BARNEStorming: Week 5 Thoughts Around the College Football World
OXFORD, Miss. — When Ole Miss visits Alabama Saturday, Bryant-Denny Stadium is expected to filled to capacity. The 101,821 seats will be full and that will be new for more than a few Rebels.
Because of COVID-19, attendance was limited last year. As a result, Ole Miss played in front of a TOTAL of 135,466 fans in 2020.
The biggest crowd Ole Miss saw was at LSU when 21,905 fans saw the Rebels fall, 53-48.
The smallest number of people who saw Ole Miss was 840 in Nashville when the Rebs throttled Vanderbilt, 54-21.
AN EARLY HOMECOMING
The attention this week has been placed on the Alabama-Ole Miss, Georgia-Arkansas and Kentucky-Florida games and with good reason.
But the SEC nightcap has an intriguing factor: an early homecoming.
When Auburn heads to Baton Rouge, it will bring possible-starting quarterback, possible-backup quarterback T.J. Finley. This is Finley’s first season on the plains – last year he played for the Bayou Bengals.
In 2020, Finley started five games for LSU and he completed 80-of-140 passes for 941 yards. He threw five touchdowns, but also threw five interceptions. Finley also ran for a touchdown, but he lost his job to freshman Max Johnson. With the return of Johnson and Myles Brennan – who was lost in the preseason to an arm injury – Finley saw the writing on the wall and bolted for Auburn.
For the Tigers in 2021, Finley has completed 13-of-23 for 185 yards and a pair of touchdowns without throwing a pick. Last week, he saved Auburn from an embarrassing upset to Georgia State. After replacing an ineffective Bo Nix, Finley led the Tigers on a 98-yard touchdown drive, throwing a 10-yard scoring pass to Shedrick Jackson with 45 seconds left to save the day.
There is no word out of Auburn which quarterback will start Saturday night. Bo Nix is still listed as the starter in this week’s Auburn game notes, but that could very well be different come kickoff.
A PAIR OF NEW RIVALRIES
With the addition of Texas and Oklahoma into the conference – and if geography means anything, into the western division – Ole Miss could have a couple of cool new rivalries.
Texas and the Rebels have met five times on the gridiron dating back to over a century ago.
The Longhorns won the first three games in Austin in 1912, 1914 and 1925 by a combined score of 144-21. But it is the last two meetings that make this potential rivalry interesting.
In 2012, Texas came to Oxford and beat the Rebels 66-31. The Horns may have had a little incentive in that one as Texas A&M had recently jumped to the SEC and Ole Miss was the first conference team Texas could vent its frustration after losing its natural arch-rival.
A year later, Ole Miss returned the favor in Austin. The Rebels routed Texas 53-14 in Memorial Stadium giving each team a win at the other’s home field.
That could make for a fun rivalry.
Oklahoma is also heading to the SEC and the Sooners have a small bit of history with Ole Miss.
The two met in the 1999 Independence Bowl and the Rebels prevailed, 27-25, on a 39-yard field goal by Les Binkley as time expired.
This could be cool.
IS THE ACC REALLY DONE?
Sure, Clemson has done a nosedive and no two-loss team has ever made it to the College Football Playoffs. But the conference has two undefeated teams and six one-loss teams. Wake Forest and Boston College are a perfect 4-0, while Louisville, Syracuse, Pitt, Duke, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech have lost only once.
Of these teams, N.C. State (23) Wake Forest (24), and Clemson (25) are ranked.
The teams will be playing a de facto round-robin tournament the rest of the way with Va. Tech also playing Notre Dame. Should one of them run the table and win the ACC championship game, it would be hard to exclude them from the playoffs.
SPEAKING OF EXCLUSION
Unless Cincinnati goes undefeated – which would mean the Bearcats beat Notre Dame in South Bend – there is little chance a group of five team gets into the playoffs this year. Again.
But there are some worthy candidates.
These teams are undefeated and ranked: Cincy (No. 7), Brigham Young (No. 13) and Coastal Carolina (No. 16). Army is also undefeated while Fresno State is ranked No. 18 with a 4-1 mark.
How fun would a group of five playoff be this season with those guys?
An eight-team format could have Cincinnati and Utah State, BYU and Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina and Liberty, along with Army and Fresno State in the first round.
And that is discounting the fact that Louisiana only has one loss, as does Charlotte, UAB, Houston, Memphis, UCF, UTEP, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, Air Force and Nevada.
Texas-San Antonio is also undefeated.
UPSET OF THE WEEK
So far, I am 1-2 on my upset picks. My win was a resounding one. My two losses came on a fourth-quarter touchdown and a field goal as time expired.
Undaunted, I move ahead.
I admit, I am tempted to take Utah State over BYU in Logan. I once covered a game there and it is a tough place to find. But the Cougars are only busing from Provo in early October, so they should be fine.
I would say Charlotte over Illinois, but the Illini are already 1-4 and the 49ers have beaten Duke.
For no rhyme nor reason (I did have one the other three weeks), I will take Louisiana Tech to upset North Carolina State in Raleigh.
The Bulldogs squandered a big lead at Mississippi State in the season opener, then only a two-point loss to SMU kept Tech from being 3-1.
N.C. State is coming off an emotional overtime upset of Clemson and plays its next game is at Boston College. Plus, the Wolfpack also lost to Mississippi State, but unlike La. Tech, State didn’t have a 20-point, fourth-quarter lead.
THE “EVEN IF” PREDICTIONS
Even if Ole Miss beats Alabama — like by 14 points — the Crimson Tide will still be ranked ahead of Ole Miss next week. The pollsters will still think the Rebels likely to lose two games and they will not want to drop Bama too far so it it can still be in the top four at the end of the year.
Even if Ole Miss beats Alabama, Arkansas beats Georgia and Cincinnati beats Notre Dame, Arkansas will move to no higher than third. If these events happen, the Hogs should be No, 1 having beaten the No. 2, 5 and 15 teams, but it won’t happen. The pollsters still won’t believe in the Razorbacks and will rank Oregon and Penn State higher and may even put Iowa ahead of Arkansas.
Steve Barnes joins The Rebel Walk staff as a senior writer and brings a trifecta of journalistic experience. As a writer, he has covered college sports for Rivals.com, Football.com and SaturdayDownSouth.com as well as served as a beat writer for various traditional newspapers.
He has been a broadcaster for arena football and several national tournament events for the National Junior College Athletic Association as well as hosting various shows on radio.
A former sports information director at Albany (Ga.) State University and an assistant at Troy and West Florida, he has helped host many NCAA conference, regional and national events, including serving five years on the media committee of the NCAA Division II World Series.
Barnes, a native of Pensacola, Fla., attended Ole Miss in 1983-84, where his first journalism teacher was David Kellum. The duo has come a long way since that time.
He will bring a proven journalistic track record, along with a knack for finding the out-of-the-ordinary story angles to The Rebel Walk.
Barnes continues to reside in Pensacola a mere ten minutes from the beach because he does have taste and a brain.