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Back on track: Building a path for Ole Miss to make a bowl game

Ole Miss is 1-0 in the SEC. Say what you want about the quality of Arkansas or the week-one loss in Memphis, but after two weeks, the Rebels are undefeated in conference play.

The win over Arkansas on Saturday does a few things. Most importantly, it gives the team confidence. This team believes, they really do. But alternatively, it keeps Ole Miss alive. The path to six wins and a bowl game invitation isn’t going to be easy, but it’s still a realistic possibility for the Rebels.

“This was a big game,” head coach Matt Luke said, after the Arkansas game. “People were asking about ‘must win’ on Monday (going into Arkansas). I don’t necessarily think that, but I’m proud as these guys continue to battle and fight out of this cloud that we’ve been under. I think it’s good for our fans to have something good, to have an exciting night in our stadium.”

So the Rebels need to get to six wins to reach that all-important bowl game. Here’s how they do it:

The path is harder after losing to Memphis a week ago, but bouncing back and beating Arkansas was encouraging. They showed signs of a football team capable of competing in the SEC and winning games. Win one: Arkansas. There are four other must-win games to get to that magic number. Two of those four come in the next two weeks, home to both Southeastern Louisiana and California.

It’s two games the Rebels will be favored in and two games they “should win.” If there’s a route to a bowl, Ole Miss will be sitting at 3-1 two weeks from today. The next two must-wins are later in the season, also both home games. Ole Miss plays Vanderbilt on October 5 and then an abysmal New Mexico State team on November 9. Winning those puts Ole Miss at five wins.

Then they have to steal a game.

Ole Miss won’t be favored in any of the remaining six games on the schedule not discussed. For all intents and purposes, let’s rule out games at Alabama and home to LSU as a possible steal game. Alabama is just Alabama and LSU just went on the road in front of 100,000 people and put up 45 points on No. 9 Texas.

That leaves four games, of which the Rebels would have to win one: at Missouri, home for Texas A&M, at Auburn and at Mississippi State. Which one will they win? Who knows. Maybe none. But those are the four games they have to have circled as an upset.

When building this case, it’s important to keep one thing in mind – the team we saw beat Arkansas pretty handily on Saturday is not the final product. Ole Miss is young, Ole Miss is still learning new schemes and they’re still just going to get better. Rich Rodriguez literally said after the game that he’s “probably going to be sick watching the film.” The team left plays on the field and there were a handful of plays they simply didn’t execute that well.

But that’s the kicker: if they can keep getting better, who knows where we’ll be five weeks from now. The path isn’t easy, and if we’re being honest, there’s a real chance that this weekend is the high-water mark on the Ole Miss season. But at the same time, there’s so much room for improvement. A bowl game really isn’t out of the question.