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Fresno State vs. Ole Miss 2015 preview: Just biding time until Bama

This game is gonna get ugly, but it's a valuable dress rehearsal for the big show in Tuscaloosa.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Another football Saturday comes to Oxford and likely along with it another Ole Miss victory. The No. 17 Rebels (1-0, 0-0 SEC) will play host to the Fresno State Bulldogs (1-0, 0-0 Mountain West) to conclude a three part series between the programs that began in 2010.

Last week, Ole Miss won a 76-3 contest against UT-Martin that was so convincing as to be uneventful, giving the team plenty of reason to think it should cruise in a similar fashion against a Fresno State team that was less than impressive in a 34-13 win over Abilene Christian. The game will kick off at 2:30 p.m. CT on ESPN2.

Ole Miss holds a 2-0 record against Fresno State -- even winning once against the Bulldogs in the worst season in Rebel history -- and should extend that streak to a third game tomorrow afternoon. But even if this is a game that might not prove itself particularly challenging for the red and blue, there are plenty of good reasons for Ole Miss fans to pay attention. Heading into a Week 3 matchup against No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, the Rebels still have questions to answer, particularly on offense, and opportunities for underclassmen to make a case to crack the two-deep. So while this might be seen as a tuneup game, something akin to a college preseason, its outcome might have a great deal of influence on fan and media expectations regarding the Rebels' SEC opener.

Here's what you need to know for Saturday's contest.

Four significant stats

102: That was Fresno's total F/+ number for 2014. With the exception of a brief midseason win streak, this team was bad, going 6-8 and ending the season with a blowout loss to Rice in the Hawaii Bowl.

41: The career pass attempts by all of Fresno's returning quarterbacks combined coming into the season. Not only did the Bulldogs lose their QB from last season, they're replacing their top receiver, top tackler and two starting offensive guards.

442: Total offensive yards Fresno hung on Abilene Christian in their season-opening 34-13 win. This team is young and thin, but it does have some potential.

3: The number of kills Robert Nkemdiche is gonna have on Saturday.

Three players to keep an eye on

C.J. Johnson

Johnson's unexplained opening game suspension means we've had to wait an extra week to find out how his swap from defensive end to middle backer is going. There's typically not a ton you can glean in these OOC mismatches, but we think we'll find out a lot from Johnson on Saturday: how he orchestrates the the defensive alignments, how well he diagnosis plays from his new vantage point and how he fares in pass coverage.

Carlos Davis

It's been forever since the Rebs had a guy who actually posed a threat as a return man, but Davis looks like could change that after an impressive showing against UT Martin. He didn't read the ball that well (he fielded a couple of risky punts and fair caught a very returnable line drive) but he showed some moves once he got it in his hands, averaging 13 yards on six returns.

This 58-yarder was sick:

Breeland Speaks

The 313-pound redshirt freshman and former four-star croot is going to see more playing time now that Issac Gross is done for the year with a neck injury. D.J. Jones is sliding over to nose guard to help fill in for Gross, which means Speaks becomes Robert Nkemdiche's primary backup at defensive tackle.

Two intriguing story lines

1. What will the Tunsil-less O-line look like?

Until he hears otherwise, Hugh Freeze has to prepare as if he won't have Laremy Tunsil against Bama. Saturday is his last chance to figure out how the reshuffle will look.

Fahn Cooper will fill in at left tackle, but who replaces him on the right side? Is it still redshirt freshman Sean Rawlings, who was up and down last week? Or is it center Robert Conyers, who made two starts at RT last season?

2. Can Swag keep bombing the deep ball?

Chad Kelly went deep all day against UT Martin, attempting five passes of at least 20 yards and connecting for touchdowns of 56 and 57 yards. We won't really know how sustainable that is until he runs into SEC competition, but it'd be a good sign if he hit a few long passes against Fresno. The Rebs have a shit ton of vertical receiving threats -- Laquon Treadwell, Evan Engram, Damore'ea Stringfellow, Markell Pack and Quincy Adeboyejo -- and the dynamic of this offense completely changes if Swag can consistently get them the ball downfield.

One infallible prediction

It's always hard to pick a 30-point spread, no matter how lopsided the matchup is. But we're taking the Rebs to cover. Sure, Freeze is gonna pull in his play-calling calling reins and run the ball once the score gets ugly, but that doesn't mean the guys running the ball will let up; Jordan Wilkins and Akeem Judd are locked in a position battle, Eugene Brazley and D.K. Buford are fighting for playing time and DeVante Kincade is auditioning for an expanded QB role.

Here's our score prediction:

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