Auburn, meanwhile, has shocked the nation, entering the 5 p.m. Saturday contest with the No. 1 BCS ranking among college football teams. While only third nationally in the major polls, no matter how you slice it, these Tigers are fierce.
Auburn, led by quarterback Cam Newton, has gotten most of its work done on the ground. The Tigers (8-0, 5-0) are the SEC's leading rushing football team this fall, averaging 303.2 yards per contest to date. The Rebels are actually third in the rushing category with 211.1 yards a game.
It's been missed offensive opportunities and breakdowns on defense that have gotten Ole Miss to this point. The Rebels are last in the SEC in scoring defense, allowing 32 points per game. In total defense, they're 10th.
Those numbers don't bode well for stopping Newton and the Tigers when the visitors have the football. But, again, the Rebels are still searching for that "complete" game, and they certainly could use it Saturday. Auburn put up 65 points in a 22-point win against Arkansas two weeks ago. Ole Miss managed 24 on the Razorback defense last weekend in a 38-24 loss.
Ole Miss quarterback Jeremiah Masoli has helped lift the Rebel offense to middle of the pack stats – fifth in total offense, and sixth in scoring offense (31.4). Two games ago, the Rebels led the league in scoring. But the competition has grown tougher.
Still the Rebels have enough firepower, if they don't turn it over, to score against the Tigers. Stopping Newton and company is the likely key heading in.
Ole Miss offense in brief: The Rebels, who led the SEC in scoring through five games at nearly 38 points per contest, have found the going tougher the past two games against Alabama and Arkansas, especially in the first half. The Rebels only scored 10 at Alabama, and at Arkansas got 24 but had just three points at halftime via a Bryson Rose field goal. Some of it is an obvious uptick in the competition. Also a problem has been not being able to take advantage of opportunities, be they in the form of several dropped passes or fumbles down deep, like the Brandon Bolden mishandle of a Wild Rebel formation at Arkansas' 1-yard line, a fumble recovered by the Razorbacks. Masoli continues to impress and get comfortable in his role at Ole Miss. It's a shame there have been so many injuries and necessary changes on the offensive line not to give him more time and to allow the Rebel offense to truly take off this season. The former Oregon Duck had the second best day ever offensively for an Ole Miss player with 425 total yards against Arkansas.
Ole Miss defense in brief: Ole Miss has its hands full with an Auburn offense that leads the SEC in rushing and scoring. Led by quarterback Cam Newton, the Tigers have chewed up yards on the ground at a league-leading clip. Newton himself has 1,077, which is already the most rushing yards ever in the SEC for a quarterback in a single season.
Auburn is averaging 321 yards rushing. The Rebels have been plagued, especially the last two weeks, by giving up the big play. Sometimes it's a pass, sometimes it's a run. Most of the time it's been back-breaking. If the Rebel defenders can eliminate those, they have a shot to at least slow Auburn and Newton down so the Rebel offense can have a chance to produce.
Ole Miss wins if...the Rebels play their best game of the season. No performance so far through seven games has been good enough to beat Auburn. The Rebels need some help from Auburn, too. Ole Miss needs the Tigers to lay the ball on the ground, turn it over, at least a couple of times; in other words, win the turnover battle. A 5 p.m. kickoff and a stadium full of rowdy fans will help Ole Miss, but the play on the field is where this one will obviously be decided. That being said, the Rebels need every advantage if they want to pull a headlining upset.
Auburn wins if...the Tigers play like they have all season. You don't go through eight games, five of them SEC contests, unblemished and not have confidence. Auburn rolls into Oxford with visions of an SEC title and a national title on its mind. If the Tigers win the turnover and field position battle, both of which Ole Miss has had a difficult time winning this season, the Tigers will likely be 9-0, 6-0, late Saturday evening.
Auburn offensive player to watch: Who else? Junior quarterback Cameron Newton. The SEC's marquee player at this time, even overshadowing the Heisman Trophy winner from last year at his alma mater's top rival – Mark Ingram of Alabama. Newton is known for his rushing, but he's been an effective passer as well, going 10 for 16 for 86 yards vs. LSU last week. Again LSU, Newton had six rushes for more than 10 yards, including three for more than 20 yards.
Auburn defensive player to watch: Junior defensive lineman Nick Fairley. He's the leader of an Auburn defense that's played well all season. Fairley is second in the SEC in sacks (7.5) and first in the SEC in tackles for loss (17.0). And with 39 total tackles on the season (24 of them solo stops), he's only fourth on his team in tackles made this season. That should tell you how good the Tigers are defensively.
Noteworthy: Ole Miss and Auburn only became annual foes in SEC football when the league expanded in 1991. Although both are charter members of the SEC (1933), they've only played 34 times in football. The Tigers lead 25-9. The Rebels last won two years ago, 17-7 in Oxford. Last year at Auburn, the Tigers claimed a 33-20 victory. Saturday's encounter is Auburn's third road game of the season. It's the fifth home game of the year for Ole Miss.