Is Ole Miss Ready to Challenge Alabama and LSU in the SEC West?

Ole Miss is off to its first 3-0 start since 1989. Coach Hugh Freeze clearly has the program moving in the right direction, and the momentum continues to build after signing a top-10 recruiting class in February.

Beating Vanderbilt and Texas this year is another good sign for a program that went 6-18 in Houston Nutt’s final two seasons.

Ole Miss has a bye before playing Alabama on Sept. 28, which is the start of another difficult stretch on the schedule. After playing the Crimson Tide, the Rebels travel to Auburn on Oct. 5, then return home for matchups against Texas A&M (Oct. 12) and LSU (Oct. 19).

It’s only Week 3, but the Rebels have opened plenty of eyes around the SEC. Are the Rebels ready to challenge Alabama or LSU in the West? Or is Ole Miss still the fourth-best team in the division behind Texas A&M?

Is Ole Miss Ready to Challenge Alabama and LSU in the SEC West?

Coach Pat Dye, former head coach of East Carolina, Wyoming and Auburn, and current voting member of the Legends Poll:
It is too early to tell. Ole Miss had to come from behind to beat Vandy. The victory they had this past weekend was against a Texas team in total disarray. Although they were good wins, I think they are going to have to play some better competition before we would know how good this Ole Miss team is this year. One thing that has been a nice surprise for Ole Miss has been the play from their quarterback. He has been outstanding so far this season.

Alabama, I think has the edge on LSU early in the season. LSU beat TCU. However, TCU doesn't look to be nearly as good as they have been in the past several years. It is a long season in front of those teams in the SEC West. We are going to have to wait and see if Ole Miss is able to take the next step against the tougher teams.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I still think the SEC West is Alabama and LSU’s division to lose this year. But let’s not forget about Texas A&M or overlook Ole Miss. The Rebels are 3-0 for the first time since 1989, scoring solid road victories over Vanderbilt and Texas. The offense is one of the nation’s most-balanced attacks, averaging 250 yards per game on the ground and 240 yards a contest through the air. Ole Miss is also averaging 6.2 yards per play and is third in the SEC in total defense. The Rebels aren’t as deep as Alabama or LSU, but the talent from the top-10 recruiting class is making a big contribution this year. Ole Miss is closing the gap on the rest of the SEC West and has a chance to score some solid victories the rest of the season with a road contest against Alabama and home games against Texas A&M and LSU still to come. I think the Rebels lose to the Crimson Tide and beat the Tigers, with Texas A&M in the tossup category. Ole Miss is a year or two away from winning the West, but let’s give coach Hugh Freeze a lot of credit for getting this team in contention in just his second year in Oxford.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
What do we really know about Ole Miss? The Rebels won a hard-fought game on the road against a Vanderbilt team that is now 0-2 in the SEC. They toyed with Southeast Missouri State in a closer-than-expected 31-13 win in Week 2. And they crushed what could be the worst Texas team since 1956. Ole Miss is really talented and capable of winning eight or nine games, but the point is, what do we really know about Ole Miss? The next four weeks will tell us as the Rebels face Alabama and Auburn on the road before hosting Texas A&M and LSU. The Rebels haven't been close to the Crimson Tide of late but played well against both the Aggies and Bayou Bengals on the road last year. The issue is attrition and running the SEC West gaunlet. With key injuries already along the offensive line and at linebacker, a 2-2 split over the next four would have to be considered a huge success. So, I guess my answer is no, but they are getting closer.

Mark Ross
The cop-out answer would be we'll find out in two Saturdays when the Rebels travel to Alabama. As far as my current answer goes, I fall into the "wait and see" camp. First, let's give credit to Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze, who has done a masterful job of rebuilding this program rather quickly. It started last season with seven victories and a bowl win over Pittsburgh and the momentum carried over to National Signing Day. The Rebels have continued to win games — five in a row dating back to last season — and have looked pretty good in the process.

However, Ole Miss has already gotten a few breaks along the way too, starting with its last-second, come-from-behind win at Vanderbilt to open the season and then catching a downtrodden Texas team at the best time possible. Again, the Rebels deserve plenty of credit for taking care of business and doing what needed to be done to win those two road games, but the true test for this team is coming up with Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M and LSU the next four opponents. If Ole Miss can continue to run the ball like it has (250.0 ypg, 3rd in SEC) and limit the opposition's ground game (114.3 ypg allowed, 4th in SEC), then it will have a chance, even against the likes of Alabama and LSU. Because in the end, controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball is one of the keys to being successful in the nation's toughest conference.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Ole Miss is having a much more successful start to the season than most of us imagined. In our preseason game picks for Ole Miss, four of the six on Athlon’s panel projected the Rebels to start 1-2, but here they are at 3-0. Granted, they needed heroics to beat Vanderbilt, and Texas is not nearly as good as we thought the Longhorns would be at the start of the season. Eight or nine wins is achievable this season, but the ability to challenge for the West may have to wait until 2014 or 2015. Alabama’s not going anywhere, neither are LSU and Texas A&M. This is still a young Ole Miss team that needs to be ready to compete with Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU consistently — and in the case of this season, in the span of less than a month. That’s a lot to ask at this point.

Josh Ward, (@Josh_Ward), Mr. SEC
Ole Miss is close, but I don’t see the Rebels challenging to win the SEC West this year. Ole Miss is off to a great start and is clearly on the rise under coach Hugh Freeze. Remember the preseason concern over Ole Miss’ daunting schedule? The Rebels have quieted that talk. Still, it’s difficult to believe Ole Miss will have a legitimate shot of winning its division this year with Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M all remaining on the schedule. I think third place in the West is Ole Miss’ best-case finish this season.

Next year is the year to watch for Ole Miss. The Rebels’ talented freshmen will have a year of experience and quarterback Bo Wallace should be back for his senior year. Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M will all likely be breaking in new starting quarterbacks, which could help Ole Miss jump the Big Three while each school transitions. One thing is clear: Ole Miss fans have plenty to be excited about under Freeze.

Stephen Schindler (@SteveSchindler)
Not yet. Let the bandwagon keep chugging along because I’m not ready to jump on yet. Are the Rebels an improved team? Yes, absolutely. But we aren’t talking about the Pac-12 South here. This is the most challenging division in the most difficult conference in the nation. And quite simply, the Rebels aren’t ready. Let’s review their 3-0 start. A last-second win at Vanderbilt, who was without a major weapon in wide receiver Chris Boyd amidst the rape scandal. Followed by a win over an FCS opponent in SE Missouri State and a victory at Texas over a miserably disappointing Longhorns squad. The wins at Vandy and Texas are solid wins, but let’s not mistake the performances needed to win these games with those needs to take down the likes of Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M. Austyn Carta-Samuels and Case McCoy aren’t AJ McCarron, Johnny Manziel or even Zach Mettenberger. Add in road trips to Auburn and arch-rival Mississippi State and the tune on Ole Miss could change very quickly come November. 


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