The beauty of college football, anything can truly happen on any given Saturday. The uncertainty of the game and how a season may unfold can keep fans with high hopes until the last snap of the year. While a lot would have to happen, Auburn still has a statistical shot at tying for a share of the SEC West title, which could give the Tigers a sympathy vote among the College Football Playoff Committee when the time comes based on the grueling schedule traversed. If Ole Miss has anything to say about the possibilities of that happening, it is as a spoiler for Auburn come Saturday.
Ole Miss (3-5, 2-3 SEC) heads to Auburn on a two-game losing streak, but as a team that still has momentum on offense. The Rebels can look back at their 24-17 home loss last week to Texas A&M as a learning tool after outpacing the Aggies 405 yards to 337. A fumble, an interception, and converting just four of 16 third downs took away an opportunity for an upset home win. The Rebels offense continued their strong ground game against A&M racking up 250 yards with two scores. The defense showed up as well, only allowing A&M to convert on just three of 13 third-down opportunities.
Make no mistake about it, Auburn (6-2, 3-2) is the best two-loss team in the country, one that is theoretically just three plays away from being undefeated. Another potential victory against a top-10 team was snatched away in Week 9, falling 23-20 to then-No. 2 LSU. The Tigers' grizzled defense held LSU's potent offense out of the end zone while producing two turnovers, but did give way to 508 total yards. After Auburn's offense was stymied on the road (287 yards), the Tigers look to get back on track this week against an Ole Miss team allowing 409 yards per contest.
Ole Miss at Auburn
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Auburn -19.5
When Ole Miss Has the Ball
While the Rebels' running backs get the headlines, the offensive line deserves the awards. This is the No. 2 running game in the SEC, producing 232 yards per game thanks to all five linemen starting each game. This group has paved the way for Scottie Phillips, who has 538 yards on 124 carries and has visited the end zone five times on the ground as well. Pushing Phillips for the team lead is dual-threat freshman quarterback John Rhys Plumlee, who has 508 rushing yards and four scores. Plumlee needs just 36 more yards to break the school's single-season mark for rushing yards by a QB.
Plumlee and fellow freshman Matt Corral have traded quarterback duties this season for first-year offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez. Corral is more of a passing threat, as he's completed 60 percent of his attempts for 1,101 yards and four touchdowns while Plumlee is at 48 percent for 456 yards and four scores. Plumlee's legs have been the difference-maker, keeping drives alive. While neither quarterback has been prolific, they are taking care of the ball with just three interceptions total on the year.
Auburn's statistical ranking as a top defense may have taken a hit last week, but this unit is still one of the best in the country. As a group, the Tigers are allowing 343 yards per game while limiting the opposition to 18 points on average. This matchup pits strength on strength — Auburn's run defense, ranked 16th nationally out of 130 FBS teams, against Ole Miss' ground game, which is 19th overall.
When Auburn Has the Ball
Any aspirations Auburn may have of trouncing remaining top-25 teams left on the schedule will only come true if the proverbial lightbulb clicks for true freshman quarterback Bo Nix. Nix looked the part of an overwhelmed field general against LSU, connecting on just 15 of 35 passes for 157 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Against average to below-average defenses, Nix has performed well with 335 yards against Mississippi State and three TD passes vs. Arkansas. Ole Miss may provide another opportunity for Nix to get into a grove with his pre- and post-snap reads.
Even though the ground game lost leading rusher JaTarvious Whitlow in the Florida game, Kam Martin and freshman D.J. Williams have been doing their part to fill his void. Williams had a season-best 130 yards against LSU on just 13 carries. Whitlow made his return from injury against the Tigers, but was not in top form, managing just nine yards on three attempts.
On the other side of the ball, this season has not gone according to plan for Mike MacIntyre, Ole Miss' new defensive coordinator. The Rebels are giving way to 409 yards per game, 284 of those coming through the air. This unit did hold up relatively well against a talented Texas A&M offense, holding the Aggies to 337 yards and picking off Kellen Mond twice. But Auburn's offensive line is solid and the Tigers have had more success running the ball compared to Texas A&M. The Rebels will have hands full on Saturday if they cannot stop the run.
Auburn still has something to play for this season, even if a miracle or two is needed. LSU would have to lose twice, but Auburn could find a way back into the mix of a College Football Playoff berth based on strength of schedule. The Tigers have already played then-No. 11 Oregon, No. 17 Texas A&M, No. 10 Florida, and No. 2 LSU and still have games with No. 8 Georgia and No. 2 Alabama. Their hopes hinge on winning out.
If LSU was scoring 50 points a game entering last week's game, but was held to 23, it's tough seeing Ole Miss do any better. With a bye week to rest before Georgia, the Tigers hold home field.
Prediction: Auburn 45, Ole Miss 20
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.