Ole Miss tries to get its SEC season back on track while No. 9 Texas A&M chases elite status in this prime time ESPN showdown.
Johnny Manziel leads his Aggies into Oxford for a Saturday night game that should be heavy on points and highlight-reel plays. The Rebels have to find a way to contain Manziel in the pocket and keep him from finding his favorite target, Mike Evans, over and over. And over. That's a sufficiently tall task that Alabama couldn't do it earlier this season, so if all that fails it's on Ole Miss to just plain outscore the Aggies, which would mean the game of QB Bo Wallace's life. And hey, that might happen.
Rankings and records: Texas A&M comes into the game at 4-1 (1-1) with the last week off after downing Arkansas 45-33. It's No. 9 in both the AP and Coaches polls, but 10 points away from dropping to No. 10 in the AP. Meanwhile, Ole Miss is 3-2 (1-2) and out of the Top 25 after last week's dispiriting loss to Auburn. Texas A&M has won all five meetings, though only one (last year's 30-27 thriller) has come in any of these players' lifetime.
Vegas: Texas A&M is favored by six points, according to OddsShark.com. The over/under is at 75 with the over a heavy favorite, so some fireworks might be in store for Saturday night.
Weather: Temperatures should be in the low 70s at kickoff under mostly clear skies.
Three names to know
With all due respect to Alabama and its suffocating 25-0 win over Ole Miss a couple weeks back, this might be the biggest game of Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze's career, because it's actually winnable. Freeze's up-tempo attack should give Texas A&M's porous defense fits, and make no mistake, it'll take a lot of points to win this one. A win here and Freeze can start feeling comfortable in Oxford, because he'll be beloved.
For the Aggies, Evans will be Manziel's primary deep target, but WR Malcome Kennedy will need to help keep the chains moving in the intermediate passing game. Kennedy has 35 targets on the year, one shy of Evans, and his production in the role has been mostly excellent. He'll need another big day to keep the Ole Miss secondary honest and open up deep opportunities for Evans.
Last, keep an eye on Ole Miss LB Denzel Nkemdiche, who led the Rebels in tackles in his freshman year last season and will be put to the test by an Aggie offense that puts an enormous strain on opposing linebackers with its sophisticated passing game and Manziel's scrambles. It's not only Nkemdiche's job to shadow Manziel or otherwise contain him on the perimeter, but he'll need to play an integral part as he continues back from a torn meniscus.
Two things at stake
An SEC title run is not in the cards for Ole Miss, but after getting knocked off of No. 24 by Auburn last week, a win here should put the Rebs right back into the Top 25. It would also put Ole Miss in prime position for a decent bowl—think Chick-Fil-A Bowl or Gator Bowl territory.
Meanwhile, Texas A&M has a long way to go, but the Aggies are still—rightly—thinking national championship with only a loss to Alabama on the resume. That would take some outside help, sure, but Top 10 teams drop games all the time. A win over Ole Miss keeps A&M on that trajectory as it heads into the portion of the season where Manziel and the Aggies need to impress voters before two crucial road games to end the regular season.
How to witness
TV: ESPN is carrying this game at 8:30 ET (7:30 local time for both teams). The famed duo of Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit will be in the booth with Heather Cox on the sidelines.
Radio: The Texas A&M Sports Network affiliates are listed here, and here are the Ole Miss Football Network affiliates.