No. 19 Mississippi visits struggling Auburn in SEC West game
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Auburn and Mississippi will be playing minus the trappings of a national championship elimination round but not without some meaningful stakes.
Unlike last season, the story line for Saturday's game will be about the Tigers trying to salvage a disappointing season and the 19th-ranked Rebels aiming to keep their Southeastern Conference title hopes alive.
It's not nearly so compelling as when both teams were ranked in the Top 4 in the playoff standings last season. That game came down to a fumble into the end zone on a play that cost Ole Miss way more than a loss.
Ole Miss (6-2, 3-1) remains solidly in the SEC West hunt despite being overshadowed by No. 4 LSU and No. 7 Alabama. The Tigers (4-3, 1-3) are touchdown underdogs in a season they started as the league favorite.
''This Auburn is a scary team,'' Rebels coach Hugh Freeze said. ''Coach (Gus) Malzahn does a phenomenal job with a great staff. His kids are right there at the edge and are really close to having the success that they desire.''
Last year's meeting turned on one brutal play when Ole Miss star receiver Laquon Treadwell broke his leg on a tackle when he appeared headed for a go-ahead touchdown. Auburn recovered a fumble in the end zone and escaped with a 35-31 win.
Here are some things to watch in the Ole Miss-Auburn game:
BEST VS. WORST: Behind QB Chad Kelly, Ole Miss has the league's top offense in scoring, total yards and passing. Auburn's defense has struggled mightily in Will Muschamp's first season as coordinator, ranking last in the SEC in total yards and points allowed.
TREADWELL'S REMATCH: Treadwell has some extra motivation for this game after his season-ending injury. He's resumed his starring role, leading the SEC in receiving and looking forward to playing the Tigers in particular. ''They're going to feel my pain,'' Treadwell said. ''I'm just going to play my hardest, play with heart like I did last week and my team will do the same and we hope to get the `W.'''
PROTECTING THE BALL: Auburn quarterback Sean White has mostly avoided turnovers but he's facing a defense that excels at causing them. White has been intercepted only once in four starts. The Rebels' 16 forced turnovers ranks second in the SEC, including 11 picks.
NKEMDICHE & LAWSON: Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche is expected to play after a concussion sidelined him for last weekend's win over Texas A&M. Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson hasn't played since the opener with a hip injury. He did return to practice on Tuesday though Malzahn has been noncommittal on whether he'll be available in the game.
ON THE REBOUND: Auburn must try to bounce back quickly from a four-overtime defeat at Arkansas. The Tigers were routed by Georgia last season after a 41-38 loss to Texas. ''We had a similar situation last year, and it did affect us,'' Malzahn said. ''There was some carry over. I think you can learn from things, and that's what we're going to do. It starts with our leaders, starts with our coaches, and we have to put that behind us.''
AP College Football: collegefootball.ap.org