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Ole Miss team controls its path

“We are Ole Miss.” For many reading those infamous four words, you understand my sentiments regarding Ole Miss sports. What happened Saturday against the Arkansas Razorbacks just adds credence to this slogan used by Ole Miss fans for so many years.

For once, Ole Miss controlled its own destiny with three games remaining in the regular season. Beat Arkansas, LSU and then Mississippi State, and Ole Miss would make its first trip to Atlanta to play in the SEC Championship game. Ole Miss’ 53-52 overtime loss to Arkansas basically ended any chances of Ole Miss playing in Atlanta and leaves questions about what was considered another promising year.

How could an Ole Miss team playing at home, with all of its key defensive players back for the first time in so many weeks, fall flat on its face after turning in great defensive performances against Texas A&M and Auburn?

Most Ole Miss fans were looking to the LSU weekend and how big it was going to be for the program. Obviously, the Ole Miss defense was looking ahead as well.

Ole Miss was ranked No. 3 in the nation earlier this season. With Saturday’s loss and a 7-3 record, the Rebels fell out of the Associated Press Top 25 poll. It seems like we are ending this season much as we did a year ago.

Many fans are asking if the lateral play that allowed Arkansas a first down on that fourth-and-25 play in overtime was legal. The play, while a fluke, was legal and wasn’t what cost Ole Miss the game. The defense gave up 605 yards to the Razorbacks, basically making the shootout between both teams look like a Big 12 Conference matchup.

Hugh Freeze has done remarkable things since becoming head coach at Ole Miss, and Rebel fans have come to expect more from the football program as top recruiting classes bring in a higher level of talent. Freeze has also been rewarded for his success, receiving a reported salary of $4.3 million this year.

What has many Ole Miss fans concerned is that improvements made on the stadium and the Indoor Practice Facility came at a steep cost to the average fan with increased ticket prices and fees. For a family of four, it is hard to buy season tickets and pay the additional cost to the Capital Contribution Fund. Fans expect to see results when they’re paying what they are.

Ole Miss is the only team that controls its destiny — not in the conference race but for a respectable finish — in the last two games of the regular season. Coach Freeze is a great motivator so hopefully he can motivate the players to play their best in the last two games.

If the Rebels play, in all phases of the game, as they can, they can finish 9-3, move back into the polls and go to a nice bowl game. If not, Ole Miss will finish at 7-5 and be looking at some of the bowls that we are all too familiar with: the Independence Bowl in Shreveport or the Liberty Bowl in Memphis.

After all, “We are Ole Miss.”

Tim Phillips is publisher of the Oxford EAGLE. Contact him at tim.phillips@oxfordeagle.com.