Tide Football Faces Another Big Game

We admit to being easily amused, at least by subtlety if not by silliness. For instance, a staple of sports journalism pre-game analysis is matching up opponents by position, etc. It is the “Etc.” that amuses us, particularly when one is “Intangibles.” Another “Etc.” is comparing the coaches.

This is the biggest week to date in the 2014 college football season with seven games matching ranked teams. One of those, and perhaps the most important, is Alabama playing at Ole Miss.

The Crimson Tide, ranked first in the nation in one poll and third in another, and the Rebels, ranked 11th, are both 4-0 overall and 1-0 in Southeastern Conference games. And both are untested having played relatively weak schedules.

It is being billed as an historic game in Oxford, the biggest game ever in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on the Mississippi campus. ESPN’s Gameday crew is there. So is CBS, which will televise the game beginning at 2:30 p.m. CDT.

All this leads to the intangible as to which team the hype helps or hurts. Alabama has been in a lot of these historic games – the biggest game ever at Auburn or Athens or Baton Rouge or Columbia or College Station. Etc. But not this Bama team. This year’s team hasn’t been anywhere except Atlanta to play West Virginia. Otherwise, the Crimson Tide has been in Tuscaloosa beating up on the poor and/or unfortunate.

It is the Ole Miss team that will parade through its fans and which has heard all week that this is the big one, the game which will put the Rebels on even footing with the Alabamas of the world if – no, when! – Ole Miss, by damn, overcomes history.

Ah, history. Another of the intangibles. Considering the teams first met in 1894, in those 120 years Bama and Mississippi have met only about half the possible years, 61 games. On the field, Bama has won 51 of those times. (The on-the-field record is 51-8-2 and the NCAA adjusted record 48-9-2.) The Tide has won 10 in a row. Alabama has won eight of the 10 games played in Oxford. In other words, if this was a true rivalry, the record would be a little closer.

The record of 2014 Alabama vs. Mississippi, though, is 0-0 until late Saturday afternoon.

There’s also the coaching comparison. Who makes that judgment? In every poll we see, Alabama’s Nick Saban is judged to be the nation’s best coach, even though we tend to agree with his own assessment – that he is not the best coach, but he is the best recruiter. Cynics and realists probably look at Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze with wonder that he has been able to recruit so well to the Rebels. Nevertheless, not many would rank Freeze ahead of Saban in this Etc. category.

There’s even an Etc. on assistant coaches owing to the unusual dichotomy of Lane Kiffin being Alabama’s offensive coordinator and his brother, Chris, younger by about six years, being the defensive line coach at Ole Miss.

It is not, though, the intangibles or the etc. that will determine the outcome. The adage is that it will be blocking and tackling, but add to that throwing and catching and running and kicking. Also consider decision-making and depth. And remember the ball is not round and it takes funny bounces.

At the most important position, quarterback, Ole Miss has a three-year starter in Bo Wallace, who has both won big games for the Rebels and lost big games for Mississippi. Alabama’s starter, fifth-year senior Blake Sims, is undefeated as a starter, but has only this year’s four-game resume. Statistically, the two aren’t far apart. The obvious experience edge goes to Wallace, and realistically it has to be disadvantageous to Bama that Sims will be starting in his first road game.

Wallace isn’t the only starter returning. The offense has a runner (Jaylen Walton), a receiver Laquon Treadwell), a versatile tight end (Evan Engram), and a couple of offensive linemen back from last year.

Alabama has two new offensive line starters this year, but overall the Tide returns a lot of offensive players with experience, including all-star candidates in wide receiver Amari Cooper, tailbacks T.J. Yeldon, and Derrick Henry, and tight end O.J. Howard.

The Rebels have nine men back on defense, including defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, previously the nation’s top riospect, and cornerback Senquez Golson, one of the top interception men in the nation.

Bama returns five defensive starters, including all-star safety Landon Collins and top linebacker Trey DePriest.

Ole Miss has recruited well over recent seasons and had decent records. Alabama has been better on both fronts.

Most people put a lot of stock in the home field advantage, but longtime observers of Alabama football know the Crimson Tide has had bad losses at home and big wins on the road. Some of those Crimson Tide wins have been when the opponent was having the biggest campus game in its history.

Look for Alabama to tack on another one Saturday.

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