The Ole Miss Rebels host the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday, just one of a trio of top-15 SEC matchups this weekend. ESPN's College GameDay will be in Oxford for the first time as well, as if this game needed any further spice.
The Rebels may have finally turned a corner as a program, and can show the world they're for real by knocking off the Tide for the first time since 2003. As always, that will be easier said than done. The Alabama offense has taken a step forward this year under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and first-year starter Blake Sims. Sims, in particular, has surprised a lot of people, wresting the starting job away from Florida State transfer Jacob Coker. The running game with T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry is still strong, but Sims and the passing game have taken center stage, with Amari Cooper being the primary beneficiary (163.8 yards/game and five touchdowns in four games).
The Ole Miss defense will present a stiff challenge, though. The young roster has come of age in 2014 and is harassing opponents to the tune of only 248 total yards/game and 8.5 points/game, both good for top four in the country. The secondary needs to keep Alabama's passing game in check, but the defensive line can help out if it continues getting good pressure on quarterbacks.
Offensively, Bo Wallace will have his usual array of weapons around him, but the onus will be on him to keep the Rebels on track. The Alabama defense is still very good, and Wallace's wild side (six interceptions in four games) can just as easily steer this team into the ditch as it can into the end zone.
How to watch, listen, and stream
Game time: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: CBS (Verne Lundquist, Gary Danielson, Allie LaForce)
Online streaming: SEC Live
Rankings and records: Alabama is 4-0, and just jumped up to the top spot in the USA Today Coaches Poll after demolishing Florida 42-21. The Tide are third in the AP Top 25, behind Florida State and Oregon.
Ole Miss is also 4-0, and enters this game ranked 11th in both the USA Today Coaches Poll and the AP Top 25.
Vegas: Alabama opened as a 4.5-point favorite, and the line has gone up to -6.5 or -7, depending on your sportsbook of choice. The over/under is 51.
Weather forecast: Sunny with a high of 67.
Two things at stake
Alabama has a chance to solidify its claim to the top ranking in the country with a win over a good Ole Miss team in Oxford. It's already claimed the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll and has started siphoning first-place votes from Florida State in the Coaches Poll. A quality win like this, especially if it's big, might vault the Tide over both Oregon and Florida State.
For Ole Miss, this is a chance to prove the Rebels are for real. Their defense has been outstanding so far, but Bo Wallace has shown a penchant for mistakes. This is not a vintage Alabama secondary, but it can certainly capitalize on mistakes if Wallace makes dumb decisions. Play a clean game, and the Rebels can show the country they are serious contenders, both in the SEC West and nationally.
One big matchup
The Alabama offense vs. the Ole Miss defense: The Tide have made their bones during their recent run of success as a defensive powerhouse, but this year they are blowing the doors off people with offense. They rank 16th nationally in scoring offense (42 points/game), fourth in total offense (594.3 yards/game) and sixth in offensive S&P+.
They have a job on their hands against Ole Miss, though. The Rebels have put on a defensive clinic so far in 2014, coming in second in the nation in defensive S&P+ while allowing a paltry 8.5 points per game, good for third in the nation. On top of their statistical dominance, Ole Miss defenders have been laying the wood on opponents. Amari Cooper and the Alabama receiving corps need to keep their heads on a swivel when they go over the middle on Saturday night.