At one point this season, Ole Miss was 7-0 and ranked No. 7 in the AP poll.

But when the bowl pairings were released 3 weeks ago, the Rebels were unranked and well down the pecking order for bowl spots.

That’s what happens when you lose the last 3 games of the regular season, which left Ole Miss 8-4 and 4-4 in the SEC.

The Rebels ultimately were paired against Texas Tech in the Texas Bowl on Wednesday night in Houston.

The Red Raiders enter the game from a nearly opposite direction as the Rebels. Texas Tech was in danger of not becoming bowl eligible before winning its final 3 games to finish 7-5 and 5-4 in the Big 12.

Ole Miss is favored by roughly a field goal as a result of being perceived as the better team for the majority of the season. But if this game had been played 1 week after the regular-season finales, the matchup between the fading Rebels and the surging Red Raiders might have been different.

That’s what makes bowl games so difficult to predict.

The unusually long period of time between the last game and the bowl game creates opportunities for all kinds of stuff to change.

In this case though, neither team has been weakened by players opting out of the game to focus on getting ready for the NFL Draft.

Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said that opt-outs tend to become an issue when a team has players projected to be first-round picks.

“That would be a good problem to have, though,” Kiffin said, “but we don’t have as many maybe as some other places.”

Neither does Texas Tech, which means both teams will have roughly the same level of talent in the bowl game as they had when they concluded the regular season at the end of November.

And the Red Raiders were playing much better than the Rebels down the stretch, defeating Kansas, Iowa State and Oklahoma (in overtime) while Ole Miss was losing to Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi State.

Here’s where the layoff (32 days for Texas Tech and 34 for Ole Miss) comes into play. The longest break that teams experience during a season, which includes a potentially distracting or disruptive break for the Christmas holidays, can be helpful or harmful.

In this case the Red Raiders could lose the edge they had last month and the Rebels could regroup and regain the form they had before last month.

Is Texas Tech satisfied with the push it had to get into the bowl and thereby have trouble regaining its edge for a game that doesn’t mean a whole lot?

Is Ole Miss motivated to end the season on a good note and show that the Top 10 ranking is a better indication of who these Rebels are than the four losses in the last five games are?

The fact that neither team had opt-outs suggests not only the absence of elite NFL prospects, as Kiffin suggested, but also a degree of loyalty to the program and their teammates.

That means both teams will be motivated to play well and not just get the season over with.

Texas Tech’s biggest challenge will be trying to contain the Rebels’ 1-2 tandem of freshman Quinshon Judkins, who has rushed for 1,476 yards, and TCU transfer Zach Evans, who has rushed for 899.

The Red Raiders allow an average of 166.4 rushing yards per game, 7th in the Big 12.

Jaxson Dart has been a solid dual-threat at quarterback for Ole Miss, and Tech’s 3-game win streak coincided with the return to the starting lineup of Tyler Shough, who suffered a collarbone injury in the season opener.

Both offenses will roll.

The Red Raiders were 6-1 at home during the regular season, but just 1-4 away from home. The Rebels were 3-2 away from Oxford.


Both teams will be primed to play well in a tight shootout. Tech will maintain its momentum as Shough keeps the passing game humming, which will be necessary to keep up Ole Miss’ high-scoring, balanced attack.

Kiffin will have the Rebels revitalized after the slump that ended with an uninspired performance in the Egg Bowl.

This will be one of the most entertaining bowl games to date and the Rebels will get the ball last. That will make the difference.

Final: Ole Miss 38, Texas Tech 34