Ole Miss faces program not that unlike itself

Well, the first one's out of the way. Coach O called it a must win. It was that, if the Rebels want to do anything special this season, like bowl.

Now with one set of Tigers in the "W" column for Ole Miss, up comes the second of four the Rebs will face in 2007. This cat will have a bigger bite than Memphis, a louder roar, longer claws.

Lou Holtz said last week Missouri is a sleeper for the national title this season. The Tigers should be wide awake at 5 p.m. Saturday.

It's another of the BCS non-conference games that have begun to dot the Rebel football slate. It's an opportunity for the visitors from Columbia, preseason pick in most polls to win the Big XII North, to advance toward some lofty aspirations. It's an opportunity for Ole Miss to make some early-season noise and set a tone for more September success that Orgeron has said is important.

Saturday was, well, weird. Some strange things happened. Punt block for a TD. Interception return 99 yards for another. A scoop of a lateral and a score. I still wonder if the officials could truly tell if that one should be overturned.

You know, there is supposed to clear and unquestionable evidence that a call should be overturned, or it stays as called on the field. Took them what seemed like 10 minutes to say, "Yes. No doubt. Without question it was not what we first said it was."

I watched the referee during the play. He pointed behind him toward the southeast end zone as soon as the ball was thrown. If Ole Miss goes up 29-7 at that point, and hopefully with some type of additional point or two 30-7 or 31-7, I just don't think that game turns into the nail-biting situation it eventually did. Their fans leave; their players pack it in, most likely.

But I felt the same way even before that, when Ole Miss settled for a field goal to make it 23-0. I thought if it gets to 27-0, their fans leave and their players pack it in.

Strange game. Weird day.

Missouri had a similar experience in St. Louis Saturday. The Tigers went up big and hung on late. Tigers quarterback Chase Daniel threw three touchdown passes. DB Cornelius Brown intercepted a pass at the 1-yard line with 51 seconds to play, and Missouri had held off a furious rally by Illinois to win 40-34.

The Tigers, like the Rebels now 1-0 on the season, scored on a 100-yard fumble return and a 66-yard punt return and were up 37-13 late in the third quarter. Probably breathing pretty easily, too. Kinda like Ole Miss folks when the scoreboard, for several minutes anyway while the refs overturned themselves, read 29-7.

Mizzou fans are probably thinking, "Strange game. Weird day."

Saturday wasn't the only mirror that Ole Miss and Missouri football could look into and see each other. While the Rebels have had more football tradition and success over the years than the Tigers, their situations are eerily similar.

I could relate to Pat Forde of ESPN.com's column on Missouri-Illinois. We'll focus on some of what he said about Mizzou, which won big from the late 1950s through 1970 under Dan Devine, went to three Orange Bowls, a Sugar Bowl, and several other bowls.

"For 20 years, people weren't on the same page," said Mizzou AD Mike Alden of the post-Devine era, according to Forde. "They thought you could roll out the ball and be successful, like this was the 1960s. While they were talking, they were doing nothing, and everyone else was doing something."

Things that make you go "Hmmmmm."

Here's more from Forde in that story.

"The mind-set helped lead to the late 1970s firing of Al Onofrio, who shocked USC and Alabama and Nebraska and Notre Dame but couldn't beat hated rival Kansas."

Stop right there. Ole Miss was 1-1 against Onofrio and Mizzou. Ken Cooper's Ole Miss teams beat Missouri and Notre Dame and Alabama and Georgia twice and Tennessee twice, all in four seasons.

However Cooper's teams struggled against MSU (1-3 but later got one back by forfeit) and LSU (1-3), lost to USM the week after beating Notre Dame, and went 1-2 against the school formerly known as Memphis State. All that floundering against teams Reb fans love to beat got Coop canned. And no bowls in four seasons, too.

More Forde.

"That mind-set helped lead to the 1984 firing of Warren Powers, who made the fatal mistake of following six straight winning seasons with a 3-7-1 stumble."

Ole Miss lost at Missouri 45-14 in the second game of the Steve Sloan era, the first year of the Warren Powers era at Mizzou. I was there. I remember a Missouri fan telling our group that the coach they really wanted was Sloan, who had been the head coach at Texas Tech prior to coming to Ole Miss, but they settled for their second choice, Powers, who was the head coach at Washington State.

Sloan never had a winning season at Ole Miss in five years and lost to Missouri 33-7 in his second season. Powers succeeded for a few years, then got fired. Missouri didn't bowl for 12 years. Ole Miss' bowl drought from Kinard through Cooper and Sloan was 12 years.

Ole Miss has had some gut-wrenching defeats through the post-Vaught era, some that left the Rebels just a win short of past glory. Losing to Tennessee in 1986 and again in 1990, wins that would have vaulted the Rebels into the Sugar Bowl, come to mind.

A seven-OT loss at home to Arkansas ruined Eli's sophomore season in 2001. A couple of sad setbacks at MSU in '99 and '01 left the Rebels in Shreveport and at home respectively when bowl bids went out.

Oh, there've been others and you can probably add to the list fairly quickly.

Still more Forde.

"It should be noted that during this plague Missouri also was the unluckiest school in the country. Twice it was the victim of fluketastically enabled national title runs: the fifth-down play for Colorado in 1990, and the kicked pass for a touchdown by Nebraska in 1997. Combine those events with UCLA guard Tyus Edney's full-court drive in the 1995 NCAA Basketball Tournament versus the Tigers, and it was quite a decade for utterly inexplicable losses to future champions."

Hey, Pat. The Rebs got Valpoed on their way to the Final Four in 1998. I'll always believe that's where the Rebels were headed when the Ole Miss express was stopped dead in its tracks with a shot from a Hoosier boy in Oklahoma City that we aren't allowed to forget.

More Forde? A couple of final comments.

"The new Mizzou began snapping itself out of its 1960s reverie under athletic director Joe Castiglione, but he left for Oklahoma before all the pieces were in place."

Tuberville left after four seasons. Cutcliffe was here six years. Pete Boone left for four years and returned. Boone and Orgeron are now in place to lead.

Forde: "Now it's up to Alden to finish the job. Along the way he hired (Gary) Pinkel, who took over a defeated program with outdated facilities and outdated fan expectations."

OK, so the stories don't totally mesh and merge, but they're close.

Ole Miss and Missouri, two schools who've been down similar athletic paths for half a century, meet in Oxford at 5 p.m. Saturday. They'll be trying to recapture lost glory, and there'll be talk among the older fans of the way things were and hopefully will be again. And a hot topic among the younger set will be trying to experience those moments their parents and grandparents always told them about.

You might want to get to the Grove and the stadium early for this one. Might or might not turn out to be strange or weird.

But it should be fun. And there oughta be 60,000 there to soak it all in.

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