'Tis the Season

And what a season it has been. Once upon a time, the Rebels were 3-4 and most were trying to figure out just where this season was headed. At that point it was actually headed West, but who could have imagined that then?

West to Dallas. Just like in 2003. In a season of amazement, is there anything more amazing than the fact that there will be more Ole Miss fans at the Cotton Bowl this time around than there were five years ago?

I wouldn't have believed that four weeks ago. But that 18,000 mark of '03 has been passed and left way behind. More than 21,000 tickets sold at Ole Miss means there should be 25,000 Rebels in the stadium, since some obviously bought tickets elsewhere.

The message board poster known as RussReb often reminds me that one of his favorite stories I did was several years ago on Ole Miss and bowl games.

"It's what we do. It's who we are," I wrote. The Cotton Bowl will be Ole Miss' 32nd all-time bowl game. Not many schools have been to more.

I can't even remember the subject of the story he refers to. It might have been concerning a potential playoff system. Or it could have been lamenting the fact that the Rebels didn't qualify for a bowl game that particular season.

I believe this year's bowl trip is just the beginning for the current regime. It's been a long time, a couple of generations in fact, since Ole Miss played for a bowl championship that had national implications. That means the BCS bowls, which are obviously the pinnacle all programs hope to reach.

As I sit here on Christmas Day 2008, I believe bigger and better are in the future for Ole Miss football. And a Cotton Bowl trip is a pretty big deal itself. In the future it will be an even bigger one if the new stadium in Arlington helps it get back to BCS status.

This coaching staff has Atlanta and the SEC Championship on its mind. And even bigger bowls.

They've been there and can take Ole Miss there. There's always a debate whether one school or another school has more potential to get to a certain level. Some believe Arkansas has more going for it to get there than Ole Miss. I don't believe that anymore.

Not with facilities. Not with a fan base that is growing again. Not with so many involved who understand what it takes to be at the top of college football. Not with Houston Nutt and staff here instead of over there.

No, I don't think Ole Miss has any reason to believe it can't get to the highest level of football success. Yes, I do believe this year's Cotton Bowl is a sign of a program on the rise. A pretty quick rise, from no bowl in four years and a winless SEC season to a 5-3 conference mark.

The Rebels gather in Dallas Friday night. They'll be treated royally for the next week. It will be a memorable time for them and for those who follow them.

On Jan. 2, 2009, historic Cotton Bowl stadium will be packed with nearly 90,000, a new record for the classic. It will get a farewell of major proportions. The sendoff to Arlington for a new era will be heard and reported far and wide.

Maybe a Texas-Arkansas matchup, or Texas A&M or TCU or SMU vs. some team would have been a more traditional game for the last one at this stadium.

In my mind there isn't a more "traditional" matchup than Ole Miss-Texas Tech. The Red Raider tradition is a lot like that of Ole Miss. This is their fourth Cotton Bowl, as it is for Ole Miss. This is their 32nd overall bowl, just as it is for Ole Miss.

Next year one or both may just be in their conference championship game and headed to a BCS bowl. I guarantee you that's what's on the mind of those within the Ole Miss football program.

For now, enjoy Cotton Bowl week. At 3-4 in late October, this was only a dream. Five victories later, a nine-win season is within reach.

Indeed it's been an impressive start to even bigger and better into the future.

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