College football is a game of momentum. Just ask Auburn.
But no team has seen the pendulum swing more than Ole Miss this season.
The Rebels started the season 3-0, a stretch that included a thrilling last-minute victory at Vanderbilt and a dominant win at Texas. The quick start, coupled with the recruiting class they assembled in the offseason, made them the hottest team in the country. They had all the momentum heading into a date with No. 1 Alabama on Sept. 28.
But Ole Miss was no match for the Crimson Tide, who pitched a 25-0 shutout. The Rebels went on to lose the next two games to Auburn and Texas A&M, and all that early momentum was gone. They were back to 3-3 and in danger of falling below .500 against No. 6 LSU.
“We needed it,” quarterback Bo Wallace said of the LSU game. “We couldn’t drop four in a row. I think if we drop four in a row, maybe some guys’ heads are down and maybe they don’t want to come to work like they should.”
Despite various injuries and suspensions, Ole Miss jumped out to a 10-0 halftime lead and hung on to stun the Tigers, 27-24. It stopped the bleeding and gave the Rebels the signature win they were looking for. They had their edge back.
“Right now I’d say yes, we have momentum,” head coach Hugh Freeze said after the game. “I don’t know what that means for next week, but we do now.”
“Momentum, it’s a big thing,” Wallace added. “But we came to work every week. We played great teams. I think people are seeing how good Auburn is now. That was a good football team we lost to that maybe people thought we should’ve put it on.”
Auburn was unranked when it played Ole Miss, but now the Tigers are ranked in the top 10 and one win away from winning the SEC West. In fact, all three of the Rebels’ losses came to teams ranked No. 12 or higher.
It was as brutal a four-game span as you’ll see in college football, but Ole Miss salvaged it with the improbable win over LSU.
“Losing those games in that tough stretch, it kind of took a toll on us because they were all really good teams,” safety Cody Prewitt said. “Some of the guys, especially some of the younger guys, maybe thought we couldn’t compete with those higher, elite-level teams, but after that win, we looked at ourselves in the mirror and realized that we can be one of those elite teams.”
Since the upset of LSU, Ole Miss has won three straight games, surpassing its win total from the regular season in 2012. The Rebels are 7-3 and riding a four-game win streak. They’re once again one of the hottest teams in college football, but this time, nobody’s talking about them.
“Personally, I feel like we’ve played better under the radar,” Prewitt said. “All of us, we’re really competitive. We’re a bunch of hard-headed boys playing football, and we like it when our backs are against the wall. I feel like we’ve got something to prove.”
On Saturday, Ole Miss will be back in the spotlight when No. 8 Missouri visits Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. There’s plenty at stake for the Tigers who are clinging to a one-game lead over South Carolina in the SEC East, but the home team has its own goals and aspirations.
The SEC West is no longer an option, and the same goes for the BCS, but the Rebels still want to play in a major bowl game, possibly a New Year’s Day bowl. A win over Missouri would certainly help.
“The [Missouri] game is big for this program from the standpoint that it’s two upsets in the same year,” Prewitt said. “For us, it’s going to get us to a better bowl. It’s going to give us more confidence. And it will take a lot of pressure off us for that [Mississippi] State game.”
The momentum around the Ole Miss program is back, and the Rebels are hoping it carries over to Saturday.