In the life of an Ole Miss fan, one of the rare birds you can experience during Alabama week is not stubborn hope, because that’s always there but the feeling of MAYBE.
MAYBE only occurs when you do the math and conclude the difference between the teams isn’t staggering. Usually, that means Ole Miss has a good offense and enough pieces on defense, and Alabama looks unlike its normal deadly Predator/Terminator selves.
For the uninitiated, MAYBE doesn’t mean you think Ole Miss is going to win, but at the very least, the Rebels have something more than no chance. Is MAYBE very accurate? Kinda?
Last season, MAYBE was in full effect, but Ole Miss lost a game it should’ve won due to this:
- Ole Miss: six red zone possessions for 24 points (4 points/possession)
- Alabama: four red zone possession for 24 points (6 points/possession)
In 2021, the MAYBE vibes were strong, and the score in Tuscaloosa was 28-0 at halftime and 42-7 with 10 minutes to play. From 2013-16,* there were similar feelings, and Ole Miss lost by 25 in 2013 but won or lost by one score from 2014-16 (2-1).
*MAYBE took an extended vacation from 2017-20.
If you’re scoring at home, that’s four one-score games and two blowouts. The small sample size suggests when MAYBE is in the air, the game will be close.
This year, mostly thanks to Alabama not having a Bryce Young or Tua Tagovailoa, MAYBE is back. Without a future first-round draft pick at quarterback covering up deficiencies, the Crimson Tide look normal, which is abnormal for a Nick Saban team.
Whether that is a product of playing what could be a good Texas defense and a farting experiment against South Florida remains to be seen. But before we go into more detail about the 2023 Crimson Tide, let’s get to know the University of Alabama.
For those who have had the privilege of driving east on I-20 coming from or passing through Meridian, Miss., Tuscaloosa, Ala. appears on the figurative horizon right about the time your brain begins screaming, “SURELY THIS DRIVE CAN’T GET ANY MORE BORING.”
Tuscaloosa doesn’t necessarily bring vitality to the drive, but it does break up the vast nothingness between Meridian and Birmingham. As someone who made the drive way too many times, that description is a ringing endorsement.
As for actually going to Tuscaloosa, it’s fine. Never had a bad time, never regretted going (minus not leaving certain games earlier; leaving Bryant-Denny in the third quarter is a rite of passage).
University of Alabama History
Prior to the Alabama Territory joining the Union, the United States Congress, in a move many in the state today would call BIG GUBMINT OVERREACH, gave the territory permission to create a township in 1818 that would become a “seminary of learning.” More like a Sabanary of learning, Roll Tide, never deleting this.
After Alabama became a state in 1819, the General Assembly of Alabama established the Sabanary in December of 1820 and appointed a board of trustees to build and operate the university. For the record, the original name was The University of the State of Alabama, which ignored editors redlining the extra words.
At that time, Tuscaloosa was the state capital, and the board conveniently chose T-Town as the site of the yet-to-be-built university. To design the campus, the board called on William Nichols, who previously designed the Alabama State Capitol building and was 100 percent someone important’s brother-in-law.
On April 18, 1831, the first students enrolled in what was the shortest spring semester ever. A man named Alva Woods* was the school’s first president after previously doing presidential duties at Brown University** and Transylvania University.
*His name sounds like a subdivision with a sparse tree population.
**Brown’s most famous student? That’s right, Jonathan Moxon from West Canaan High School. I like to think Bud Kilmer is still furious over this.
In the school’s first two decades of existence, student discipline was apparently a serious enough problem that Landon Garland, who became school president in 1854, asked the state legislature for permission to turn the seminary of learning into a military school, which they agreed to do in 1860.
That brings us to the Curb Your Enthusiasm portion of Alabama’s history. It’s unclear if the transformation to a military school improved discipline, but it did produce officers for the Confederate Army, which was the reason the Union Army burned down the campus in 1865 — five days before Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox.
The school reopened in 1871, not as a military school, but as the place that would eventually give the world Bama Rush.
Rapid Fire Alabama Trivia
- As of 2023, Alabama’s total enrollment was about 39,600 students, with somewhere around 31,000 being undergrads
- In 1913, school president George H. Denny, of 50 percent stadium name, referred to the university as the “capstone of the public school system in the state,” which was the origin of the Capstone nickname
- In 1956, Autherine Lucy attempted to integrate the school, but the board of trustees suspended her three days (and later expelled her) after she enrolled because they were not going to attempt to stop the diaper-filling racists from being violent and creating an unsafe learning environment for her
- The school officially integrated in 1963, but not before governor George Wallace wanted everyone to believe he was a bigger racist piece of shit than Mississippi governor Ross Barnett
- Once, I was walking toward Bryant-Denny, away from the Quad, when I saw an older man with a flowing silver mane walking in my direction. As he got closer, I realized it was Kenny Stabler. We nodded at each other, and I threw out my best casual “How’s it goin’?,” to which he energetically replied, “Alright.” To this day, I cackle about having an interaction-ish with Snake Stabler (RIP).
- Harper Lee - author on every junior high or high school summer reading list
- Reece Davis - GameDay cat-herder
- Gay Talese - writer, and you should read “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold”
- Jimmy Wales - co-founder of Wikipedia, the source for almost everything here, and no, I will not donate $2
- Benjamin C. Russell - Created the sweatshirt and his company outfitted college football teams until Nike changed that
- Mel Allen - Longtime voice of the New York Yankees and star of The Naked Gun
Great Moments in Alabama Athletics
According to my calculations, “great” is open to interpretation, so I have two moments.
In 1995 and 1996, Alabama quarterback Freddie Kitchens played against probation-wrecked Ole Miss teams in games where he outweighed either every member of the Rebels’ defensive line or every player but one. Kitchens weighed about 250-60 pounds, give or take. The combined scores to those games was 60-9.
In 1999, Alabama lost 29-28 to Louisiana Tech in Tuscaloosa. The Bulldogs, with starting quarterback Tim Rattay injured on the last drive, threw a last-second touchdown pass to tight end Sean Cangelosi.
The only reason I remember this is I knew Cangelosi’s brother, who asked him why they didn’t have more of a celebration after the touchdown. Cangelosi said they were all so tired from being on the field the whole second half that they didn’t have the energy.
The official box score shows they ran 49 plays in the second half (pace of 98 for 60 minutes), including the 12-play drive in 2:34 to tie the game. Yep, that fatigue checks out.
What About the Football Team in 2023?
Obviously, the HOT TAKES related to Alabama is whatever is happening at quarterback. Starter Jalen Milroe was fine against Middle Tennessee State, doing exactly what you might expect.
Against Texas, he was, to quote Homer Simpson about alcohol, the cause of and solution to all of Alabama’s problems. Nick Saban chose not to play him* versus South Florida, and the quarterbacking duo he did play confirmed they don’t need to see the field again.
*According to Saban, that was the plan, and Milroe not playing had nothing to do with his reaction to not starting.
While that situation remains a potential hot mess, the Alabama offense did average 5.1 yards/carry against MTSU and 4.8 against South Florida. Good numbers, but not what you might expect an Alabama offense to do against inferior opponents.
I mention that because Ole Miss’ defensive front will fall somewhere between Texas’ (very good) and those of MTSU/USF (not great). If the passing game struggles continue for Alabama, they may not be able to fall back on running over and through the Ole Miss defense.
On the other side, Alabama’s defense has been outstanding, even with giving up 34 points to Texas. I know MTSU and South Florida are hot garbage offenses, but these are important numbers the Tide produced against Texas:
- 2.8 yards/carry
- 9 of 21 on third/fourth down
Their biggest issue in the Texas game was they kept giving up explosive passing plays (16 yards or more). Look at these completions:
- 44 yards (touchdown)
- 18 yards
- 17 yards
- 32 yards
- 34 yards
- 50 yards
- 31 yards
- 39 yards (touchdown)
Based on Alabama’s season defensive numbers (3.3 yards/carry; 4.4 yards/play), Ole Miss will also need to hit explosive passing plays to generate enough offense to have a chance to win. Well, that and make sure they don’t turn the Alabama backfield into dark horse Heisman contenders.