Southern Miss needs one more victory to guarantee a bowl spot. Mississippi State and Ole Miss both need two.

The sad truth: All three could fail. Really, they could.

USM entered last Saturday’s game an 18-point favorite over Charlotte, needing only one more victory to reach the six-win plateau that would put the golden Eagles in a bowl. Not only did the Golden Eagles get pummeled by a team that has been playing Division I football for four years, they could well have lost their top two quarterbacks. USM, 5-4, now must get at least one victory in these three games: at Old Dominion, at North Texas, Louisiana Tech (home).

The way the Eagles played Saturday, they’d be hard-pressed to win with healthy quarterbacks. Old Dominion, the team USM plays on the road Saturday, hammered Charlotte 52-17 earlier.

Ole Miss also has quarterback issues. The Rebels won a game, but lost their best player Saturday in quarterback Chad Kelly. Jason Pellerin elevates to No. 1, and Hugh Freeze must decide whether or not to take the red shirt off freshman Shea Patterson. My guess is that he won’t. If the plan all along was to red-shirt Patterson – and it was – it makes no sense to change that now. A berth in the Birmingham Bowl is not worth giving up an entire year of eligibility for a five-star quarterback recruit.

The Rebels play at Texas A & M, at Vanderbilt and State at home. Winning two of those three without Kelly doesn’t seem likely.

Rick Cleveland Credit: Melanie Thortis

Most experts, as well as most Mississippi State fans, had given up on the Bulldogs’ bowl hopes. But that was before State knocked off Texas A & M Saturday. Now, State, 4-5, needs to win two of these three: at Alabama, Arkansas at home, at Ole Miss. In reality, that means State must beat Arkansas and Ole Miss, since Nick Saban’s Alabama assassins appear to be in a league all their own. But victories over Arkansas and Ole Miss seem suddenly seems plausible.

Predictions?

Ole Miss loses at A & M, ekes out a win at Vandy and goes into the Egg Bowl 5-6 and needing a victory to become bowl eligible.

State loses to Bama, beats Arkansas and likewise goes into the Egg bowl needing a victory to go bowling.

Right now, given the quarterback situation at both schools, I’d pick State.

I think USM somehow finds a way to win one of those last three and plays somebody, perhaps Georgia Southern, in the New Orleans Bowl.


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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.