Alabama has lost three regular season games since 2014. Two were to Ole Miss. Here, Nick Saban congratulates Hugh Freeze after the Rebels won at Tuscaloosa in 2015.

Does Ole Miss, a 21-point underdog, have a chance to beat No. 1 ranked Alabama Saturday night at Oxford?

Of course, the Rebels do. Slim, yes. But this is football. The ball bounces funny. Usually, sure-handed players sometimes drop it. Three-touchdown underdogs win nearly every week in college football. It happens far more than you think.

Probably 19 times out of 20, the 21-point favorite wins. But not always.

Stunning upsets usually happen when the favorite loses multiple more fumbles and/or pass interceptions than the underdog. It happens when the underdog makes a huge play or two in the kicking game. It happens when the favorite plays poorly and the underdog plays at peak level. It happens.

Rick Cleveland

Where Mississippi teams are concerned I’ve seen plenty stunners. For today’s purposes there is no better example that when No. 1 ranked Alabama rolled into Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium on Nov. 1 1980. Alabama was a whopping 20-point favorite. Trust me, were Ole Miss to win Saturday it would be no more surprising than when State toppled Bear Bryant’s Tide on Nov 1, 1980.

Listen: Alabama had won 28 straight games, 26 straight SEC games and had defeated State 22 straight times. Not a single State player that day had been alive the last time State had defeated Alabama.

Yet the final score remains, nearly 38 years later: State 6, Bama 3. That same State team lost to Southern Miss 42-14 at home. That same Alabama team whipped Southern Miss 42-7. Yet, for 60 minutes, State was better than Alabama. It happens.

It remains the only time a Mississippi team has defeated the nation’s No. 1 team (Associated Press poll).

The surest bet Saturday: If Ole Miss stuns Alabama, it won’t be 6-3. Nobody, including Nick Saban’s Crimson assassins will totally throttle this Rebel offense, so rich in offensive weapons.

Nevertheless, Ole Miss would have to play a nearly perfect game. Alabama would have to make mistakes. And, under Saban, Alabama makes fewer mistakes than anyone.

That’s why, since 2014 excluding bowl games, Alabama is an eye-popping 50-3. Yes, but two of those three were to Ole Miss.

Alabama was undefeated and ranked No. 3 when Ole Miss beat the Crimson Tide 23-17 at Oxford. Turnovers? Ole Miss got two, Alabama one. Big play in the kicking game? After tying the game in the waning moments, Ole Miss recovered a rare Alabama fumble on the ensuing kickoff. The Rebels took it in and then held on.

Alabama was a nine-point favorite to get its revenge in 2015 when Ole Miss traveled to Tuscaloosa. Final score: Ole Miss 43-37. That one was more typical of how a lesser team beats a heavy favorite.

Alabama turned the ball over five times, Ole Miss none. The Rebels scored 24 points off Tide turnovers.

And don’t forget Alabama was ranked No. 1 when it went to Oxford two years ago and narrowly escaped with a 48-43 victory after falling behind 24-3 in the first half.

That was a game Ole Miss probably should have won. The Rebels out-gained the Tide, but Alabama won the turnovers 2-1 and scored on a pick-six interception. Underdogs don’t win when that happens.

Far more typical of what happens when the No. 1 ranked team is heavily favored is last year’s Alabama-Ole Miss game, played at Tuscaloosa. Bama, a 28-point favorite, cruised 66-3. Ole Miss was never in it.

A prediction for Saturday?

Alabama 45, Ole Miss 27 – unless the ball starts bouncing funny, Alabama gets sloppy and Ole Miss makes a couple plays in the kicking game. As we have seen in the past, it can happen.

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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.