All eyes are on this weekend’s showdown between No. 2 LSU and No. 4 Alabama, and rightfully so. But the SEC West won’t be decided on Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The road to the SEC West title, despite what you hear from most national pundits, goes through Oxford, Miss. No. 18 Ole Miss (7-2, 4-1 SEC) controls its own fate, and if the Rebels get past Arkansas on Saturday, the real game of the year will happen when LSU comes to town on Nov. 21.
If that happens, Ole Miss will slowly creep back into the College Football Playoff conversation, but can the Rebels get into the field of four with two losses?
Anything is possible in college football. Ole Miss has a shot, but it needs a lot of help along the way. Let’s take a look at what has to happen:
- First things first, Ole Miss has to win out. We all know that. Now, can the Rebels do it? That’s a debate for another day, but if Ole Miss wants any shot at getting back in the Playoff discussion, it has to win out. And honestly, that game against Mississippi State in Starkville might be more of a challenge than LSU at home.
- There are four spots available, and you can go ahead and assume (at least in my opinion) the Big Ten and Big 12 are getting a spot. Whether it’s Ohio State, Michigan State or Iowa, someone is getting in with either one or no losses. In the Big 12, there’s a scenario that Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State all beat each other up, but someone will get out of there with only one loss. As long as the Big 12 doesn’t try to hand out co-champions again, the Big 12 should finally get a team in. However, a two-loss Ole Miss could get the nod over a one-loss Big 12 team if the perception of the conference doesn’t change in the next month.
- That leaves two spots. The best candidates are Clemson, Notre Dame and Stanford. Let’s look at the Fighting Irish and Cardinal first. Notre Dame and Stanford play at the end of the season, so one of them will eliminate the other. However, Ole Miss needs both out of contention. Can the Fighting Irish lose on the road against Pittsburgh or Boston College before that Stanford game, or can the Cardinal lose to Oregon or California? The Rebels need an upset somewhere.
- With Clemson, it becomes a bit more simple, but then again, all hope could be washed away this weekend. Ole Miss needs Florida State to pull the upset over the Tigers Saturday. If that happens, the Seminoles are in the driver’s seat for the ACC title, but a loss at the end of the year at Florida would take them out of the Playoff race. In that scenario, an SEC champion Ole Miss team has to be in over a one-loss Clemson that doesn’t win the ACC, right? You’d have to think so.
- Where things really get tricky is when you talk about Memphis. The Tigers are ranked 13th in the first Playoff rankings, and if Memphis runs the table, you can’t really justify leaving Memphis out and putting the Rebels in when the Tigers have the win head-to-head. Ole Miss needs Memphis to lose, and with games against Navy, Houston and Temple coming up over the next three weeks, it’s certainly possible.
Obviously, Ole Miss needs a lot of help to get back in the discussion. It’s just hard to fathom that the SEC would be left out entirely. If the Rebels win out and put SEC champion by their name, it could get really interesting.
Not to mention Ole Miss has an argument if all of the above did happen. The Rebels played Florida without left tackle Laremy Tunsil and defensive back Tony Conner, and the Gators had quarterback Will Grier. A rematch in the SEC Championship game could, in a way, cancel that loss out.
Against Memphis, Ole Miss still didn’t have Tunsil or Conner, and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche missed most of the game with a concussion. Those are factors the committee takes into account.
Nevertheless, all Ole Miss can do is focus on what it can control, and up next, Arkansas will try to dash all hope. If the Rebels win this weekend, they’ll get a much-needed bye and have two weeks to prepare for a monster game against LSU on Nov. 21 in Oxford.