Streak Has Rebs Back in Hunt

Ole Miss is three games ahead in the SEC West, but the second half of the conference season will be a difficult task. The Rebels need to finish strong for a fifth straight host site to become a reality.

The halfway mark of SEC play is here, and the Rebels hold a three-game advantage in the Western Division. Some of that has to do with Ole Miss' play and the rest is because of other teams' mediocrity up until now. The Rebels should have a lead if the next best record is 6-9.

However, at 9-6, Ole Miss holds the best mark it has had at this juncture since the 2004 team made the turn at 11-4. The previous three Mike Bianco clubs all came in at 7-8 or 8-7. If the Rebels can duplicate it during the second half, hosting would be locked up with Ole Miss' SEC record at 18-12 and an SEC West title.

Five midweek games remain along with the 15 conference contests. I am going to predict that the Rebels don't duplicate and are one game worse in the final half, finishing 8-7 for the segment and 17-13 overall. That would still win the West.

I say that because three difficult road series remain. The next three weekends will tell a lot with the Rebels traveling to South Carolina and overall leader Georgia (by three games over the Rebels) and Arkansas visiting in the middle. Then, Ole Miss closes with Auburn at home (hopefully lock the West that weekend), and goes to Kentucky in the last regular season series.

Tuesday is the toughest midweek game left when Ole Miss and State meet in Pearl. The others include Jackson State, at Memphis (Nat Buring, not AutoZone), at Arkansas State and Murray State. Taking all five would be nice and is possible, but let's say 4-1 is how it plays out.

If that happens, the Rebels would travel to Hoover as a No. 2 seed, courtesy of the division title, with a record of 36-20, 17-13. Who knows how much the stadium construction will hurt hosting chances, but the 36 wins would put Ole Miss in the conversation. However, the Rebels would need to avoid laying an egg during the SEC Tournament. Still being around on Saturday while the committee is choosing host sites would most likely be necessary.

One factor outside record is winning the right series or at least not getting swept by the wrong team. RPI has been Ole Miss' friend during the last few years, but that is not so this time due to a few poor midweek losses and a rough stretch of 6-11 in the middle of the season. But there will be ample opportunity to lower the Rebels' number.

Ole Miss' RPI is currently at 38, one spot behind Vanderbilt and two behind TCU. That won't cut it and is a major reason SEBaseball caused uproar by predicting the Rebels a three seed in last week's projections. In my opinion, Ole Miss is a two right now and would stay that way at worst unless something unforeseen occurs.

To help the RPI, the Rebels need good weekends at Georgia and South Carolina. Those teams' RPIs are 15 and 6 respectively. Of the other remaining series, opponents' RPIs are 40 (Auburn), 42 (Arkansas) and 50 (Kentucky).

While winning the weekend is obviously important, losing more midweek games causes RPI problems as well. Due to its struggles, Mississippi State does nothing but hurt the RPI. The Bulldogs are the highest rated midweek opponent remaining at 128, but that is lower than Western Kentucky and South Alabama.

Arkansas State and Memphis are at 162 and 163 respectively; while Jackson State (222) and Murray State (235) are absolute must wins.

The recent nine-game win streak has placed Ole Miss back in the hosting conversation, but all room for error has been eliminated. I'm not on the committee, but this should give you an idea of what the Rebels need to do from this point forward.

Last year's team won 35 games and the 2006 edition won 36 times during the regular season. However, both squads played well and locked up the host spot while across the state line.

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