The hate-fueled frenzy we call the Iron Bowl begins at 2:30 this Saturday afternoon, which means that by the time Ole Miss kicks off the Egg Bowl three hours and 45 minutes later, we'll probably know whether they're competing for a trip to Atlanta.
After the Fourth and Twenty-Five debacle against Arkansas, Ole Miss' chances to win the SEC West title were hastily buried in a shallow grave somewhere in the wooded outskirts of Lafayette County. Yet here we are in the final week of the regular season, and they still have a chance to pass Alabama in the division standings. Ole Miss is currently 5-2 in SEC play. Bama is 6-1, but that one loss is to the Rebels. That means if Ole Miss beats State in Starkville and the Tide loses at Auburn, the Rebs pick up the head-to-head tiebreaker and trek off for the SEC Championship.
Easy enough, right? Ole Miss just needs to win in Starkville for the first time since Eli was playing, then hope Auburn Jesus smiles on the Iron Bowl. According to ESPN's Football Power Index, the Rebs have a (way too optimistic) 59.3 percent chance of beating State, but Auburn has just a 21.8 percent chance of beating Bama. That means Ole Miss has a whopping 12.9 percent chance of winning the West.
We'll save the Egg Bowl analysis for another post. For now, let's look at the odds of Auburn at least giving the Rebs a chance to play for the West.
Why Auburn's probably going to lose
Not only are the Tide 10-1, but since losing to Ole Miss in September, they've beaten their eight opponents by an average score of 34.5-1.1 en route to the No. 2 spot in the Playoff rankings. That includes a 28-point beatdown of then-No. 8 Georgia, an 18-point stomping of then-No. 9 A&M, a 14-point dismissal of then-No. 2 LSU and 25-point laugher over then-No. 17 State.
Auburn, meanwhile, is dead last in the West with a 2-5 conference record and has lost three of the last four Iron Bowls. They opened as 13-point home dogs for Saturday's tilt.
Just take a look at this advanced stats comparison:
Auburn should be particularly worried about Bama's run defense ranking. When the Tigers pulled off the upset over A&M three weeks ago, they did so on the back of a 311-yard rushing day. That's not too likely against a Bama front that's allowing less than 91 rushing yards per conference game, which means it'll likely be up to Jeremy Johnson to beat the Tide through the air. So ... uh ... yea.
The good news for Auburn is that Johnson, who was benched early in the season after throwing six picks in his first three starts, has only thrown one pick in three games since taking back over for a banged up Sean White. The bad news is that in those same three starts, he's only thrown for 132, 61 and 163 yards. He may have tamped down on the turnovers, but he's still not capable of carrying the offense, which is what Auburn will probably need from him if they're gonna pull off the upset.
Why Auburn might win
Because Gus Malzahn has a horseshoe in his ass and the laws of nature don't apply to the Iron Bowl, especially in Jordan-Hare.