A 12-team playoff would include Ole Miss football, but Rebels don't sweat that | Toppmeyer
STARKVILLE, Miss. – Ole Miss football celebrated its 31-21 victory on Thursday as a triumph over rival Mississippi State, but also something grander: The Rebels shored up positioning for a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Although those bowl bids won’t be revealed until Dec. 5, No. 8 Ole Miss (10-2, 6-2 SEC) almost certainly will be picked either as the SEC’s representative for the Sugar Bowl or as an at-large choice for the Peach Bowl or Fiesta Bowl.
“Well, I hope we are (headed to a New Year’s Six bowl), because they just all celebrated like we are,” coach Lane Kiffin said, when presented with this prospect.
“It really is remarkable what these kids did.”
Now imagine what that celebration would have looked like if the Rebels had clinched a playoff spot.
Kiffin briefly pondered whether enough chaos could happen to allow the Rebels (ranked No. 9 in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings) to catapult into top four – “You never know, maybe everybody will lose Saturday,” Kiffin quipped – but in truth, even the wonkiest hypotheticals probably wouldn’t give Ole Miss a path to the playoff.
Consider this, however: College football officials have considered expansion to a 12-team playoff, and if that format were in place this year, Ole Miss would be safely in the field after Thursday’s result.
A hearty debate could be had over which would be more beneficial to this program – a bid to a 12-team playoff and a season that likely ends with a loss before the national championship, or having the opportunity to culminate the season with a victory in a New Year’s Six bowl?
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Most competitors probably would choose the playoff bid and the chance, however slim, to compete for the national championship, and I’d be curious to see the damage the Rebels would do in a 12-team playoff.
No opponent would be eager to face Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral, who is set to become a first-round NFL Draft pick. After an injury-riddled season, Ole Miss’ top playmakers are getting healthy. Wide receivers Dontario Drummond, Braylon Sanders and Jonathan Mingo have missed action because of injuries, but they were on the field together for the second consecutive game Thursday and combined for 180 receiving yards. Ole Miss’ defense continues to improve. It surrendered an average of 17.8 points in four November games against FBS competition. Additionally, the Rebels lead the nation in fourth-down attempts. Convert a few of those in a playoff game, and the Rebels could spring an upset or two.
“That’s fun for the fans and you guys to write about to give people something to read, but that’s not the case, so it doesn’t matter,” Kiffin said, when I asked if he’d considered a world in which a 12-team playoff were in place this year.
The Rebels don’t see a New Year’s Six bowl as any sort of playoff consolation prize.
Part of that stems from the fact that Ole Miss hasn’t had a winning season since 2015.
Also, Ole Miss isn’t Alabama or Clemson or Ohio State, where a New Year’s Six bowl after missing the playoff might be viewed as a lackluster finish.
Bowl games like the Sugar or Peach aren’t an annual rite of passage for Ole Miss.
Under Hugh Freeze, the Rebels reached the Peach Bowl in 2014 before winning the Sugar Bowl to cap the 2015 season. Before that, Ole Miss had not reached the Sugar Bowl since the 1969 season or the Peach Bowl since 1971.
“It’s big. It’s big,” senior defensive lineman Sam Williams said of going to a New Year’s Six bowl. “I remember when we first came, we didn’t even go to a bowl game.
“Now, look at us. The thing is, this is just the beginning for Ole Miss. It’s going to keep getting better. It’s going to keep increasing. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more things to come, honestly.”
Maybe even a bid to an expanded playoff, sometime in the years to come.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.