Four weeks into the college football season, few teams have been able to do what Alabama has done: The Crimson Tide have looked completely dominant, both offensively and defensively, no matter which team stands in their path.
Over the first four weeks, Alabama has been winning by a scoring differential of 168-21. Prior to allowing a touchdown to Florida Atlantic last weekend, it hadn't allowed a single point since an opening-weekend win over then-No. 8 Michigan.
If it wasn't for one big blemish on Ole Miss' record thus far, the Rebels might have looked like they had a shot against Alabama. But when Ole Miss lost at home, 66-31, to then-No. 14 Texas a couple of weeks ago, we got a glimpse of how the Rebels might stack up against elite competition.
The good news for Ole Miss is that the offense is capable of hanging in there, even against Top 25 opponents. The bad news is, the defense was utterly incapable—but it did bounce back last weekend, shutting out Tulane in a 39-0 victory.
Whether this Ole Miss offense can get anything going against the Crimson Tide defense, which ranks second in the nation, is another question.
Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
When: Saturday, September 29 at 9:15 p.m. ET
Listen: Alabama stations, KBUD 102.1 in Mississippi
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Betting Line (via OddsShark): Alabama -33
Ole Miss Injury Report (via USAToday.com)
- DT Uriah Grant (hand) is questionable for Saturday's game and did not play last weekend
- DE Gerald Rivers has been out for four games because of eligibility issues and is questionable for Saturday's game
- LB D.T. Shackelford (knee) is out for the season with a torn ACL
Alabama Injury Report (via USAToday.com)
- RB Jalston Fowler (knee) is out for the season
- DB Jarrick Williams (knee) is out for the season with a torn ACL
- WR Chris Black (shoulder) is out until mid-November
The stakes just continue to rise for Alabama, which strengthens its hold on the top spot in the polls with every week that goes by. In light of the near-upset LSU experienced last weekend, Alabama conclusively looks like the toughest team in the nation.
Without having gotten into the bulk of the conference schedules yet, it's difficult to predict which teams are still going to be the ones on top a few months from now, but Alabama—which has already been tested, having played Michigan in Week 1—hasn't looked remotely beatable by any team.
Granted, Alabama hasn't played much of anyone ever since Michigan, so Ole Miss will present a good barometer for how dominant this team can be against a solid Division I opponent.
Most likely, though, it will be the same story for Alabama as it has been all season: stellar defense and a stellar offense.
What They're Saying
Ever since Nick Saban came to town, the big story for Alabama has been the defense—but this season, finally, the offense seems to be holding its own, according to The New York Times contributor Marquavius Burnett.
En route to putting up an average of 42.7 points per game, Burnett writes that new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, as well as strong chemistry between quarterback A.J. McCarron and his receivers, have been the primary contributors to the offensive resurgence.
McCarron is spreading the wealth this season, allowing at least seven receivers to catch a pass in every game. Even though McCarron’s statistics don’t jump off the page, his efficiency is what makes the Tide offense stand out. A redshirt junior, he is third in the nation in passer efficiency at 196.6 and has yet to throw an interception.
Meanwhile, even though the Rebels are coming off a 39-0 shutout win, their offense isn't feeling quite as good—physically.
Quarterback Bo Wallace, in particular, is struggling with his throwing shoulder, which had "no range of motion" the day after the Tulane win, according to The Commercial Appeal's Ron Higgins.
While new coach Hugh Freeze's combination of no-huddle offense and read-option plays has helped inflate this season's running totals, it's an offense that leaves the quarterback open to getting physically pounded on option keepers.
Hopefully, Wallace's shoulder gets loose fast, because the Rebels will have no chance against Alabama's mighty defense without their quarterback.
Ole Miss Player to Watch
Wallace may not be a Heisman candidate, but he's certainly been the centerpiece of each of Ole Miss' wins this season—particularly last week's against Tulane, when he threw for 101 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 67 more, finishing with zero picks.
But his health seems to be a substantial concern this week, and as we've seen this season, the team goes as Wallace goes. Take a look at his performance in the loss to Texas: 178 passing yards, eight rushing yards, one touchdown and three picks.
The competition was stiff, and Wallace crumbled. He made huge mistakes—his first pick of the game, with just under 10 minutes remaining in the first quarter and was returned for a touchdown—and he can't do that against an Alabama team that will make him pay for each and every misstep.
Basically, he's going to have to be perfect, and that won't be easy when he's not 100 percent.
Alabama Player to Watch
The Crimson Tide could boast the most balanced and dangerous offense in the NCAA, and at the center of it is A.J. McCarron, who's been just about as close to perfect as any quarterback this season.
The junior QB has looked better and better each week, throwing for a total of 10 touchdowns—three of which came last week against Florida Atlantic—and he has yet to throw a pick.
And as a result, his Heisman stock is swiftly rising. Forget about Matt Barkley.
Though McCarron is still hindered by the fact that his defense has prevented him from having to "win a game on his own," according to SI.com's Cory McCartney, he is on pace to break both the single-season touchdown record at Alabama as well as the career touchdown record.
He may not have to win games by himself, but he certainly isn't keeping things close. He's been putting up the numbers, and if he continues to do so, he deserves all of the accolades that come his way.
Continuing to put up those numbers against Ole Miss should do a lot to help his stock.
Last season, when these two teams faced each other, the Crimson Tide came away with a 52-7 win. And since then, not a whole lot has changed—for either of these teams.
Alabama is still a top championship contender, and Ole Miss is still struggling to keep up in a stacked SEC West that also features LSU and Mississippi State.
Who's your pick to win?
But the Rebels can only hope that this year's game against Alabama doesn't spark the same kind of epic futility as last year's. After dropping that game to the Crimson Tide in mid-October 2011, the Rebels failed to win a game for the rest of the season, embarking on what would become a seven-game losing streak to close out the season.
This game is going to be a test for both sides. For the Crimson Tide, it will be a test of how solid they are—offensively and defensively—against an SEC opponent. For the Rebels, who have started off 3-1, it will be a test of whether they can keep it going against a Top 25 team.
Prediction: Alabama Wins
With an ailing quarterback, the Rebels don't stand a chance against Alabama's defense, which has proved to be a brick wall over the first four weeks of the season. Plus, the Crimson Tide's offense is just too multifaceted to be stopped by an Ole Miss defense that has looked iffy in 2012.