The 2014 season has quickly taken a turn for the worse for the No.19 Ole Miss Rebels, who have gone from contending for a national championship to losing three consecutive conference games. The No.4 Mississippi State Bulldogs hope to keep their chances of making the College Football Playoff alive, when they visit Oxford on Saturday in the Egg Bowl.
A month ago, it appeared that the contest might determine the winner of the SEC West, but an Ole Miss losing streak eliminated that possibility. The Rebels’ most recent loss saw their ranking for the postseason fall from No.8 to No.19.
Ole Miss won their first seven games on the strength of an elite defense. The team didn’t allow more than 20 points in a single game through the first two months, including one of the biggest wins in school history when they defeated Alabama, 23-17.
While the Rebels' defense still ranks No.1, allowing 13.5 points per game, the unit has come up short towards the end of conference play. After a 10-7 loss to LSU, Ole Miss allowed 65 total points in a home loss to Auburn and a defeat at unranked Arkansas.
It won’t be easy for the unit to turn things around in the Egg Bowl, as they face one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Dak Prescott might no longer be in the running for the Heisman Trophy, but he’s still one of the best playmakers in the country. After throwing three interceptions against Alabama, Prescott bounced back by completing 16-of-21 passes for three touchdowns, giving Mississippi State a 51-0 win over Vanderbilt.
"Everyone, even outside of their family, would say that he's (Prescott) a great leader,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said at a press conference. “It's easy to see that the players that play with him believe in him and want to follow him. Then you put his performance with those leadership qualities and it makes him a pretty special player."
Freeze saw just how good Prescott can be in last year’s Egg Bowl. The quarterback missed most of the game with a shoulder injury, but he still managed to help the Bulldogs score a touchdown in overtime that gave them a 17-10 victory.
Ole Miss could be the team with a quarterback that’s hampered by an injury in this year’s matchup. Bo Wallace suffered an ankle injury in last week’s 30-0 loss to Arkansas, though he should be ready to play this week.
"He obviously hurt his ankle the other night,” Freeze said. “It is an ankle sprain. It would take a lot more than that to keep him out of this game. He's hungry and wants to play in this game in a bad way. He's going to try to go no matter what. He's gotten better each day. Hopefully he'll be close to 100 percent."
If Wallace doesn’t play well and mistake-free, the two-point underdogs won’t be able to pull off the upset. Before getting injured at Arkansas, Wallace completed 16 of 31 passes for no touchdowns and two interceptions. He had his worst game of 2014 in Ole Miss’ loss to LSU, failing to complete 19 of his 33 pass attempts.
Mississippi State has one of the nation’s best defenses, as well, allowing 18.4 points per game. The over/under is 49.5 points.
PREDICTION: Mississippi State over Ole Miss, 24-20