COLUMN: Greater Opportunities

So it’s Sunday. Hugh Freeze is going to talk to his team about the truth. He said that’s what happens when they get together the day after a game.

“We talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly,” he said.

This Sunday the talk will be mainly about the good, at least you would think. That wasn’t just any ordinary Saturday.

It all started early in the Grove for many. ESPN College Game Day set the stage. But the stage got bigger as the day moved on.

CBS was able to showcase an instant classic for Ole Miss football. The Rebels beat – depending on which poll you choose – No. 1 ranked to No. 3 ranked Alabama 23-17.

It was a strong day in Oxford.

I’ve been around Ole Miss and its football program basically all my life. There hasn’t been another day like it.

College football gets so much more daily attention now since this thing called The Entertainment and Sports Programming Network went live in time for the football season of 1979.

Sports ‘round the clock? That’s fantastic. But will it make it? Who will watch that much sports?

That was 35 years ago, and it’s arguably the most recognizable brand in the world for sports coverage.

Ole Miss was able to get a couple of days’ worth, plus promos, of unparalleled coverage. That the Rebels won the game took all this to a whole different level.

In baseball there's something we hear a lot that the football team will be working on today. They'll be trying to “flush it." Sometimes that phrase has mainly a negative connotation. With Ole Miss football, the main thing they’ll be trying to flush is the fact that mighty Alabama went down in a thunderous, goal-post dismantling (both of them) game that won’t be forgotten by anybody associated with it.

But the Rebel players and coaches, after a night of relishing in it, now have to try to forget it. Texas A&M on the road is up next.

The Aggies are a good team, once ranked in the top ten, until a dismantling of their own at the hands of Mississippi State in Starkville Saturday. Freeze said his team will face an angry opponent in a hostile environment this Saturday.

Such is the way of life in the Southeastern Conference, especially the Western Division. Freeze said he believes every SEC West team is worthy of being ranked.

Certainly his team is, and likely will be ranked higher than Ole Miss has since climbing to No. 4 five years ago.

So many highly ranked teams lost this weekend that Ole Miss and Mississippi State could jump into the nation’s top 5. It remains to be seen if they are.

But there’s still so much football left to play that there’s no way to predict who will be ranked where when it’s all over.

Quick turnarounds aren’t necessarily uncommon or unheard of. They happen from time to time in sports.

What Freeze and his staff have done in 31 games here, with a 20-11 record, is still nothing short of amazing given what they inherited. That the 20th win would be against Alabama would not have been what most predicted.

Here’s the test of where they are. Some had said Saturday was a measuring stick of how far they’d come. Now we know.

What we don’t know but are about to find out is can they maintain it or build on it, go beat the Aggies, come home to defeat Tennessee, stay the course.

Then they'll play LSU on the road and Auburn at home as they head to November.

Billy Brewer, when he was head coach, had a lot of different sayings and passages he would use. One was, “It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish.”

The Ole Miss Rebels have started strongly in 2014. Now, as the halfway mark of the regular is upon us this coming Saturday, maybe we’ll know at least more.

Because the Rebels need to build on what they’ve accomplished. They need to keep winning to solidify their place in what is about to be – today – a top 4, 5, or 6 spot in the polls, by most accounts.

There hadn’t been a goal post day at Ole Miss that I can remember since the Rebels beat Florida in 2002. But there was Saturday.

Alabama hadn’t fallen to Ole Miss in ten years, and not too often in the years prior to that. But they did on Saturday.

Ole Miss has never beaten Texas A&M in College Station. There have only been two games played there between the teams. Ole Miss has actually never scored a point there.

This year's Aggies appear to be a team that can be scored upon. But they will certainly be a team trying to bounce back.

With seven games remaining, how Ole Miss finishes will be how it’s remembered, not just for one special day against Alabama. It all started Saturday in the Grove, a place revered by so many and that's such a breathtaking scene for first-timers on any give gameday.

My dad still recalls what happened in 1952 when Ole Miss defeated another top three nationally ranked team. He was walking across the Grove that day after Ole Miss beat Maryland 21-14 when one of his friends yelled, “The Sugar Bowl just called.” It was the first of eight trips to that postseason classic Ole Miss would make. That win was also in November, and the season was nearly in the books.

This year, it’s way too early and the road too tough to predict something like that again.

But Orange Bowl officials did visit all the Ole Miss postgame proceedings on Saturday. So there is that.

More major opportunities will come, but only if the Rebels build on what they’ve already done through a special five games of the 2014 season.


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