Slotted No. 18 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings with a 7-2 overall record, the Ole Miss Rebels enter this week’s contest against Arkansas with an SEC Western Division championship — and revenge — on their minds. Ole Miss is 4-1 in SEC play this season, with the lone blemish coming against SEC East foe Florida on the road, which means the Rebels still control their own destiny in the SEC West. A win over the 4-4 Razorbacks (who are 2-2 in SEC play) would put Ole Miss one step closer to the first SEC Championship Game in school history, and it would help to avenge the humiliating 30-0 blowout in Fayetteville last season.
Arkansas at Ole Miss
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Ole Miss -11
Three Things to Watch
1. Ole Miss Wide Receiver Laquon Treadwell is Better Than Ever
Through the first nine weeks of the season, the Ole Miss Rebels have been the SEC’s most explosive offense. Ole Miss leads the SEC in scoring offense (39.4 points per game), total offense (519.6 yards per game) and passing offense (346.7 yards per game). A big part of that success is talented quarterback Chad Kelly, who has thrown for a league-leading 2,856 yards and 20 touchdowns (which ranks in the top ten nationally), and a talented and deep group of receivers including Cody Core (25 receptions, 452 yards, 3 TD) and Quincy Adeboyejo (30 receptions, 446 yards, 6 TD), plus the Rebels’ best weapon Laquon Treadwell.
Treadwell is widely expected to be a first round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, and has played like it this season by grabbing an SEC-best 61 catches for a league-leading 870 yards and six touchdowns. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound junior, who missed the Arkansas game last season with a severe leg injury, has posted four consecutive games with more than 100 receiving yards and a touchdown in four straight games — a school record.
2. Arkansas Running Back Alex Collins is in for a Tough Test
The Arkansas Razorbacks also have an explosive offense, and have averaged 32.5 points and 456.0 total yards of offense through the first eight games of the season, with average 196.0 rushing yards per game that ranks fourth in the SEC and No. 36 nationally.
Junior running back Alex Collins, with help from a talented offensive line that is the biggest in all of football (NFL included), as well as a now rare combination of tight ends and fullbacks, has 960 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on 166 carries (5.8 yards per attempt) this year. Collins has gained 127 yards or more in six of eight games this season and has scored a touchdown in all but one game (a disappointing 26-yard effort against Alabama). Last week in Arkansas’ 63-28 victory over UT Martin, Collins gained 173 yards on 16 rushing attempts and scored five TDs.
However, Collins will have his work cut out for him against an Ole Miss front-seven that is getting healthier by the week and is playing its best football of the season. Two weeks ago, without injured All-American candidate defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, the Rebels held Texas A&M to 58 rushing yards on 27 carries (2.1 yards per attempt) in a 23-3 victory. Last week against Auburn, and with Nkemdiche back, Ole Miss held the Tigers to a modest 125 yards on 41 carries (3.0 yards per attempt). This season, the Rebels have allowed 121.5 rushing yards per contest, which ranks No. 25 nationally.
3. The Return of Tony Conner
Nkemdiche is healthy again, as is linebacker C.J. Johnson, who also missed time earlier this season due to injury. Finally, Ole Miss will have hybrid safety/linebacker Tony Conner back in the lineup after he missed six games following knee surgery for an injury he suffered in the Rebels’ victory over Alabama in September. Conner, a pre-season All-American candidate with first round potential, should help Ole Miss contain Arkansas’ running game in addition to helping cover talented tight ends Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle in the passing game. He had ten tackles, including 1.5 tackles for a loss, in three games this season.
For a team with SEC West title hopes in the preseason, Arkansas is a disappointing 4-4 overall and 2-2 in conference play. However, the Razorbacks still have a lot to play for — specifically a second-consecutive bowl game. And, because Arkansas dominated Ole Miss 30-0 last season, the Hogs are confident they can ruin the Rebels’ conference championship hopes again this year.
However, Ole Miss is more explosive this time around with Chad Kelly behind center and a healthy (and better than ever) Laquon Treadwell. Also, the Landshark defense is healthier than it has been in over a month, so the team is trending in the right direction. And, because there’s a spot in Atlanta waiting for the Rebels if they win out, Ole Miss will be ready to play Saturday. Expect a hard-fought, close game, but a victory for the Rebels.
Prediction: Ole Miss 28, Arkansas 21
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Allen's work on college football can also be found on SaturdayBlitz.com and FanSided.com. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.