Week 3’s biggest game is in Tuscaloosa, where the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide will host the No. 15 Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday night (9:15 pm ET, ESPN).
Several aspects of this game will be under intense scrutiny, but let’s begin with the big picture. Here are the things you need to know before kickoff.
Ole Miss beat Alabama last season for the first time since 2003. Mass chaos erupted at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium after Rebels defensive back Senquez Golson stole an end-zone interception from the hands of Tide tight end O.J. Howard. Fans stormed the field to celebrate a 23-17 win, tearing down the goal posts and wiping away more than a decade of frustration.
Alabama is favored to win. The Vegas lines have fluctuated by a point or two this week, but most sportsbooks list Mississippi as a seven-point underdog or more. The Rebels faced similar Vegas expectations before last season’s game.
Alabama has beaten Ole Miss in Tuscaloosa 26 times in 27 tries. The one and only loss came in 1988, when the Rebels dominated the home team in a 22-12 victory. Mississippi is 0-12 since, and has stayed within a touchdown just three times in those games.
Ole Miss will be without its best player. Offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil will be missing from the Rebels’ lineup again. Many NFL Draft pundits list him as a top-five talent in the 2016 class, but he’s in hot water with the NCAA after hanging on to a loaned car for too long.
Alabama still has not decided on a full-time quarterback. Starter Jake Coker played the first half against Middle Tennessee State in Week 2. Backup Cooper Bateman played the second half. Both quarterbacks made horrible decisions with the football. QB is Alabama’s biggest offensive question mark on Saturday.
Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly was recruited by Alabama — twice. There appear to be no hard feelings between Kelly and Saban, but the Crimson Tide wanted Kelly out of high school in 2012. He spurned ‘Bama for Clemson, and then the Tide came calling again after Kelly was kicked off the Tigers. Last year, Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss swooped in and stole the Buffalo, N.Y., native. Kelly has thrown for 557 yards and six TDs through two games.
Ole Miss stars Laquon Treadwell and Evan Engram are waiting to break out. The Rebels have beaten up their first two opponents so badly that Treadwell (a likely Top-10 draft pick) and Engram (a preseason All-American) have only 10 catches and zero touchdowns between them. Alabama’s secondary will be fighting to contain this pair, especially with starting defensive back Maurice Smith out.
“I don’t think Ole Miss has played anybody.” That’s what former ‘Bama coach Gene Stallings said on the radio Thursday, and that sentiment has been echoed across the country. The Rebels destroyed Tennessee-Martin and Fresno State by a combined score of 149-24 through the first two weeks, but most fans are waiting to crown the Rebels until they pass a “real” test. Saturday is a pretty big exam.
Nick Saban wants Alabama fans to stop booing his kicker. Adam Griffith went 5-for-11 on field goals down the stretch last season, and he is 0-for-4 this year. Fans booed the place-kicker after he missed from 25 and 49 yards against Middle Tennessee State. But Saban scolded the boobirds during his radio show on Thursday night, imploring them not to boo because…
There will be nearly 100 recruits in attendance. The number is going up daily. According to Saban, it stood at 61 on Thursday night, but Yahoo! Rivals reporter Andrew Bone noted escalating totals on Friday morning.
— Andrew Bone (@AndrewJBone) September 18, 2015
History says the young men will see a Crimson Tide victory because…
Ole Miss has never beaten Alabama in back-to-back years. The two teams have played 62 times. Nick Saban is 9-1 in “revenge” games at Alabama. The Crimson Tide have won 17 straight at home. All of this points to a nearly impossible task for Ole Miss: beat ‘Bama in Tuscaloosa. Until the game clock hits 0:00 Saturday night, Rebels fans can keep this on repeat: