Traditionalists may shun the practice, but the transformation of college football into a three- and sometimes four-day a week affair has been a boon for fans who want to watch as many games and teams as possible each week. The practice now well-established, ESPN's Thursday night tussles between two teams from the MAC have given way to nationally relevant contests like last week's Miami-Georgia Tech showdown and, this week, No. 4 Ole Miss (2-0) at South Carolina (2-1). Though tonight's inter-conference game is this season's only off-Saturday tussle between SEC teams, following the recently inked 15-year, $2 billion contract between ESPN and the SEC, it's hard to imagine future years won't be filled with more Thursday and Friday night SEC battles.
Casual fans just tuning into the college season may be surprised to see that No. 4 Associated Press ranking next to Ole Miss, but the Rebels were the poll's No. 8 preseason team -- thanks to the return of 8 starters on each side of the ball from last year's 9-4 team that thumped Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl -- sliding up the rankings with comfortable wins over Memphis (45-12) and Southeast Louisiana (52-6), while teams like Oklahoma State (loss vs Houston), USC (loss at Washington), Virginia Techh (loss to Alabama) and Oklahoma (loss to BYU) took a tumble.
Tonight, however, Houston Nutt's squad get its first real test of the season as it travels on the road to Columbia to face a South Carolina team that is 2-1 on the season after wins at NC State and versus Florida Atlantic, with a loss to Georgia sandwiched between. Might the lack of stout competition be a disadvantage for the Rebels? While Ole Miss fans are ambivalent...
First, the negative. The fact that we haven’t seen anyone the caliber of several players on [South Carolina] is quite scary. We rely on two first-year starters at key positions (LT, RG), and they haven’t set the world on fire against inferior talent. I’m worried about how unprepared they will be against a legitimate line...
On the other hand, the fact that [SC is] our first test could also be a great thing. In our first two games, we haven’t had to show anything. In each game, our gameplan has been unbelievably vanilla. South Carolina’s lack of film could be the difference in the game this year.
...South Carolina fans can't help but think the test might be the decisive difference in the game:
On the flip side of the trenches war, we're taking on a green Ole Miss offensive line that has yet to play against anything comparable to our defensive front. However, our guys, partially due to injury, haven't been getting into the backfield as much as I would like. With Ladi Ajiboye back and Nathan Pepper possible, we should be back close to full strength. If we can step up against the running game and the pass rush, we stand a chance to crash the Rebels backfield early and often. Hopefully, that will lead to a couple of game-changing turnovers.