When non-Power 5 Memphis beat then-No. 13 Ole Miss last season, 37-24, it was a signature win for former Memphis head coach Justin Fuente, who was named Virginia Tech’s head coach in November. Futhermore, it briefly made Memphis the first realistic non-power candidate to make the Playoff.
On the flip side, it looked like a game Ole Miss had simply no business losing. The Rebels came in with a victory over Alabama. Some wondered why the game even happened — Ole Miss fans, after the final, said the Rebels were wrong to schedule Memphis at all.
But the truth is, Ole Miss-Memphis — known as the Mid-South Rivalry — has a long history.
"It's a rivalry," Memphis tight end Daniel Montiel said this week. "They're not far away from us. There's a lot of bad blood always going to be there between Memphis and Ole Miss."
“It means a lot,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said last year. “[Players on both sides] live together; they do work together. Lot of friends on both sides, I’m sure. Gives bragging rights for the next 365 days, until we play again.”
The series is almost 100 years old.
Memphis is Ole Miss’ most frequent opponent that has never been an SEC member.
These two began playing each other fairly regularly starting in the 1950s — before that, they played seven times in about a 30-year span, with the first-ever game in 1921, when Ole Miss beat Memphis, 82-0. The Tigers’ first win in the rivalry came in 1967.
Ole Miss has dominated this series for the most part. The Rebels hold a 48-11-2 all-time advantage in the series. Memphis has won consecutive meetings just three times; they won three straight in 1973-76, with back-to-back victories in 1992-93 and 2003-04.
Many of these opposing players grew up near each other.
Just a look at the surface level of rosters and coaching staffs tells a small part of the story.
The city, which lies about 85 miles north of Oxford, is where Freeze was based prior to joining the Ole Miss staff as a football assistant in 2005.
For 13 years at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis, Freeze was a classroom teacher, coach, and administrator. He led football teams to six straight state championship games and two state titles. In 2008 and 2009, he was the head coach at Lambuth, about an hour east of Memphis.
Ole Miss has always consistently recruited the Memphis area. Currently, the Rebels list four players from the area on the roster, and recent running back Jaylen Walton, who holds the school record in kick return yardage, is from the city. When the two teams met a decade ago, the Rebels had 16 Memphis-area players.
Memphis’ roster often reflects the proximity, as well, with 15 current players from Mississippi.
Ole Miss says this isn’t a revenge game ...
This week, Freeze was asked about Saturday being a revenge game. Like any typical head coach, he downplayed the idea.
“I don’t think anytime you talk about revenge or any of those things they are very helpful so I am not big on that. I am about preparing as good as we can prepare to play a very good Memphis team and I know that the game means a lot to our fan base and their fan base so some emotion comes with that,” Freeze said.
... but Ole Miss fans obviously feel otherwise.
Last year following the Rebels’ loss, SB Nation, via an open records request, obtained a variety of angry emails Rebel fans sent to Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork. One of my personal favorites was this:
They tried to warn you several years ago at the private luncheon.
I have tried in my 73 years to be a person who always looks at the glass half full. There are so many positive things going on at this beloved university you need a scorecard. But the entire Memphis football experience is a huge mistake that should never have happened. It was an ill conceived idea, as many of us tried to convey several years ago at the private luncheon. It was, and is, a totally everything to gain and nothing whatsoever to gain mistake, I know Hugh wanted it, so he owns it. Yes, it was just one game, and a non-conference game as well, but in my opinion, its the biggest nonconference loss we have suffered since we lost to Southern Mississippi when Archie Manning was our quarterback and we were rated in the top five.