College football world rooting for Ole Miss vs. Alabama, but is it just another game for Tide players? | Hurt
The upcoming game between No. 1 Alabama football and No. 12 Mississippi on Saturday has grown so big that it has now stretched into last season as well.
“Ole Miss is an outstanding football team,” UA coach Nick Saban said in his introductory remarks for his Zoom call Monday. “I think they’ve got 17 starters back from a team that won eight games last year. Lane (Kiffin) does a fantastic job with their offense (and) their overall team has improved in every category.”
The Rebels actually went 5-5 last season, including an Outback Bowl win over Indiana, but this is not some column on nitpicking Saban. In fact, here are four reasons why Saban was technically correct if not mathematically so.
1) Had COVID-19 not wiped out all of the Rebels’ non-conference schedule plus an SEC game against Texas A&M, they certainly would have won at least eight games. (Also, kudos to Kiffin for the Rebels’ 100% vaccination rate to do everything possible to avoid any repeat of cancelled games.)
2) Ole Miss was such a joy to watch on offense last season that it felt like the Rebels were winning eight games. Whether it was a loss against Alabama or a 42-41 overtime win against Kentucky, you’d come away feeling like you’d seen an active welterweight who did more in the ring but had a shady Vegas referee stop the contest on a TKO.
3) Winning the Egg Bowl counts triple within the state of Mississippi.
4) As Dean of College Coaches and de facto Commissioner of College Football, Saban can award extra victories to any team as he sees fit.
That is all a bit tongue-in-cheek, of course, but the point is this. All of college-football-loving America, especially Alabama-fatigued America, is waiting for this one.
That goes especially for Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral, who missed the 2019 game in Tuscaloosa due to injury.
“(It’s my) first time at Bryant-Denny,” Corrall said Monday. “I love when a crowd is crazy. I love that, regardless of if it’s ours or not ours. Just having that energy, I love it. That’s college football. That’s not why I play, but it’s a big plus.”
Heisman Trophy voters will be watching as well, although it’s best to be wary about being the early Heisman leader. At this point last season, DeVonta Smith was running with the pack and building a resume before switching on the rockets and lapping the field after the Tennessee game. In a quarterback-heavy year, this matchup might matter more, especially for Corral since there can be at least a fair argument made that Johnny Manziel, who had a great season in 2012, actually won the Heisman on the Bryant-Denny Stadium field.
About the only person who doesn’t seem to be losing his mind, or at least having visible excitement, is Alabama defensive tackle Phidarian Mathis, well-schooled in Sabanese after five years.
“It’s the next game on the schedule,” Mathis said Monday. “We're going to come out there with that Bama mentality this Saturday and be ready to roll."
Add in a couple of references to the “Alabama standard” and it was obvious that Mathis was firmly on message even as the rest of America hopes this game goes off the rails, early and often.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt