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Rebels' chances very real in the wild SEC West

By By Stan Torgerson / sports columnist
Oct. 20, 2003
I saw my first Ole Miss game in 1954. Since then as a broadcaster and spectator I've probably seen at least 400. I am here to tell you that in the entire 400 I've never seen a Rebel team play a better first quarter than the team of 2003 did in last Saturday's Alabama game.
I kept asking myself how good can this get? The passing was sharp, virtually perfection. The running game was crisp. The defense showed ability we haven't seen up to now. And the end result was a 24-0 lead after only 15 minutes.
The memory of that horrible 1989 game kept popping into my mind. That was the day the Rebels scored 21 points in the first quarter and lost the game to Bama 62-27. As I remembered, most of that first quarter lead was because of Alabama mistakes, not because the Rebels were executing. When the Tide got their act together they blew UM away. History did not repeat itself last week.
On the other hand the Tennessee game of 19690 also jumped into my head. That was the famous "mule" game that will always live in Ole Miss history. The Vols were heavy favorites and on their way to the Orange Bowl. The Rebs were 5-3 in a season was notable principally for the 33-32 win Alabama had chalked up over them in a game still regarded as one of the great television games of all time.
Nevertheless, Ole Miss led Tennessee 21-0 at the end of the first quarter. I leaned over to my partner, Lyman Helums, and told him no one who tuned in late could possibly believe the score and suggested when the quarter ended he should do literally a play by play as to what had happened in Jackson so far that day.That's what he did.
During a commercial break I also remember saying to Lyman, "Can you imagine the reaction around the country at other games when they announce this score?" Then we both sat back and grinned. The final score was 38-0.
Ole Miss was good that day, but not as good as they were Saturday.
There is no question that this is not an Alabama team comparable with those of years gone by. But Alabama nevers lays down and plays dead when on the same field with the Rebels. On the other hand, this is not the same Ole Miss team that struggled against Vanderbilt and lost to Memphis and Texas Tech.
This bunch has grown up, learned what competition in the SEC is really like and demonstrated it with three straight wins, including Florida and Bama. How many felt that would happen after watching Dave Cutcliffe's kids a month or so ago?
The Rebs are not completely there yet, even if they are still undefeated in conference play. There are three crucial games ahead, Arkansas next Saturday, Auburn on Nov. 8 and LSU Nov 22. Of course every game is crucial, but Ole Miss will be favored over South Carolina and Mississippi State. The point spread is not a measurement of talent but it is a yardstick of respect.
The truth is Ole Miss could lose to Arkansas and still win it all if they defeat Auburn and LSU. The Razorbacks have lost two conference games while Ole Miss would have only one on the losing side.
By beating Auburn Ole Miss would earn the tiebreaker if the two wind up with identical records. Beating LSU would give the Tigers two defeats and no tie breaker would be necessary if the Rebels win the rest of their games.
LSU and Auburn play this weekend. The loser could still have a shot at it if they could beat the Rebels but they'd need some help from Ole Miss when the Rebs play the winner, whichever team that is.
Two of the three games that will likely decide the championship of the SEC West and the trip to Atlanta December 6th are at Oxford. The trip to Auburn will be tough, and dangerous but Eli and friends can score. If the defense can shut down Cadillac Williams and his friends the game can be won.
In other words it's still very complicated but Ole Miss is in the best position it has enjoyed for years. The Rebels future is indeed in their own hands.
Ole Miss can win the SEC and USM can win Conference USA. Wouldn't that be something for Mississippians to enjoy?

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