5 Reasons Ole Miss Can Be the Texas A&M of 2013 and Beat Alabama
Last November, college football witnessed the meteoric rise of Johnny Manziel, who led his Texas A&M team to an upset of top-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
The Aggies got off to a fast start thanks to Manziel's dual-threat abilities, and a late turnover by AJ McCarron allowed Kevin Sumlin's team to exit with the most impressive victory of the season in tow. The Crimson Tide didn't lose another game.
Fast forward to the present where everyone is trying to discover a team that Alabama might lose to. There's the game against LSU in November, but that one is circled every year. It's not going to sneak up on anybody, and no one would be shocked to see the Tigers pull out a win.
But if you glance at the rest of the schedule, it's hard to find a team that might actually beat Alabama. The Tide don't have to play Florida, Georgia or South Carolina and Texas A&M is already in the rear-view mirror.
Ah, but this Saturday features just such a team in Ole Miss, who may be the Texas A&M of this season and upset Alabama on the road.
Here are five reasons why.
All stats via ESPN unless noted otherwise.
The Game Is in Tuscaloosa
It might seem odd that playing the game on the road would give Ole Miss a better chance to win, but recent history indicates that's exactly the case.
Alabama has only lost twice going back to the start of the 2011 season. The first came at home to an undefeated LSU team and the second occurred last season when Texas A&M walked into Bryant-Denny Stadium and left with a win.
To stretch it back even further, Cam Newton and Auburn also handed Alabama its final loss of the season in 2010, a game that was played, you guessed it, in Tuscaloosa. This means that the Crimson Tide's last three losses all occurred at home.
Say what you want about a small sample size, but that's a positive trend if you're Ole Miss.
Why is this happening? It could be any number of reasons, but the biggest one is probably the fact that playing at home can give a team a sense of comfort, which may cause players to be too relaxed. Playing in front of the home crowd means virtually no hostility and less pressure to perform well at the start of the game.
Of course, the conversation all week has been about how Alabama has looked mighty average this season (which is nuts considering it beat A&M on the road), so we may see Nick Saban's team come out firing.
But playing this one on the road works to the Rebels' advantage, and it's the first reason why Ole Miss could pull the upset.
If there's one thing that absolutely must happen for Ole Miss to win on Saturday, it's a fast start.
In 2012, the Aggies jumped out to a 20-0 lead before hanging on for dear life to eventually pull out a 29-24 victory over Alabama.
20 straight points might be asking a bit much, but if the Rebels fall behind by more than two scores, this one will be over, even if it's still in the first quarter.
Fortunately, Hugh Freeze's team has been prone to hot starts this season.
In the opener against Vanderbilt, the Rebels jumped out to an early 10-0 lead. Against SE Missouri St. It was 31-0 and at Texas, quarterback Bo Wallace and company led 14-0 early on. There's a reason this team is 3-0.
In order for that trend to continue, Ole Miss must throw the entire playbook at Bama's defense and do everything it can to capture an early lead. If this happens, we might be witnessing the beginning of a monumental upset.
AJ McCarron Playing Average Football
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron completed 20-of-29 passes for 334 yards and four touchdowns in a 49-42 win over Texas A&M earlier this season. It was a virtuoso performance from one of the game's best.
But in the other two games, the senior has combined to throw for just 368 yards and two touchdowns, also tossing up a pair of interceptions. Against Virginia Tech, his completion percentage dipped well below 50 percent.
One of the reasons many thought Alabama was a favorite to repeat as champions was because McCarron was a senior and he would likely have his best season yet. That may still be the case, but he hasn't played remarkably well thus far.
For a guy who threw 30 touchdowns and three interceptions in 2012, you'd expect greatness. The numbers are even less impressive when you consider all the weapons around him. McCarron has Amari Cooper, Christion Jones and Kenny Bell to throw it to and TJ Yeldon in the backfield.
Maybe the Tide defense will step up and take the pressure off McCarron. Maybe he won't need a great game to beat the Rebels. But one of the reasons Ole Miss can steal this thing is because McCarron is not playing up to his abilities thus far in 2013.
What did it take for Texas A&M to upset the Tide last season?
A number of things happened that led to the Aggies' win, but it wouldn't have been possible without the dual-threat abilities of quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Enter Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace.
No one is going to mistake the two quarterbacks anytime soon but Wallace, to some extent, can do a lot of the things that Manziel does each week.
He's completing nearly 65 percent of his passes, he's thrown four touchdowns and he hasn't turned the ball over. On the ground, he already has three touchdowns to go along with 120 yards.
The important thing for Wallace is to take care of the ball, but he may need to take some risks in order to put points on the board. Playing conservative against Nick Saban isn't going to work because his team is better at it.
While Wallace isn't going to scramble for 35 yards while breaking tackles and eluding defenders, his speed will at least force Alabama to keep an eye on him at all times.
Young Players Stepping Up
If Ole Miss beats Alabama on Saturday, it will be because young players on the team have risen to the occasion and shown a level of maturity well beyond their years.
The Rebels signed three of the Top 20 players in the 2013 ESPN 300, and each one has had a major impact on the season so far.
According to Chris Low who runs the SEC blog at ESPN, both Treadwell and Nkemdiche rank among the Top 5 SEC freshmen in 2013. Offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil, the other top recruit, also appears on his last.
So you have a dynamic playmaker, a rock on the offensive line and a force in the front seven all making plays and helping this team win. While the prospect of seeing this trio in a couple years is terrifying, they are playing great football even now. The trio will play a major role in the outcome of the Rebels' game against Alabama.