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Mike Gundy and Hugh Freeze disagree over whether Ole Miss’ Sugar Bowl win is tainted by NCAA violations

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Ole Miss won by four touchdowns and is now facing an NCAA firestorm.

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Oklahoma State vs Mississippi
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze and Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy at the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day 2016, before the Rebels beat the Cowboys by four touchdowns.
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015 season’s Sugar Bowl was a romp. Ole Miss and Oklahoma State met in New Orleans, and the Rebels put an utter demolition on the Cowboys. The final score was 48-20, and it was only that close because the Pokes managed a few touchdowns in garbage time. They were down 41-6 at one point.

But now Ole Miss is in a great deal of NCAA trouble, facing 21 compliance allegations, including more than a dozen at the most serious level. An NCAA doomsday could be coming. Ole Miss isn’t contesting several of the allegations.

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has seized the moment to wonder about what could’ve been 14 months ago.

“We’ll never know what we could have done in the Sugar Bowl if it was a level playing field,” Gundy now says, according to the Tulsa World’s Bill Haisten. “That is the truth. I’m not sure we would have won the Sugar Bowl, but we’ll never know.”

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Apparently, Gundy added, “we didn’t all play by the same rules. If everybody is playing by the rules and you get your butt kicked, that’s OK. I can live with that. But when it’s an uneven playing field, that’s not fair.”

Cheating isn’t fair. No one is arguing that it is. And at least Gundy is candid that he’s “not sure” his team would’ve won under different circumstances.

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, for his part, is unpersuaded.

Probably, there’s not that much to wonder about here.

That’s because the Ole Miss-Oklahoma State Sugar Bowl really, really was not close. The Pokes were outgained by a margin of 554-366. The first five touchdowns were all Ole Miss’, and the player scoring one of them was an offensive lineman:

The NCAA could choose to come down on Ole Miss like a ton of bricks. The Rebels self-imposed a bowl ban for 2017, but the NCAA’s toolbox of potential sanctions also includes nullifying wins. (The player scoring the above touchdown, Laremy Tunsil, has been a central figure in the NCAA’s investigation.) It’s possible that Ole Miss’ win that night doesn’t last forever, at least not in the NCAA’s books.

But Ole Miss obliterated Oklahoma State in this game. To imagine the Cowboys winning requires an elaborate and winding mental gymnastics routine, even if a big handful of Ole Miss’ contributors are ultimately proven to have broken the rules.

Gundy’s wondering is understandable. Losses hurt. But so much would’ve had to be different for his team to have been competitive that night in New Orleans.