Auburn's 30-23 victory over No. 24 Ole Miss on Saturday night was a huge win for Auburn and, quite possibly, a landmark game in the SEC's bowl picture.
The win brings the Tigers to 4-1 on the season. With Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic remaining on the schedule, getting to six wins and a earning a bowl bid is a foregone conclusion for this Tigers team.
After last season's 3-9 debacle, that's not just a step in the right direction, it's a leap.
Junior Nick Marshall looked tremendous on the ground against the Rebels, rushing for a career-high 140 yards and two touchdowns, while completing 11 of 17 passes for 93 yards. He injured his knee early in the fourth quarter which hamstrung Auburn's offense; however, Marshall displayed the athleticism and the poise needed to lead an SEC offense.
But it was the defense that set the tone. Sure, Ole Miss had 464 yards, but Auburn kept the Rebels out of the end zone in the first half, sacked quarterback Bo Wallace six times and made a habit of getting into the backfield and disrupting plays before they could get going.
Auburn looks like a competitive team, and if it can get key road wins at Tennessee and Arkansas in early November, the Tigers could get to eight wins and possibly a decent bowl game rather easily—perhaps the Chick-fil-A Bowl or the Gator Bowl depending on what happens around the rest of the conference.
That'd be quite a turnaround in year one for head coach Gus Malzahn.
It's now time to start thinking about Auburn being in those mid-level bowl discussions. If all things are equal, the momentum behind the program will likely cause the Tigers to travel well, which is big for bowl committees.
For Ole Miss, it's a devastating loss. The Rebels now have two conference losses and are down a tiebreaker to an Auburn team that will likely be in the same bowl discussions with the Rebels following the season.
It's also a sign that the wheels may be spinning off the Rebel express.
After a 3-0 start, Ole Miss has lost two straight, has a home tilt with Texas A&M—who's coming off a bye—next week and has LSU coming to Oxford on Oct. 19. It looks like 3-0 could become 3-4 in a hurry, which would cut down its margin for error in the final month of the season quite a bit.
The silver lining for Ole Miss is that the trip to Auburn will be the last time it leaves the state of Mississippi for the rest of the season. Six of Ole Miss' final seven games of the season will be at Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium, with the annual Egg Bowl rivalry with Mississippi State taking place in Starkville.
Ole Miss is looking, at best, like an 8-4-type team at best. Without that tiebreaker to Auburn in its back pocket, that could relegate Ole Miss to a lower-tier bowl.
Still a step forward, but not as big of one as it looked primed to take after its 3-0 start and 44-23 dismantling of Texas on Sept. 14.
Saturday's game between Ole Miss and Auburn won't draw major headlines since the two programs are still very much in rebuilding mode. But now, Auburn has a very good chance of rebuilding with a halfway decent bowl game in its future, and that's huge for a team with only one senior in its offensive two-deep.
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