After concluding a three-game homestand against Tennessee, the South Carolina Gamecocks hit the road again on Nov. 3 to see the Ole Miss Rebels in the picturesque Grove for the first time in...well, a long time. It’s been almost a decade since these teams last met, so I’m frankly impressed the SEC finally remembered to put them back on each other’s schedules. Suffice to say, a lot has changed for both programs since their last date.
Last meeting: The unranked Gamecocks took down No. 4 Ole Miss in a 16-10 slobberknocker in Columbia in 2009, which was the biggest win of coach Steve Spurrier’s tenure at that point. Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead, who entered the game with considerable preseason hype and was a Heisman hopeful, went just 7-of-21 for 107 yards and a touchdown as the Gamecocks wouldn’t leave him alone. This game is also considered by many to be the birth of the “Sandstorm” tradition, as the defense and delirious crowd feasted on the beat.
Since the Gamecocks also picked up a 2008 road win against the Rebels (led by none other than Chris Smelley), South Carolina will enter this contest on a two-game winning streak against Ole Miss.
Last season: The Rebels endured a tumultuous offseason, as the NCAA finally rendered the results of its investigation into the program’s suspiciously effective recruiting tactics, and the school placed a postseason ban on itself. As if that weren’t enough, the Rebels also lost head coach Hugh Freeze to an escort-related scandal later that summer. Under that cloud, Ole Miss compiled a 6-6 (3-5 SEC) record, finishing sixth in the West division. While the Rebels got absolutely tattooed by Alabama (66-3) and took heavy losses to Auburn and LSU, they nonetheless scored an upset win over rival Mississippi State to salvage the season. Interim head coach Matt Luke was rewarded with a promotion into the full-time gig.
Player to watch out for: Ole Miss has made its money from its offense in recent years (which the Gamecocks hope to benefit from, having hired former Rebels offensive staffer Dan Werner). Junior wide receiver A.J. Brown looks to be the latest star wideout in Oxford: Brown had a breakout season last year, tallying 1,252 yards with 11 touchdowns on 75 receptions, and he’s all over preseason all-SEC teams and award watch lists. He will be among the top receivers in the conference and the country.
Prognosis: The Rebels are still dealing with NCAA fallout, so they’ll be ineligible for bowl consideration again. Aside from having to run the usual gauntlet in the SEC West, their out-of-conference schedule is manageable, though opening against Texas Tech will be a test right out of the gate. With the defense still a work in progress, Ole Miss will likely have to lean on its loaded offense again for success. Another .500 season should be achievable.