Nobody thought they were going to go undefeated. Nobody thought they would even finish the season with fewer than 2 losses. Now, everyone is calling out the #4 ranked Ole Miss for their 16-10 loss in Columbia against the South Carolina Gamecocks. People are saying they were “overrated,” “the preseason polls had them too high,” and “Ole Miss never won anything.” So how did Ole Miss become the target for all this media criticism?
Ole Miss had a remarkably good season last year for the expectations that were on the table. Houston Nutt had coached his first full season with the Rebels and brought in the Wildcat offense (known as “The Wild Rebel”), beat the team who went on to win the National Championship, and won his bowl game convincingly against the Texas Tech Red Raiders, who were #1 in the country at one point in the season last year, 47-34.
So why is the media taking so many cheap shots at the team for losing to South Carolina? Knowing that Ole Miss had to play Alabama (who won the SEC-West last year), LSU (2007 BCS Champion), and the normal SEC trap games such as Arkansas and Auburn, nobody expected this team to make miracles happen. So why was it such a crime for them to lose the game in Columbia?
The media is now bringing up all this talk of whether or not the preseason rankings are useful or not after this specific game played out and making statements such as “Ole Miss is not even looking like a Top 15 team.” But why is this such a surprise?
Ole Miss looked beatable when they were only winning 17-7 against Memphis throughout most of the game and they scored 28 points in the fourth quarter giving them a lopsided 45-14 win, which hardly told the story of the game.
Their top 10 ranking was earned largely because of their victories against Florida and Texas Tech last season. They crept up in the rankings when Oklahoma State and USC fell by default. This was their first test of the season.
While they showed glimpses of a top ranked team against the Gamecocks, particularly in the second half with the Jevan Snead drive that ended in a touchdown to Markeith Summers, they were very lackluster and inefficient on offense all night. The only bright spot was running back Dexter McCluster, who carried the offense at times with his blazing speed.
Ole Miss had lost 5 straight SEC openers going into this ballgame. Should there be all this finger pointing at why Ole Miss was sitting in the #4 slot and should we completely change the system? No. This is college football. This is why we watch the games. There’s nothing more exciting than watching a team who controversy surrounds their ranking early in the season. If every game and team was easily predictable, then why would even play the games?
Last year, Texas Tech briefly occupied the #1 slot (who Ole Miss would eventually beat), and two years ago, the USF Bulls were holding onto the #2 spot. As the games were played, the measure of the teams in the rankings improved based upon performance.
To add fuel to the fire, there was a lot of Heisman talk surrounding quarterback Jevan Snead going into the season and it escalated when South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier “accidentally” voted him first team all-SEC quarterback. All this, while Ole Miss has to play one of the toughest schedules in the country and had lost two key players, DT Peria Jerry and OT Michael Oher, to the NFL draft.
It was unfair for the media to put all these expectations on Ole Miss. And no, we don’t need to change the entire preseason ranking system and the landscape of college football because of this magnified matchup which took place on national television as the featured game on a Thursday night.
We need to sit back, grab our remotes, and let the teams play the games and then decide if they live up to their expectations.