Ole Miss' harsh reality: Not much left to play for
Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin are leading a resurgence of the Big Ten. They are all in the top 10 in the latest AP Top 25 Poll with Michigan jumping Clemson at No. 3, right behind Alabama and Ohio State.
The Wolverines got the only first-place vote Alabama didn’t. A really good team or two isn’t going to make the College Football Playoff. One of those teams will get a lesser bowl.
That’s how it feels every year in the SEC West. Take Ole Miss for example this season. The expectations were huge. Another top-notch recruiting class, the best returning quarterback in the SEC and coming off a Sugar Bowl win.
That was a year after playing in the Peach Bowl. The common denominator of failure in the previous two otherwise successful seasons: Arkansas.
Like it did to Alan, Stu and Phil, Saturday it happened again. And it is a big deal. Ole Miss went to Arkansas as the No. 12 team in the country. Its two losses were being slowly forgiven, a pair of blown 21-point leads against Florida State and Alabama a thing of the past. Beat Arkansas and head to LSU as a top 10 team. Win that one and beat Texas A&M in College Station and who knows?
But for the third straight season, Ole Miss could not beat Arkansas. The harshness of the Rebels’ reality lies in this tweet.
It was a season killing loss in my opinion. Still have things to play for, like a bowl ring, but that's it. https://t.co/FCFTpJ4GiC
— David Callahan (@DavidCallahan_1) October 17, 2016
So what does it mean for the rest of the season? It definitely means any outside hope of a Playoff shot is gone. There is no longer a chance to win the SEC West and get to Atlanta for the first time. Those are ultimate goals every year. There can still be a really good bowl game. Win out and take your Magnolia Bowl trophy and Egg Bowl trophy to maybe Outback or Citrus.
That’s not a bad thing unless you’re 2016 Ole Miss. Expectations were higher, and frankly the Rebels haven’t been able to live up to them. The 2016 team can help right the ship with a strong finish. A solid bowl win goes a long way with recruits who have to see Playoff potential. It salvages recruiting momentum. But the truth now is that is about character more so than football.
You need both. As far as football, there’s not much left to play for.
That’s harsh. That’s life in the SEC West. It is the toughest league in America, but that also comes with great opportunity. All Houston had to do was slip up one time and the Cougars were out. Ole Miss had two self-inflicted slip-ups and was still in the conversation. No longer.
The national standard is Alabama. Alabama also happens to be in the SEC West trying to get the same recruits Ole Miss is after. And it has a head start. Like the rest of the country, Ole Miss has a ways to go to catch up with the talent depth Alabama has. The tough part of getting there is avoiding slip-ups like Saturday, a game the Rebels should have won.
Assuming the continued recruiting success on a national level, the Rebels have to figure out who they want to be. The Dollar General Bowl will no longer cut it. A 3-3, 1-2 record won’t cut it. With the national brand Ole Miss has ventured into, recruits aren’t coming from Texas and Florida to play a day after Christmas game in Shreveport or a Dec. 29 game in Birmingham against an American Athletic Conference team.
Ole Miss can no longer afford to be the odd man out. Lesser bowls equal lesser recruits. Lesser recruits equal lesser depth. They are coming to Ole Miss to win. Winning isn’t happening enough.