Acknowledging that college football’s new four-team playoff could someday inch toward a larger basketball-style tournament, we continue our Super 16 countdown, with No. 15 Mississippi:
This is what we mean when we say Southeastern Conference teams know how to “work it.”
Mississippi hits the new era with a talented team poised to cherry-pick the four-team playoff should only a few things bounce the Rebels’ way.
The third year of coach Hugh Freeze’s master plan has been masterfully timed and choreographed.
“My expectations were to make Ole Miss very relevant in the SEC West,” Freeze said in July. “And I think this year we should do that.”
Check. Remember the No. 1 recruiting class of 2013 that raised cackles because folks thought there was no way Ole Miss could get so many great players without cheating?
Well, there is no NCAA enforcement case pending and those players are now super sophomores. This ungodly, Alabama-like core is led by receiver Laquon Treadwell, left tackle Laremy Tunsil and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche.
Check. Bo Wallace is a third-year starter returning to a league decimated by quarterback departures. Wallace’s fancy numbers got lost in the SEC autograph line behind Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M), Aaron Murray (Georgia) and AJ McCarron (Alabama).
Yet, in two seasons, Wallace has completed 64.3 percent of his passes for 6,340 yards and 40 touchdowns, with 745 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.
“He’s just been overshadowed by some really good players,” Freeze said.
Check. It’s all sitting there on a platter of third-and-short ribs. It starts with Mississippi owning credibility immunity by residing in college football’s best division: the SEC West.
Under that banner Ole Miss gets Auburn and Alabama at home and misses the three best teams in the SEC East: South Carolina, Florida and Georgia.
This is the randomness and, some would argue unfairness, of the SEC’s eight-game league schedule in a 14-team league.
Ole Miss can also seize on other transitional quirks as the Rebels get Boise State (the year after coach Chris Petersen left for Washington), Vanderbilt (the year after James Franklin left for Penn State), Alabama (after McCarron), Texas A&M (after Manziel), Louisiana State (after quarterback Zach Mettenberger).
The tough outs this season for Ole Miss are trips to LSU and Texas A&M. But Mississippi defeated LSU last year and played Johnny Football’s Aggies to a three-point loss.
Throw in a late-season game versus Presbyterian and you can see why Rebels fans are smiling.
Mississippi could be an interesting case for the selection committee if its only loss is to undefeated Alabama.
Ole Miss would be 11-1 as the non-division winner of the SEC West. In 2011, that was good enough to get Alabama into the two-team Bowl Championship Series playoff.
Your honor, the Rebels are ready for the selection committee’s cross-examination:
Was it Mississippi’s fault Petersen left Boise State?
Was it Mississippi’s fault it misses the best three teams in the SEC East?
It doesn’t hurt that former Ole Miss star Archie Manning is a member of the committee, even if he can’t openly pitch his alma mater during deliberations.
Ole Miss plays patsy Presbyterian, sure, but Alabama didn’t exactly get schedule religion with Western Carolina.
Other schools might be more deserving to make our preseason Super 16, but no team is better positioned for the new parameters. Ole Miss offers the perfect SEC blueprint for getting multiple schools into the four-team playoff.
This is why SEC Commissioner Mike Slive wanted the cap blown off the old BCS rule of allowing only two schools, per year, per conference, in major bowls.
The SEC wants it all, wants it now, and Mississippi appears primed to show everyone how the new is going to be played.
The countdown so far: No. 16 Notre Dame.