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5 defining games for Lane Kiffin

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OXFORD – Ahead of one of the most anticipated Ole Miss football seasons in recent memory, bookmakers have put the Rebels’ preseason win total at 9.5.

Should they beat that mark, they will likely find themselves in the field for the first 12-team College Football Playoff. Should they fall short, they could find themselves in a second-tier bowl game wondering where they went wrong.

Which games will be most influential in deciding whether the Rebels thrive or flop in 2024? Here are five make-or-break games for coach Lane Kiffin’s team.

In South Carolina, October 5

Regarding Wake Forest (Sept. 14), which went 4-8 in the ACC last season, the Gamecocks will be the first true road test for Ole Miss. There’s a bit of potential symmetry lurking here for the Rebels. The last time they were a top-10 team in the preseason — as most assume will be the case in 2024 — the Rebels totaled 248 yards and lost a 16-10 slugfest in Columbia in 2009.

Ole Miss is better than a South Carolina team that will replace Spencer Rattler at quarterback. Significant, in that regard. This game will act as an early barometer for whether Ole Miss can show that gap on the road in the SEC.

At LSU, October 12

In 2023, an instant classic win over the Tigers served as the defining moment of the season. It appears the 2024 matchup could carry a similar weight. The Rebels can lose in Baton Rouge and still achieve their stated goal of making the College Football Playoff.

But if they go to Tiger Stadium and win — something they haven’t done since 2008 — they would make a national statement and open the way to SEC title contention. If everything goes as planned for Ole Miss early on, this is the game that will show us what this team is capable of.

vs. Oklahoma, Oct. 26

The Rebels and their new conference counterparts have never met in the regular season, with a 27-25 Ole Miss victory in the 1999 Independence Bowl serving as the only historical data point. That novelty will cause intrigue. But even without that context, this has the potential to be big. ESPN’s SP+ metric rates the Sooners as the No. 15 team in the country entering the summer.

To get where the Rebels want to go, you have to win your home games against good opponents, and the Sooners qualify as such.

A LOOK BACK: Will Ole Miss Football, Lane Kiffin live up to the 2024 hype? This is what history says

vs. Georgia, November 9

This is the decisive game for Ole Miss, with a Georgia team that could be the preseason No. 1 seed for the first time since 2016, heading to Oxford for the first time since 2016 – coach Kirby Smart’s first season in charge Bulldogs. The Rebels executed their offseason transfer portal evolution with this matchup in mind after Georgia physically overpowered Ole Miss in a 52-17 loss in Athens last season.

The Rebels have gained size in the trenches that they hope will give their skill players a better platform to shine in exactly these types of games. Will it work?

vs. State of Mississippi, November 29

On paper, this seems like a game that Ole Miss should win easily. It has a more talented roster than the Bulldogs, who are rebuilding under first-year coach Jeff Lebby. But anyone who knows the Egg Bowl knows that this game is not played on paper. Given Ole Miss’ preseason expectations, it’s easy to foresee a scenario where the Rebels need a Black Friday win to secure their position in the College Football Playoff – or perhaps even the SEC title game, while Mississippi State wants to play spoiler. It is always a game full of tension. Look for this to level up in 2024.

David Eckert covers Ole Miss for the Clarion Ledger. Email him at [email protected] or reach him on Twitter @davideckert98.

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