Meridian Star

Sports

January 3, 2013

This one counts

Saturday’s bowl game is a big one for Mississippi

MERIDIAN — By Steve Wilson

The Vicksburg Post

There are plenty of reasons why Saturday s BBVA Compass Bowl shouldn t matter. But it does.

    The game is played at a sad, rusting husk known as Legion Field, once known as the Football Capital of the South.

    Ole Miss and Pittsburgh, playing in its third bowl in Birmingham, are the football equivalent of holiday leftovers in the fridge.

    The game will be Saturday, when most of the nation s football fans are tuned to the NFL playoffs.

    It serves as an appetizer for Monday s national championship game between SEC powerhouse Alabama and Notre Dame, giving ESPN another excuse to add some ad revenue to its bottomless coffers.

    But, all that said, the game s importance to Ole Miss and the football program under construction by first-year coach Hugh Freeze can t be understated.

    When the season started, the possibility of a bowl berth for the Rebels seemed a vain hope at best. The team s depth chart was thinner than Freeze s hairline after years of neglect by previous coach Houston Nutt, whose recruiting classes were gutted by attrition. The Right Reverend wasn t able to sustain his early success when the supply of players recruited by Freeze, who was Ed Orgeron s lead recruiter, dried up. The Rebels won six games in two seasons.

    But the Rebels (6-6, 3-5 SEC) found a solid quarterback, Bo Wallace, whose dual-threat ability was the anchor for Freeze s no-huddle, spread attack, and a defense short on talent, but long on heart.

    Considering the team s talent level, the fact the Rebels lost three of their games by six or fewer to LSU, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt showed that the rebuilding process will be quicker than even the most optimistic Ole Miss fan could imagine.

    When the Rebels needed to beat archrival Mississippi State to gain bowl eligibility and end a three-game losing streak in the battle for the Golden Egg, they came through in a big way. They routed Mississippi State 41-24 to snap a three-game losing skid and earn a bowl bid.

    In the book Meat Market by Bruce Feldman, Orgeron said, You can always judge a trapper by his furs.

    Freeze was his favorite trapper and has been busy on the recruiting trails. The Rebels signed the nation s top junior college prospect, defensive lineman Javon Hooks and aim to add more from the prep ranks. This year s Ole Miss class is ranked No. 20 by Scout.com and Rivals.com and already has 20 commitments with signing day just a month away.

    A bowl win could add even more weight to the momentum in Oxford. While Pittsburgh isn t a major powerhouse, a bowl victory could be capper on a surprising season and be a sign of things to come.

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