OXFORD, Miss. (AP) Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze and his players had the luxury of watching and relaxing as the rest of the college football world beat itself up over the weekend.
Doing nothing proved to be quite productive.
No. 8 Ole Miss (8-2, 4-2 Southeastern Conference, No. 10 CFP) still doesn’t control its own destiny in the SEC’s Western Division, but losses by Mississippi State, Auburn and even Arizona State almost certainly improved the Rebels’ place in the national playoff conversation.
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”We’ve preached to our kids all along – you play until the end and see what happens,” Freeze said. ”There’s just so much football left to be played. The results (from last weekend) certainly kept us alive with some very important, lofty things that we could accomplish.”
To have any chance at sneaking into the inaugural four-team field as a two-loss team, the Rebels would need to win their final two games. That won’t be easy – the Rebels travel to face an improved Arkansas (5-5, 1-5) program before hosting Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl on Nov. 29.
A healthier roster should help.
Ole Miss is without receiver Laquon Treadwell and linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche for the rest of the season, but others like left tackle Laremy Tunsil (partially torn bicep) and safety Cody Prewitt (shoulder) are expected to return.
Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace said it was good to see his teammates recuperate and it’s encouraging to know his team still has a chance to win the SEC West.
”Everything that we needed to happen, happened,” Wallace said. ”So we’re excited about that, but it doesn’t matter unless we take care of us.”
Arkansas appears to be a much more formidable opponent than it was just a few weeks ago. The Razorbacks ended a 17-game SEC losing streak on Saturday by shutting out then-No. 20 LSU 17-0.
The program’s breakthrough had been expected for quite some time. The Razorbacks had played tight games with elite teams like Alabama and Mississippi State before the emphatic victory over the Tigers.
Coach Bret Bielema said his players were ”happy and ecstatic” after Saturday’s win, but he didn’t expect his team to relax as it chases bowl eligibility.
”I think our reality slapped us in the face pretty quick on Sunday and hopefully it will carry through the week,” Bielema said.
Arkansas’ strength is a power running game and a gigantic offensive line that averages more than 328 pounds across the starting five. Behind them, Jonathan Williams has run for 932 yards and 11 touchdowns while Alex Collins has 886 yards and 11 touchdowns.
It will be a formidable challenge for the Rebels even though they lead the country in scoring defense, giving up just 11.9 points per game.
Freeze acknowledged that the Ole Miss defense is better equipped to deal with speed instead of power. The Rebels gave up 264 yards rushing on Oct. 25 to an LSU offense that has some similarities to Arkansas.
”I guess, just looking at what has occurred, you would have to say that this may not be our best matchup,” Freeze said. ”But we’ve got to play it, and we’ve got to find a plan to get our kids in the right spot. Hopefully we learned something.”
AP Sports Writer Kurt Voigt in Fayetteville, Arkansas, contributed to this story.
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