We resume our schedule analysis today with what Hugh Freeze faces in his first season as Ole Miss' coach:
Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
Sept. 1: Central Arkansas (9-4)
Sept. 8: UTEP (5-7)
Sept. 15: Texas (8-5)
Sept. 22: at Tulane (2-11)
SEC home games
Oct. 6: Texas A&M
Oct. 13: Auburn
Nov. 10: Vanderbilt
Nov. 24: Mississippi State
SEC road games
Sept. 29: at Alabama
Oct. 27: at Arkansas, in Little Rock
Nov. 3: at Georgia
Nov. 17: at LSU
Gut-check time: Ole Miss doesn't begin SEC play until the fifth week of the season, and the Rebels don't exactly ease in, either. They go headfirst with a trip to defending national champion Alabama on Sept. 29. The Crimson Tide destroyed the Rebels 52-7 last season in Oxford and have only lost twice in their past 29 games at Bryant-Denny Stadium; both of those losses were to the No. 1 team in the BCS standings at the time. What's more, Ole Miss has lost eight consecutive games to Alabama and hasn't won in Tuscaloosa since 1988.
Trap game: Ole Miss knows all too well what can happen in a season opener against an inspired FCS team that comes to town ready to shock the world. Jacksonville State upset Ole Miss two years ago, and Central Arkansas will be looking to do the same this Sept. 1.
Snoozer: There really isn't one, although Tulane was awful last season. Ole Miss plays Tulane this season in New Orleans, so the location, at least, will add a little pizzazz to the game.
Telltale stretch: Beginning with the last Saturday in October, Ole Miss goes on the road for three games in a span of four weeks. That kind of road swing is never easy, but then you consider where the games are. Ole Miss goes to Little Rock to face Arkansas on Oct. 27, then plays at Georgia the next week. The only home game in the stretch is Vanderbilt on Nov. 10 -- before the Rebels get back on the road to face LSU on Nov. 17. Even for the strongest of teams, that's the kind of swing that can send a season spiraling downward. The Rebels will likely just be trying to survive at that point and get to the regular-season finale against Mississippi State in one piece.
Final analysis: It's a close race between Auburn and Ole Miss in terms of who has the SEC's toughest schedule in 2012. The nod has to go to the Rebels simply because they get the "good fortune" of having to go on the road to face what most people feel like will be the four best teams in the league. There ought to be some kind of SEC policy against having to play Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and LSU all in the same season on the road. Nobody else in the SEC has to navigate such an ominous road schedule. We're talking four teams that will start the season ranked in the top 15 nationally. If that's not enough, Ole Miss also plays Texas at home in the third week of the season. As you look down the tail end of the Rebels' schedule, Vanderbilt's visit to Oxford looms large. Why Vanderbilt? The Rebels have lost to the Commodores four of the past five seasons, and if Ole Miss wants to make a push for a bowl game this first season under Freeze, it has to find a way to get out from under the Vanderbilt stranglehold.