By Reid Bankston
Behind the “Wild Rebel” and a devastating defensive line, Houston Nutt has the Ole Miss Rebels gearing up for a New Year’s Day bowl game.
After recording an 8-4 record in just Nutt’s first year, including wins at LSU and Florida and a 45-0 victory in the Egg Bowl, Ole Miss is heading to either Cotton Bowl or the Capital One Bowl.
As of now, the Cotton Bowl seems the likeliest destination, as the Dallas based bowl favors SEC Western Division teams for travel reasons. If number one Alabama were to get blown out by number four Florida in this weekend’s SEC Championship Game and fall out of the BCS bowls, the Crimson Tide would more than likely move into the Cotton Bowl, bumping Ole Miss to Orlando for the Capitol One Bowl.
With the destination all but determined, it’s now time to look at possible match ups.
January 2, 2009
Probable Opponent-Texas Tech
The matchup between the Red Raiders and the Rebels would match strength versus strength. Ole Miss’ defensive line, led by Greg Hardy, Marcus Tillman, and Kentrell Lockett, in the top five in the country in sacks, while Texas Tech’s aerial attack is as high powered as it gets.
Texas Tech and Ole Miss met in 1998 in the Independence Bowl, with quarterback Romero Miller leading Ole Miss to a 35-18 victory. For Ole Miss to hold Mike Leach’s bunch to 18 again, the Rebel defense will need to slow down the nation’s best quarterback/wide receiver duo of Graham Harrell and Biletnikoff award winner Michael Crabtree.
Thanks in large part to Harrell and Crabtree, Texas Tech averaged 44.6 points per game in 2008. The Red Raiders finished the regular season 11-1 and tied for first place in the Big XII South with Texas and Oklahoma.
Jevan Snead should have a big day in his return to his home state, as the Red Raider defense has left a lot to be desired this season. Texas Tech gave up 31.4 points per game in Big XII play.
Capitol One Bowl
January 1, 2009
Probable Opponent- Michigan State
If Ole Miss gets bumped from a date in Dallas, they will in all likelihood face the Spartans of Michigan State in Orlando. Paced by Javon Ringer, one of the nation’s premier running backs, Michigan State finished 9-3 overall with a 6-2 mark in the Big Ten.
Ringer, a finalist for the Doak Walker award given to the nation’s top running back, rushed for 1,590 yards and 21 touchdowns this season. If Ole Miss’ performances against LSU and Mississippi State are any indication, the Rebels will be ready for Ringer.
Ole Miss ranks in the top five nationally in tackles for loss and rushing yards per game. Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer has been mediocre at best with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions, so Ringer will have to pace the Spartans to another victory.
Defensively, Michigan State could provide a stern test for the Wild Rebel and the rest of the Ole Miss offense. The Spartans held opponents to 21 points or less eight times this season.
The lone Michigan State losses came against Big Ten powers Ohio State and Penn State and a season opening loss at California.