Ole Miss & Texas A&M Football: A Strong SEC West Rivalry in the Making

Seph AndersonCorrespondent IIIMarch 6, 2013

Ole Miss & Texas A&M Football: A Strong SEC West Rivalry in the Making

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    Ole Miss and Texas A&M are quickly becoming rivals in the SEC West.

    Prior to last year's meeting in Oxford, the two schools hadn't met since 1980 in Jackson, MS. Beyond the two most recent affairs, the Rebels and Aggies had only battled three other times (1975, 1914 and 1911). Each of those meetings came in the state of Texas. To the chagrin of Ole Miss fans spanning decades, Texas A&M holds a 5-0 series advantage over the Rebels.

    Nevertheless, intensity in the series has been greatly enhanced since the A&M joined the SEC.

    Ole Miss is a bitter rival of Mississippi State and LSU. Similarly, Texas A&M hates everything about the Texas Longhorns. While each of these rivalries are nasty, the Rebels and Aggies don't share the same contempt for one another. Not yet, at least. Instead, it's really an annual SEC tilt on pace to become a fun affair in college football.

    Let's take a look at some reasons why this annual contest is likely to heat up in coming years.

Hugh Freeze and Kevin Sumlin

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    Last season, Kevin Sumlin and Hugh Freeze were both first-year SEC head coaches.

    However, the two young coaches had been friends for years before coincidentally both landing in the SEC Western Division. Speaking about his relationship with Sumlin on an SEC teleconference (dailyjournal.com), Freeze suggested,

    "It’s just our personality to be more open offensively. As hard as it is to defend Kevin and the guys who do what he does, we both believe that you keep it simple for your kids and allow them to play fast. Hopefully we can get to that point of what they’re doing. Right now our talent doesn’t fit. Kevin is a good friend, and I’ve enjoyed talking ball with him through the years."

    Further, they are both of the same offensive mindset.

    Sumlin and Freeze like to run a no-huddle, fast-paced offense that looks to take advantage of even the most miniscule mistakes from defenses. While the Rebels don't have a Johnny Football-type offense capable producing 558.54 YPG and 44.46 PPG on offense like the Aggies did in 2012, they do have a talented young group on offense that are quickly adjusting. In terms of newcomers, Ole Miss will likely mix highly-touted WR  Laquon Treadwell into the offense early this season.

    In Freeze's initial year, Ole Miss improved from being No. 114 in total offense (281.25 YPG) and No. 116 in scoring offense (16.08 PPG) in 2011 to No. 46 in total offense (423.77 YPG) and No. 47 in scoring offense (31.46 PPG) in 2012. If you do the math, Freeze increased offensive production by almost 145 yards per game and nearly doubled offensive point production.

    Behind junior QB Bo Wallace and a boatload of returning starters, Freeze hopes to be able to implement his offensive attack to an even greater degree this season. While the Aggies will be without WR Ryan Swope this season, Johnny Manziel will look to true freshman Ricky Seals-Jones to pick up some slack. The 6'5'', 230-pound wide receiver may very well be a breakout star as a true freshman.

    It's safe to assume both clubs will again be explosive on offense in 2013.

Tough Competition in the SEC West

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    In their inaugural year of SEC play, the Aggies officially put the SEC Western Division on notice: Kevin Sumlin's Aggies are legit. Coming out of the wilderness and finally rid of Houston Nutt, Ole Miss also showed a great deal of promise by posting a 7-6 campaign the year after going 2-10. The Rebels are on their way up, too.

    Alabama and LSU remain national title contenders, while Arkansas and Auburn are in somewhat of rebuilding phases under new head coaches. As for Mississippi State, Dan Mullen suddenly has his work cut out for him even competing to be the best program in Mississippi. Sorry State fans, it's true.

    Texas A&M and Ole Miss, while admittedly at different levels on offense, have brought a new style of offense to the SEC. It's a fast-paced, up-tempo style of play, the likes of which SEC defenses (despite being as good as they are) simply haven't been accustomed to playing on a regular basis. However, with the addition of yet another offensive-minded coach, Gus Malzahn at Auburn, defensive coordinators will now have to slow down another similar offense on the plains.

    It's obvious the Aggies are already a serious contender in the SEC West, but the Rebels are not very far away from putting themselves in the same position. Through the combination of bringing in more top recruiting classes and developing even more confusing offensive schemes, both clubs will be formidable opponents in the SEC for years to come. Don't be shocked if Ole Miss surprises again this year.

Johnny and Denzel: Friends Away from Football

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    Similar to the friendship between their coaches, Aggie QB Johnny Manziel and Rebel LB Denzel Nkemdiche have developed an amicable relationship away from football. In fact, the two were seen partying together during Mardi Gras in February.

    It's not every day that stars on two opposing teams, in the same conference divison, engage one another much off the field. Having first met as foes in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on October 6, 2012, Manziel's team barely escaped Oxford with a 30-27 victory. Regardless of the cat-and-mouse game the two played lining up on opposite sides of the ball, they still managed to bond as friends.

    As much as anything, I think this shows young kids that a game is simply a game. They can compete at the very top level in their given sport, and still be friends when they walk off the field.

    Way to represent, Johnny and Denzel.

It's All About Traditions: Aggie and Rebel Style

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    The 12th Man and The Grove, the two are time-honored traditions associated with each program.

    The TAMU Times wrote on October 5, 2012, "While Texas A&M has been recognized as having the top overall gameday environment in college football, Mississippi’s tailgating area, The Grove, has a reputation for being one of the best tailgating spots in the country."

    Elaborating on the 12th Man meaning, the Texas A&M University website suggests,

    "The tradition of the Twelfth Man was born on the second of January 1922, when an underdog Aggie team was playing Centre College, then the nation's top-ranked team. As the hard fought game wore on, and the Aggies dug deeply into their limited reserves, Coach Dana X. Bible remembered a squad man who was not in uniform. He had been up in the press box helping reporters identify players. His name was E. King Gill, and was a former football player who was only playing basketball. Gill was called from the stands, suited up, and stood ready throughout the rest of the game, which A&M finally won 22-14. When the game ended, E. King Gill was the only man left standing on the sidelines for the Aggies. Gill later said, "I wish I could say that I went in and ran for the winning touchdown, but I did not. I simply stood by in case my team needed me."

    Bringing the 12th Man tradition to the SEC simply arms the conference with one more special attribute, not to mention Reveille the mascot. Both are welcome additions.

    As for the tailgating spectacle that is the Grove at Ole Miss, I wrote in an earlier article,

    "A little-known fact many folks outside of Oxford don't know: the land on which the Grove now sits was set aside for recreation during former Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Fulton's reign from 1892-1903. It's safe to assume Fulton could have never envisioned how significant the Grove would become in the world of tailgating.The New York Times suggested in a feature piece on the Grove experience, "At Ole Miss, the Tailgaters Never Lose." Whether a lifelong Grove patron or a Grove virgin making an initial visit to the tailgating mecca, what actually happens during the football game itself has little impact on the southern hospitality folks experience during their Grove experiences. Even fans of opposing teams leave the Grove having received a welcome and experience, totally unimagined."

    Ole Miss fans will now get a chance to take part in special gameday traditions at Texas A&M, while Aggie fans will get more chances to visit the Grove. In fact, as a result of SEC scheduling kinks in 2013, Texas A&M will make a second consecutive trip to Oxford to play the Rebels.

New Recruiting Powers

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    For two programs already in good shape, they're about to get even better moving forward.

    In 2013, Ole Miss signed ESPN's No. 5 recruiting class and Texas A&M signed the No. 8 class.

    Out of the Rebels' 28 signees, Freeze inked 10 players in the ESPN 300 and five in the ESPN 150. The highlight of Ole Miss' class was clearly DE Robert Nkemdiche, ESPN's No. 1 prospect in the 2013 class. Texas A&M had very similar success in their class of 32 athletes, 10 of which were in the ESPN 300 and five among the ESPN 150.

    Ole Miss picked up top talent at several positions. On the other hand, the Aggies did their most significant damage at wide receiver. Among the talent signed there was the ESPN's No. 8 WR, Ricky Jones-Seals, and No. 9 WR, Sebastian LaRue. Johnny Heisman had to be grinning when those two letters of national intent arrived in College Station.

    Freeze and Sumlin are not only excellent coaches, but they're quality individuals. There should be no question about how either man is able to walk into recruits' living rooms and sell their families on why their respective school would be the best choice. Recruiting is all about developing personal relationships. Fortunately for these two head coaches, they're both very likable figures.

    There's no reason to think both schools won't continue to have recruiting success in years to follow.

Putting It All Together

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    Ole Miss and Texas A&M will meet again in Oxford on October 12.

    Grove revelers will open their tents to Aggie fans ahead of the big showdown. It'll be a good time to be had by all, even those Texans wearing maroon similar to another school south of Oxford.

    The game will mark only the second meeting between the two schools since 1980. Kevin Sumlin's crew will come into town with Reveille, hoping to still be in the hunt for a BCS National Championship. Hugh Freeze's Rebels will have already played on the road at both Texas and Alabama, and should be well-prepared to face another very talented team.

    If last year's meeting was any indication of what's in store over the next few years, this SEC West showdown in 2013 should be another great one. This time around, the folks in Oxford hope to be able to better contain Manziel late in the game. Should they be able to do that, it could come down to the wire.

    How will the Heisman winner fare against his two friends, the Nkemdiche brothers, on defense?

    Will Ole Miss be riding high on a winning streak?

    Welcome back to the Grove, Aggie fans. Next year, the Rebels invade College Station.

    Regardless of the outcome on October 12, one thing is for sure: this is becoming a fun series.