If Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin ends up entertaining a move from Oxford to Auburn, then it will be for this reason.
At Auburn, there is irrefutable proof that a coach with Kiffin’s ability level can put together a team that can beat Alabama and compete for national championships. At Ole Miss, there was searing reality on a cold Saturday night in November 2022. Kiffin can’t win the SEC here in Northeast Mississippi, and he might never again have a better chance than this season.
Let’s be real. This is a down year in the SEC West. Alabama is a shell of itself. LSU is flawed. Texas A&M was a joke. Auburn had no chance from the beginning. If not now for Ole Miss, then when?
Never seems closer to the truth than anytime soon. After this one, Kiffin sees that, of course, because it was painfully obvious in the second half of a game he wanted badly.
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Alabama was beatable this time, and Ole Miss had the ball with a chance to win it, but the team in haint blue simply didn’t have the personnel to get it done.
Playing against an opponent haunted by its lack of talent, Alabama won 30-24 in a game that didn’t matter much in the standings for the victors, but meant everything to Ole Miss. A win would have kept Ole Miss alive in the race for the SEC West division title. The loss, instead, clinched the division for LSU and punched the Tigers’ ticket to Atlanta for the SEC championship game.
Alabama will not be playing for the SEC championship this season, but the Crimson Tide can still perhaps play its way into a New Year’s Six bowl game.
For Ole Miss? In the end, I’m left wondering if an Alabama win against Ole Miss helped Auburn in its pursuit for a coach who can build a college football superpower. Certainly didn’t hurt. Kiffin isn’t building a national champion at Ole Miss no matter how well he plucks players out of the transfer portal.
At Auburn, he would at least have the resources to go after the recruits who could compete against Alabama and Georgia.
Ole Miss was chasing a championship when the day started, and then less than an hour before kickoff here at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium it was made official that Alabama would be playing for nothing but pride. LSU’s victory against Arkansas in the SEC’s early game of the day mathematically eliminated Alabama’s last chance of backing its way into an SEC West crown. All Ole Miss had to do was beat a team that had no chance of playing for a championship. The Rebels’ offense was within striking distance, too. Just like the opening series of the game, Ole Miss had the plays to move inside the red zone, but then didn’t have the players to convert a chance into a touchdown.
Down six, Ole Miss took over at its own 25 with more than two minutes to play. In five quick plays, Ole Miss was all the way down to the Alabama 14-yard line. Was Alabama going to lose by one point again? Not this time. It felt like fourth-and-never in the end for Ole Miss quarterback Jaxson Dart.
With a second-year coach, Tennessee took down Alabama for the first time since 2006.
With a first-year coach, LSU upset Alabama in Baton Rouge.
Even in a down year for Alabama, even when the Crimson Tide was a lame-duck opponent, even then, under those circumstances, Alabama was pound-for-pound better than an Ole Miss team playing for a division championship at home.
Maybe Kiffin gets fired from Auburn just like all the rest, but isn’t that the fate of every coach in the SEC except for Saban?
In the end, Ole Miss’ best victory this season will be against either Kentucky or Mississippi State. Kiffin knows the fickle nature of his business better than anyone, and the fans at Ole Miss are just as delusional as fans at USC.
Even Saban is hearing the noise with this two-loss team. Is the dynasty crumbling? Is this the beginning of the end? Echoes will remain even after this victory. It’s like Alabama was never quite ready for the spotlight this season, and then when the spotlight was finally off only then did the Crimson Tide play up to its potential.
Good team, in the end, but lacking that stuff that has made so many Alabama squads under Saban unlock greatness. Like Alabama wasn’t prepared to be Alabama, almost, in those games when Tennessee and LSU played their best football of the season.
After the loss to Tennessee, Alabama’s players said they were too anxious. The story against LSU was the same. In the final minutes on the road, once again, Alabama shied away from glory. Chalk it up to lack of execution, as Saban explained it, or lapses in discipline, which might be more precise.
Whatever we’re going to call it, or however we’re going to couch it, or whomever people want to blame, Alabama was vulnerable here in Oxford. Kiffin’s team had everything it needed except the means to deliver a kill shot.
At Auburn, there is no lack of loose cannons.
Joseph Goodman is a columnist for the Alabama Media Group, and author of “We Want Bama: A season of hope and the making of Nick Saban’s ‘ultimate team’”. You can find him on Twitter @JoeGoodmanJr.