Peach Bowl Bound
For the third time in as many years, Ole Miss is going bowling.
And this time, the Rebels are carrying elite status.
As announced during its live selection show on ESPN Sunday afternoon, the College Football Playoff committee named Ole Miss to the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, one of its six elite bowl games in rotation for the College Football Playoff. The Peach Bowl joins the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange, Rose and Sugar Bowls as the hosts for the new playoff structure.
The Rebels, ranked No. 9 in the final College Football Playoff rankings, will face No. 6 TCU, who finished the season as co-champions in the Big 12 with an 11-1 record. The game is set for Dec. 31.
“We were really excited to find out about the announcement of both TCU and Mississippi because both teams are renowned for their passionate fan bases. We feel like we’re in for our 18th straight sellout,” Peach Bowl President and CEO Gary Stokan said.
“To see the No. 1 scoring defense against the No. 2 scoring offense, you can’t write that up to have a better bowl game. We couldn’t have drawn a better matchup.”
Ole Miss opened the 2014 season in Atlanta, Ga., home of the Peach Bowl, as a part of the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff. The Rebels defeated Boise State, 35-13. The Broncos went on to finish first in the Mountain Division at 11-2, earning the committee’s only guaranteed bid for conferences outside of the Big Five with a spot in the Fiesta Bowl.
The win over Boise State was one of three high-profile wins for the Rebels. Ole Miss handed No. 1-ranked Alabama its only loss of the season, as well as removed in-state rival Mississippi State, at the time ranked No. 4, from the playoff discussion with a 31-17 win in the annual Egg Bowl rivalry game a little over a week ago.
Ole Miss needed some help on Saturday. The Rebels entered the weekend out of the top-10 and needing losses from teams ranked ahead of them and participating in conference title games. That's exactly what happened, with then-No. 7 Arizona and No. 9 Kansas State, among others, losing, propelling the Rebels into a Big Six bowl game.
“We needed the favorites to win yesterday,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. “I think our resume is very, very good. We had three wins over conference champions, so I felt like if the favorites held serve and won yesterday, I felt very confident. I went to bed feeling pretty confident we’d be selected.”
“Obviously going to play a very good Ole Miss team. Very talented,” TCU head coach Gary Patterson said. “Coach Freeze is a guy that I’ve watched how he’s built it. Not only is he a good football coach, but having gotten to know him, pleasure to be around. That makes bowls a little easier. Our team’s fired up. They wanted to play somebody that was the caliber of a top-5 team. Ole Miss is that team. We’re excited to come to Atlanta. We’ve never been there before.”
Ole Miss finished with a 9-3 record, including a 5-3 mark in Southeastern Conference games. The Rebels have improved their win total each season under Freeze, who inherited a program in disarray following a 2-10 (0-8 SEC) campaign. Freeze recently agreed to a contract extension with an average annual value of over $4 million after Florida showed interest for its vacant head coaching position. The Gators recently hired Jim McElwain, formerly of Colorado State.
The Rebels will be playing in their second Peach Bowl, their last appearance coming in 1971, when Ole Miss defeated Georgia Tech, 41-18, to cap a run of 15 straight bowl seasons.
“For us to get the opportunity to go and measure ourselves at this early stage of our journey at Ole Miss against a team like TCU at a place like the Peach Bowl is just a tremendous honor that we’re extremely excited to get started preparing for,” Freeze said.
Ole Miss has won back-to-back bowl games under Freeze in his first two seasons. The Rebels beat Pittsburgh, 38-17, in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., on Jan. 5 2013, then topped Georgia Tech, 25-17, in the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn., on Dec. 30, 2013.
TCU was ranked No. 3 in the CFP rankings last week, only to drop out a week later despite a 55-point win over Iowa State. Patterson doesn't believe the snub will linger.
“I don’t think it will linger at all,” Patterson said. “Ole Miss was ranked as high as third in the national standings. So, for us, we know we’re playing a very good football team. We want to prove that we were a team that should have been in the playoffs. They’re a football team that’s very athletic. They’re very excited about it – a New Year’s Eve Bowl, one of the Big Six.”
“I think you saw the type of person Gary is today when he handled a difficult decision that was made,” Freeze said. “That’s one reason why his program’s so talented, because he’s able to handle things the right way, even when you’re disappointed.”
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