Ole Miss bowl destination dependent on SEC championship game

Ole Miss senior linebacker C.J. Johnson doesn’t really have a preference for the Rebels’ bowl destination.

“As long as it’s somewhere sunny,” he said.

Well, New Orleans is sunny enough this time of year.

Ole Miss (9-3, 6-2 SEC) throttled in-state rival Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4), 38-27, in Starkville Saturday. Despite the win, the Rebels won’t be making their first SEC championship game appearance. They needed to beat Mississippi State and have Auburn upset No. 2 Alabama. The Crimson Tide, however, took care of business and will face off against SEC East winner Florida. 

Even still, the Rebels appear well-positioned for their first Sugar Bowl since 1970. The Allstate Sugar Bowl, a New Year’s Six game, pits the second-highest-ranked SEC team against an opponent from the Big 12 on Jan. 1. Ole Miss would likely draw one of Baylor, Oklahoma State or TCU.

“I don’t know if I can say where I hope we go,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. “I’m going to keep my fingers crossed we get into one of those New Year’s Six, for sure.”

The Rebels, who are 5-3 all-time in the Sugar Bowl, played in a New Year’s Six last season. They lost in lopsided fashion, 42-3, to TCU in the Peach Bowl.

“We’d like another chance at that,” he said. “I want a shot at that. If I can sell our kids, and with the way Chad (Kelly) is playing and Laremy (Tunsil) and Rob(ert Nkemdiche) and Laquon (Treadwell) and those guys, I think our fans will travel. We’d love the honor of coming to one of those New Year’s Six bowls.”

The Rebels will need some help to end up in New Orleans. Alabama opened as a 12-point favorite over the Gators, who lost to rival Florida State, 27-2, over the weekend. The line has already moved to -17.5. 

Assuming Alabama wins, the Rebels could very well jump ahead of the Gators in the College Football Playoff rankings. Ole Miss moved from No. 19 to No. 16 in the Associated Press Top 25 on Sunday. Should Florida pull the upset, though, the Gators would reach the Sugar Bowl, which issues an automatic berth to the SEC champion.

“I wish we were playing next week in Atlanta,” Freeze said. “I think we’d win it.”

Other bowl possibilities include the Citrus in Orlando, Fla., the Outback in Tampa, Fla., and the Gator in Jacksonville, Fla. Ole Miss likely wouldn’t fall past the Citrus or Outback.

“LSU was a top-ranked team for part of the year,” Freeze said. “State’s beaten a lot of quality teams. We beat the No. 2 team in the country (in Alabama). Hopefully (the bowl selection committee) will see it that way.”

The Rebels were 3-1 in November, including wins at Auburn and Mississippi State and against LSU in Oxford. Their lone blemish was a 53-52 loss to Arkansas, which included a miracle-heave 4th-and-25 conversion in overtime by the Razorbacks.

But Freeze said he isn’t dwelling on what could have been. He’s simply eager for another opportunity to compete with a team he believes is championship caliber.

“We’re a 4th-and-25 from going to Atlanta,” Freeze said. “We could dwell on that and the what-ifs and all that, but I think it speaks volumes to how far we’ve come in our four years here. Kind of stinks, but we’ll go to a great bowl game somewhere. Look forward to competing again.”

“Starting in August we were thinking championship,” Johnson said. “To think we were a 4th-and-25 play away from being in Atlanta, I think it shows how these guys fought. To come out and finish in a rivalry game and dominate like we did, I thought that was a great bounce-back for us.”


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