A win at Wake would be big boost for Rebs

One of these days the Rebels are going to win a game like this. Maybe it's this weekend.

Ole Miss hasn't handled non-conference regular-season games against BCS conference competition too well. There hasn't been a win in one of these type games since the Rebels beat Arkansas and South Carolina prior to each of those teams joining the Southeastern Conference.

Arkansas lost to Ole Miss 24-17 in 1991, which was the year before the Razorbacks joined the league. South Carolina fell to Ole Miss 20-13 in 1981, 11 seasons before the Gamecocks became an SEC partner.

Before that it's all the way back to 1977 to find a BCS foe the Rebels have beaten in the regular season, and that was Notre Dame 20-13.

The flip side to this is the Rebels haven't scheduled many of these type games in football. Most of the non-conference games the last 30 years have been regional non-BCS foes like Memphis or Tulane, along with the likes of UNLV or Wyoming, Middle Tennessee or Louisiana Tech, Southern Illinois or Chattanooga or Arkansas State.

Some of those teams remain on the schedule and will into the future. Still the Rebels have had home and away series with Texas Tech and Missouri this decade but haven't won. Two years ago a Wake Forest team on its way to the Orange Bowl picked up a 27-3 win on a rainy night in Oxford.

The outcomes have been significantly better for Ole Miss in recent bowl games. Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State, ironically all Big 12 schools, have fallen to the Rebels in postseason games the past 10 years.

For years playing the Demon Deacons wouldn't have been any type headliner. Eighth-year head coach Jim Grobe has now built a top 20 program. After the Orange Bowl, another bowl season followed last year. After a season-opening 41-13 win at Baylor a week ago, the Deacs moved into the 20th spot in the polls.

The days of Wake Forest being a pushover are over. Now they aren't even considered pretenders but contenders.

"I think our first year we won only four or five games and were always getting picked dead last in the ACC," said Grobe, whose teams have won 21 of their last 28 games after winning just 13 of 34 games before that. "Just the other day I was watching ESPN and Lou Holtz picked us to win the ACC. That's a huge target on our back and it puts a lot of pressure on us that we haven't had before. At the same time however, it's an unbelievable experience to be part of such a growing tradition."

The Deacons have basically done lately in their conference what the Rebels hope to do in theirs. They won 11 games, an ACC title by making it to the league's championship game, and played in the Orange Bowl two years ago. They didn't quite match all that last season but still won nine games including a bowl victory.

Atlanta and BCS bowls are the Rebels' goals. Grobe said this year's Rebels are an improved squad.

"They're a very talented football team," said Grobe, who coached against Ole Miss in the 1989 and 1992 Liberty Bowls as an assistant coach at Air Force. "They've had some great recruiting classes and they have an outstanding coach in Houston Nutt, who has brought in a really good staff. They're a typical SEC team. They have big, physical linemen and skill guys that can all run. They have a quarterback, who transferred from Texas, that's really talented. They have a lot of ability on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game, and they have a coaching staff that's doing really good things."

But what Ole Miss hasn't had as a program in a while is a win in the regular season in this type matchup. More opportunities are coming down the road in future seasons – home and away series with Georgia Tech, Texas, Clemson.

But for now, what just three or four years ago would not be considered any kind of signature victory would definitely be a national eye-opener for Ole Miss if the Rebels can win this weekend.


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