OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — LSU was a contender for the national title just two weeks ago. Mississippi was among the darlings of college football in September after a stunning win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Things have changed for the Tigers and Rebels — and not for the better.
When No. 17 LSU (7-2, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) travels to face No. 25 Ole Miss (7-3, 4-2) on Saturday, physical talent will obviously play a factor in deciding who wins. The Tigers have star running back Leonard Fournette and a physical defense. The Rebels have the best passing offense in the SEC.
But what goes on between the ears for these disappointed two teams might be even more important.
"That's part of life — being disappointed," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. "One of the greatest lessons you can learn in life is how do you handle that? They're being tested with that just like we've been."
Ole Miss might be in a better position to bounce back. The Rebels had last week off after a crushing 53-52 overtime loss to Arkansas on Nov. 7.
They also have a glimmer of hope regarding an SEC title. Ole Miss must win its last two games against LSU and Mississippi State and then Alabama has to lose to Auburn in the Iron Bowl on Nov. 28 for the Rebels to capture the Western Division title.
Unlikely? Sure. But not impossible.
Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly, who leads the SEC with 3,224 yards passing and 23 touchdowns, said there is still plenty of motivation to win, even if the college football playoff is out of the picture.
"If you can't refocus after a bye week and get amped up for the next game then you're playing the wrong sport," Kelly said. "I know our guys are ready to get back and ready to hit somebody."
LSU is trying to recover after two difficult losses to Alabama and Arkansas. The loss to the Tide wasn't a complete surprise — especially since the game was in Tuscaloosa — but Saturday's 31-14 home loss to the Razorbacks was sobering.
Now the Tigers are out of the national playoff picture and also can't win the West.
Miles said there isn't much a coach can do in one week that can motivate a team following disappointments. Instead, it's something that has to be ingrained in the program.
"When something goes not as planned, you have to say 'I'm accountable and I'm responsible,'" Miles said.
Freeze knows from experience that Miles faces an uphill battle. Ole Miss was No. 3 in the CFP rankings last year before a loss to Auburn sent the Rebels tumbling down the list.
Ole Miss loss two of its final four games following the Auburn game, struggling to regain its swagger after the high-profile setback.
"It is really, really difficult to manage the young kids' psyche and the coaches' psyche. Everyone," Freeze said. "I can't speak for (LSU), but I know firsthand the disappointment that not only comes from a loss, but a loss of being in a position you really want to be in."
AP freelancer Bryan Lazare in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, contributed to this story.
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Posted on Tue, November 17, 2015
by DAVID BRANDT AP Sports Writer