The Ole Miss Rebels travel to Austin, Texas this weekend for a rematch with the Texas Longhorns.
Ranked for the first time since 2009 (currently at No. 25 in both the AP and USA Today Polls), Ole Miss has an opportunity to truly show the nation they've arrived on the national scene with a road win Saturday night at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking: "Texas isn't even that good."
After a crushing loss to BYU this past weekend which cost Longhorn defensive coordinator Manny Diaz his job, suggesting that these 'Horns still aren't the 'Horns of old is a fair assumption. They're not.
That being said, these are still the Texas Longhorns and they have a roster loaded with talent.
Everyone associated with the Ole Miss program remembers what happened when Texas visited Oxford last season as the first part of the special two-game series. On September 15, 2012, the Rebels found themselves on the wrong end of a 66-31 thrashing. It was bad, real bad.
The 66 points allowed, the most by a Rebel team since 1917, could have been even worse had Mack Brown not called off the dogs late in the contest. Nevertheless, it was still a humiliating defeat in front of the home crowd. It's nothing Rebel fans wish to remember in any greater detail than they already do.
Despite what happened that night, only Hugh Freeze's third game at the helm, Ole Miss rallied to finish the season with a trip to a bowl game. As for Texas, they struggled down the stretch to only a 5-4 record in their final nine regular season contests (eventually beating Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl).
Now, let's fast forward to what's happened in the young 2013 season.
At 2-0 (1-0 SEC), despite not playing a complete game from start to finish, No. 25 Ole Miss is a club headed in the right direction. On the other hand, Texas is reeling (to say the least) following a devastating loss to BYU last weekend in which the Burnt Orange defense yielded a school-record 550 yards rushing. Ouch.
Saturday night, the Longhorns will either bounce back with a vengeance or not take the Rebels very seriously after what happened last season. Regardless of the mindset and attitude of Texas come kickoff, it's a showdown that looms large for Freeze and the Rebels (both this season and down the road).
First things first, returning Rebel players and coaches will undoubtedly have revenge on their minds.
Whether by one point or 35 points, Ole Miss desperately hopes to leave Austin victorious. It's Big 12 versus SEC, and conference bragging rights are also on the line.
Having created a "Rebel Revival," taking his new team from being a SEC cellar dweller to a Top 25 team in only 15 games, Freeze knows full well that picking up a "W" on the road at Texas would be a marquee win for the program he's building in Oxford.
As great as the Rebels have recruited lately, pulling off an important road win in the heart of high school football country could have a significant impact on recruiting in the Lone Star State now and in the future. Imagine if the Rebels furthered their recruiting reach in Texas?
Not only would a win give Ole Miss its first 3-0 start since 1989, but it would also provide a monumental shot of confidence in the arm of a young club heading into a stiff road series over the next two games (at Alabama, at Auburn). Even if the Rebels were to lose in Tuscaloosa the following game, they'd sit at a solid 3-1 heading to the Plains ahead of the long home stand.
On the rankings front, a win at Texas would surely lead the way to a rise in the polls for the Rebels (depending on weekend results of those currently ranked ahead of them). Receiving a very favorable open week before traveling to Alabama, Ole Miss could also see a boost in the polls without even playing.
Could the Rebels be ranked around No. 15 heading into a trip with No. 1 Alabama on September 28?
It's quite possible, as long as they find a way to come out on top this weekend.
There's just no understating the significance of the Texas game to the Ole Miss Rebels. It's big, folks.
If the Rebels hope to come out on top, they must play four full quarters of football this weekend. They gave up 21 unanswered points to Vandy in the opener (after leading 10-0) and allowed Southeast Missouri (SEMO) to outscore them 13-0 in the second half this past weekend. It can't continue.
There can be no let up for even a moment in Austin. The 'Horns have won 18 of their last 20 games decided by three points or less, so the Rebels must play 60 minutes of complete football if they hope to come out on top when the clock strikes zero.
The Mack Brown Longhorns are only 37-29 against Top 25 opponents, and the Rebel faithful hope their team adds a number to the right-hand column come Saturday evening.
Keep an eye out for a full game preview coming this week.