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With Win Over Alabama, Ole Miss Has the Inside Track in the SEC West

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The Ole Miss Rebels scored a dramatic 43-37 victory over Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday night. It was the first win for the Rebels in Tuscaloosa since 1988, and the first time ever that Ole Miss has beaten the Crimson Tide in back-to-back seasons. But, most importantly, the victory gave head coach Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss an all-important 1-0 record in SEC play and the inside track on the road to the championship game in Atlanta.

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Yes, Ole Miss beat Alabama in 2014, which improved the Rebels’ record to 2-0 in conference play, yet they lost three of four league games late in the season to derail hopes of making it to the SEC Championship Game for the very first time.

However, there is a different feeling following this win. Last year, beating Alabama came as a shock – even to players and coaches, it seemed. This season, the Rebels were confident that they not only could beat the Tide, but also that they would beat the Tide. Ole Miss controlled the tempo of the game from the opening kickoff – which resulted in the first of five forced turnovers - and set the Rebels up with a quick three-point lead.

Yes, there were some lucky plays. With the Rebels leading 17-10, quarterback Chad Kelly grabbed a high snap after it bounced off his hand and shot into the air, then spun and made what appeared to be a horrific decision to throw into double coverage. The pass deflected off of wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and an Alabama defender, but Quincy Adeboyejo – following the play at full speed - grabbed it and raced to the end zone to complete a 66-yard touchdown.

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It was a play that immediately brought back memories of Auburn’s Miracle at Jordan-Hare, in which Nick Marshall’s desperation heave on fourth down bounced off of two Georgia Bulldogs and into the waiting hands of Ricardo Louis. It was a play that kept the Tigers in the unexpected position of controlling their destiny to the SEC Championship Game. Which of course, they completed with another miraculous play – the Kick-Six – in the season finale against Alabama.

And that’s another item to consider: with the Rebels in firm control of their own destiny, the schedule sets up quite nicely moving forward. For the second consecutive season, the largest hurdle has already been crossed, but unlike 2014, the Rebels host their toughest opponents in Oxford.

Following next week’s cross-divisional rivalry game with Vanderbilt (how lucky that the Rebels get to play Vandy every year), they travel to The Swamp. It is always tough to beat the Gators at home, but Ole Miss is likely to be favored because they are a more talented team and Florida, though currently 3-0, is still struggling to consistently move the football.

Following two non-conference matchups with New Mexico State and Memphis, the Rebels face a much-improved Texas A&M squad, but at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. A Halloween trip to Auburn now looks much more manageable because the Tigers have struggled so much on both sides of the football, and the following week’s matchup at home against Arkansas appears to be a likely win for similar reasons.

Then, an off week falls on the most ideal weekend imaginable – preceding a Nov. 21 date with LSU. The Tigers ended Ole Miss’ magical run last year with a 10-7 victory in Death Valley, but must travel to Oxford after what are sure to be back-to-back slugfests with Alabama and Arkansas. After its own dominant performance against Auburn Saturday, LSU appears to be the team most likely to challenge Ole Miss for the division title, and hosting the Tigers with an extra week to prepare gives the Rebels a big advantage.

Finally, Ole Miss travels south to Starkville for the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State – an always difficult opponent more for the mutual hatred between the two schools than the makeup of the respective rosters (and at this point early in the 2015 season, it’s clear that the Rebels are a far more talented team capable of snapping their five-game losing streak in the series away from home).

It was just one game – and it certainly wasn’t perfect. Ole Miss gained only 92 rushing yards on 32 carries against Alabama (2.9 yards per attempt), and the Rebels allowed more than 500 yards of offense (including 5.1 yards per carry) and 29 first downs.

But Ole Miss has already overcome what we believed to be the most difficult task on their schedule – a trip to Tuscaloosa against the defending SEC champs, who also happened to be the nation’s No. 2-ranked team. Time will tell whether or not the Rebels have what it takes to take care of business and make it to Atlanta – but they now have the inside track.

— 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.