After trending down for several weeks and bottoming out with a 38-10 loss to Florida, 5-1 Ole Missgot on track last week with a 52-3 victory over New Mexico State. The Rebels were dominant in every facet of the game and outgained the Aggies 665-239, which included a promising 265 rushing yards and four touchdowns on only 34 carries (7.8 yards per attempt). With a huge second half of the season looming, Ole Miss has one last non-conference game to get through before concentrating fully on the SEC West race.
Ole Miss at Memphis
Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC/ESPN2
Spread: Ole Miss -10.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Which Ole Miss Defense Will Show Up?
It’s not quite “Good Bo” and “Bad Bo,” but the Ole Miss defense has been inconsistent this season, especially when it comes to creating turnovers. The Rebels led the nation with ten takeaways through the first three weeks of the season — most notably with five in the big win over Alabama — but didn’t force a single turnover in a less than impressive win over Vanderbilt and a loss to Florida.
The Ole Miss defense was very strong last week, and held New Mexico State to 239 total yards on 74 plays (3.2 yards per play) and forced two turnovers. However, this week’s test will be much tougher, especially with starters Tony Conner and C.J. Johnson out again with injuries, and with Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch running a Tigers offense that hasn’t thrown an interception and has turned the football over just four times all year.
2. Potential First-round NFL Draft Pick Paxton Lynch
Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly may have an NFL pedigree thanks to his Hall of Fame uncle Jim, but Memphis has the more highly regarded pro prospect at the moment. ESPN’s NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. recently listed Paxton Lynch, the Tigers’ 6-foot-7, 245-pound junior, as the No. 3 QB eligible for next year’s draft. So far this season, Lynch has certainly deserved that high praise. He has completed 103 of 146 pass attempts (70.5 percent) for 1,535 yards and ten touchdowns without an interception.
3. It’s a Trap (Game)!
The schedule makers didn’t do Ole Miss any favors by sliding a road trip to Memphis into the middle of this year’s slate. Sure, the Liberty Bowl is just 80 miles from Oxford and there will be be plenty of Ole Miss fans in the stands to neutralize any home field advantage Memphis would otherwise have in this game, but the Tigers are an up and coming squad led by one of the hottest head coaching prospects in the nation and an NFL-caliber quarterback. Memphis also has an extra week to prepare following a bye week, and this game means much more to the Tigers because a win over the Rebels would be a feather in the cap for a program looking to break into a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Furthermore, the Rebels could be looking ahead to the five crucial SEC West clashes coming up over the next six weeks of the season. This is the ultimate trap game scenario, and if the Rebels have any hope of getting back into the College Football Playoff picture, they can’t afford to slip up Saturday.
With All-American candidates and future first-round NFL Draft picks like Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche on the roster, as well as an effective quarterback in Chad Kelly directing an explosive offense and a defense capable of making big plays every game, Ole Miss is a more talented team than Memphis. However, the Tigers have gained confidence in four seasons under head coach Justin Fuente, have picked up a lot of steam with a 5-0 start, and are contenders in the AAC. With a home crowd behind them, Memphis can make this a game — but the Rebels should still win.
Prediction: Ole Miss 35, Memphis 24
— 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.