When Ole Miss and Memphis meet at the Liberty Bowl this Saturday, it will be the 63rd meeting between the two football programs, the first game taking place in 1921 when Memphis was known as West Tennessee State Normal School. Ole Miss leads the all-time series against the Tigers 49-11-2 with the two ties coming in 1963 and 1985.
While Ole Miss has dominated the series, games against Memphis usually give the Rebels nothing to gain in today’s day and time.
Memphis is favored to win all 12 of their games this season. The national perception of the game will simply be that an SEC school beat a Group of Five opponent, matchups that typically go the SEC’s way.
If Memphis wins, the national perception is that Ole Miss, a program trying to steady itself in the wake of NCAA sanctions, was beaten by a Group of Five opponent and probably isn’t anywhere close to being back to normal, regardless of whether or not this is the case.
Ole Miss has so many unknowns coming into the season. A redshirt freshman quarterback is leading an inexperienced offense under a legendary, but new, offensive coordinator, and a defense that has been atrocious in recent memory is under new leadership as well.
Ole Miss will look vastly different than it did a season ago from a scheme standpoint, but with so much youth being exposed to a new system on both sides of the ball, how long will it take for them to hit full stride?
Instead of breaking in these young players with a cupcake opponent, Ole Miss is traveling into a hostile environment to play a pointless game that is no longer a rivalry like it was decades ago.
That matchup in 2015 saw the Tigers win 37-24 in a game where Robert Nkemdiche was injured on a play while he was in on offense in the backfield. Ole Miss went on to win the Sugar Bowl that season, but the Memphis matchup proved to be a trap game that the Rebels weren’t ready for, and their reputation suffered as a result.
The Rebels’ insistence upon playing the Tigers gives them little to no gain each time they take the field, and that will be the case once again this season.
While it would be big for the Rebels to open the season with a win on the road against a quality opponent, the perception of said win outside of Oxford would not be very impressive. If Ole Miss was to lose the game, the wailing and gnashing of teeth among the fanbase would be even louder.
Memphis fans would insist that this series still qualifies as a rivalry if they secured the win and would probably clamor for more games against the Rebels in the future.
Memphis football needs Ole Miss much more than Ole Miss needs Memphis. It doesn’t appear that Ole Miss fans enjoy the trek to Memphis nearly as much as they enjoy a trip to New Orleans for a game against Tulane.
Why not schedule it with a university in a city that fans enjoy? Ole Miss could travel to Tulane every other year, probably pick up a win and have its fans take over the French Quarter. The Rebels will host Tulane in 2021, travel there in 2023 and host them again in 2025, but why not make it a yearly occurrence and at least give your fans something to look forward to?
Instead, Ole Miss will travel to play the Liberty Bowl to open the 2019 season in a game that outgrew its usefulness long ago. This appears to be the last game in this series for a while. The Rebels have some of its non-conference games scheduled through 2026, and Memphis is nowhere to be found on that slate.
All that’s left now is for Ole Miss to secure a win on Saturday and get out of the Liberty Bowl unscathed, a feat that is far from certain given the circumstances.