Nobody's paying attention to Ole Miss football yet. This is fantastic news.
OXFORD − Two weeks into the 2022 season, Ole Miss football is right where it should be: hiding in plain sight.
The Rebels (2-0) are up to No. 17 in the USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll. They have the nation's No. 25 scoring offense and No. 6 scoring defense. They have two of the SEC's four leading rushers, two of the conferences four leaders in sacks and the nation's leader in tackles for loss. The offense has turned 12 red zone trips into 11 touchdowns and the defense has only allowed three red zone trips resulting in just one touchdown.
Some SEC teams like Kentucky and Arkansas are riding high off tone-setting early-season wins. Others like Texas A&M are feeling the sting of an unexpected non-conference loss. Ole Miss is blissfully in the middle. The Rebels aren't receiving praise or being shamed. They're in the shadows. They've done exactly what they were supposed to at home against Troy and Central Arkansas and now they heading to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech (2:30 p.m., ABC), another team they're favored to beat by more than two touchdowns.
For the third week in a row, Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin is preparing his team for a game he knows the national media will only be talking about if something goes terribly, terribly wrong.
"It just goes to show you’ve always got to be ready to play," Kiffin said. "It doesn’t matter what’s on paper or spreads and it obviously doesn’t matter how many five-star players you have on your roster or if you use a book to coach. You’ve got to be ready to play every week."
This is how this season was always supposed to begin. Anything short of a 4-0 start will be looked at as a disappointment, but starting 4-0 won't be enough to get the hype train rolling. ESPN's Football Power Index says the Rebels have played the nation's 113th-toughest schedule so far and will play its next two games against teams ranked No. 90 and No. 93 in the FPI. These are all games the Rebels can and should win big without eliciting any reaction from the national media or vaulting into the College Football Playoff discussion.
But if Ole Miss loses one of these games, it's proof the sky is falling. Just ask Texas A&M. Or Nebraska. Or Notre Dame. Or Wisconsin.
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Kiffin said he doesn't feel the need to address the recent slew of upsets in college football with his team. At least not in the build-up to games. He says the goal is to treat every foe as a "faceless opponent" and he's proud of the way his players have been able to manage the lack of fanfare and still dominate lesser foes.
That pride is something he has communicated with his players.
"I mentioned it commending them after the (Central Arkansas) game," Kiffin said. "There are other examples, especially three pretty notable programs that didn’t take care of business earlier in the day. So I commended them on doing that and not letting these guys hang around and play one of those games not just that you lose, but that you’re not pleased with."
Attention is a strange thing. This time of year, against the schedule Kiffin and this year's crop of players inherited, it's better not to have it. The Rebels would much rather be a forgotten team with a 4-0 record heading into Oct. 1's showdown against No. 10 Kentucky than a talked-about team with a 3-1 or 2-2 record.
Kiffin's squad needs to keep doing its thing quietly. There's nothing wrong with being a footnote on "SEC Now" or not showing up on the "SportsCenter" bottom line if you're winning the games you're supposed to be winning.
Saturday gives the Rebels yet another example to do just that.
Contact Nick Suss at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Nick on Twitter @nicksuss.