As the landscape of college football shifts to the holiday bowl season, Ole Miss changes with it.
But this season is unlike recent years. Not since 2003 have the Rebels been in such circumstances.
Through a November not seen since that fateful year, the team has positioned itself as prime-picking for a New Year's Day bowl, with plenty of publicity to boot.
Head coach Houston Nutt understands what that kind of exposure can do for his program.
"It's so huge," he said. "Our name is going to be mentioned for the next thirty days or so. With the television coverage and recruiting, it means a lot. This is an awesome reward. There's not a bad bowl. They're awesome. I'm excited for our guys. The experience of a bowl week is great."
The Rebels enter the debate as hot as any other in the conference. Riding a five-game winning streak with a 45-0 romp over instate rival Mississippi State under their belt, their appeal couldn't be higher.
Cotton, Capital One, Chick-fil-A and Liberty representatives were in attendance Friday. Each saw the evidence for themselves.
The Rebel defense set a school record for fewest opposition rushing yards with -51 for the Bulldogs. Mississippi State's 37 total yards is the fewest by a Rebel foe in records since 1962.
Throughout the week, fans will discuss where the possible destination might be. But whether it's Florida, Texas or Georgia, there's no season like bowl season.
"Bowls like teams that are hot at the end, but the ones who look likely are all really good - Capital One, Cotton, Outback, Peach - they are all very good and are all a reward for the team and staff," Nutt said. "Certainly, the January bowls give you a little more prestige and help recruiting a little more, but they are all very, very good for your program, players, staff and fans."
How hot have the boys in Red and Blue been? The answer begins with the defensive improvement.
After the Egg Bowl, the team moved four spots from ninth to fifth in Total Defense. Ole Miss also ranks 16th nationally in the same category and fifth in run defense. They're also first in tackles-for-loss and fifth in sacks.
"Once we got healed up on defense after the first month, they got better each week," Nutt continued. "When Peria, who you can't say enough about, and Ted Laurent and Greg Hardy and some others got well, we got pretty good on that side of the ball. The back end also got better as the year progressed. All the credit goes to Tyrone Nix and the defensive staff for molding those guys and using them wisely."
The significance of the team's finish can't be overstated. Ole Miss completed its first perfect November since a 3-0 month in 1992. The last time the Rebels were 4-0 in November was 1969.
Their current win streak is the longest since taking six straight in 2003. Nutt clinched his ninth season with eight or more wins in his 16 seasons as a head coach.
So what does this tell us? Without stating the obvious, the Rebels have done their part. They've placed their name in each bowl committee's respective thought pattern.
"It's been a very fun year, one of the most enjoyable I've had as a coach," Nutt said. "To come in here to a group of young men willing to listen and with an open heart, guys who gave us everything they had and got better, was special."
No matter where Ole Miss spends the holidays, fans will be hard-pressed to complain of the destination. Enjoy this ride and prepare yourself for some memorable months ahead.
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