas, the Rebels — who had previously been talked about as a team that stood a chance to make it into the College Football Playoff — were widely looked at as a team that was all but a lock for a New Year’s 6 bowl game.
Last year’s 10-win Rebels team went up against Baylor in the Sugar Bowl, losing 21-7 as quarterback Matt Corral — perhaps the team’s most important factor of all — struggled with injury issues after he had been playing banged up for a significant portion of the season.
Among the projections before the Arkansas loss were a matchup against Clemson or North Carolina in the Orange Bowl and a Citrus Bowl showdown against Penn State. Based on the way things unfolded on Saturday for both Ole Miss and Penn State, the latter seems to still be a reasonable prediction.
In this scenario, both teams still hold a place in the top 20 while falling short of a New Year’s 6 appearance in narrow fashion. While Ole Miss took a step back in its 2nd-to-last game of the regular season, the Nittany Lions continued their hot streak with a 55-10 blowout over Rutgers.
Penn State holds a 9-2 overall record and is on a 3-game winning streak composed of victories over Indiana, Maryland and Rutgers. The Nittany Lions finish the regular season with a home game against Michigan State, which is coming off a 39-31 double-overtime loss to the same Hoosiers team that Penn State knocked off a couple of weeks ago.
The Spartans have a 5-6 overall record with a 3-5 Big Ten mark and have won 3 of their past 5 games. This is very much a contest Penn State is favored to win, as it comes in as the stronger, more well-rounded team.
The outcome of the end of the season for Ole Miss and Penn State will have a direct impact on whether this projection holds, and the Rebels are obviously looking at far more lowly destinations if they do not come out with the rivalry game victory. And there is no question the Rebels’ up-and-down defense will need to bring its best — especially against the pass — against a Mike Leach Air Raid offense that has proven to be potent when it really gets rolling.
It will be interesting to see how the Rebels finish out in the 6 p.m. CT kickoff on Thanksgiving night.