OXFORD — Ole Miss football’s New Year’s Six bowl hopes were dashed with a road loss to Arkansas last week.
With that all but off the table for the Rebels (8-3, 4-3 SEC), here’s what the latest projections are saying about potential bowl destinations for Lane Kiffin’s team as it prepares to take on Mississippi State (7-4, 3-4) on Thursday (6 p.m., ESPN).
Citrus Bowl: Orlando, Florida, on Jan. 2
Who said it: Brett McMurphy (Action Network), Kyle Bonagura and Mark Schlabach (ESPN), Jerry Palm (CBS Sports)
Once again, a Citrus Bowl appearance is by far the most common prediction for the Rebels throughout the bowl projections released this week.
Despite the loss to Arkansas, the Rebels are still likely to be the fifth SEC team in the pecking order when the College Football Playoff rankings come out Tuesday. That still puts them in position to play an interesting bowl game against a quality opponent from the Big Ten.
Every prognosticator who predicted Ole Miss to play in the Citrus Bowl paired the Rebels with Penn State, ranked No. 10 in the USA Today Sports AFCA Coaches Poll. The Nittany Lions have lost only to Ohio State and Michigan, No. 2 and No. 3, respectively.
Should this projection come to fruition, the Rebels would play in the Citrus Bowl for the first time. They’ve also never played the Nittany Lions before in their history.
If Penn State is not the choice in this matchup, a school from the Big Ten West trio of Iowa, Illinois and Purdue seems likely to slide in.
DISTRACTIONS?:Did Lane Kiffin Auburn speculation distract Ole Miss football in Arkansas loss?
EGG BOWL:Ole Miss football vs. Mississippi State: Ranking the best Egg Bowl from each decade
KIFFIN:Ole Miss football coach Lane Kiffin addresses his future after Arkansas loss
ReliaQuest Bowl: Tampa, Florida, on Jan. 2
Who said it:College Football News, Erick Smith (USA Today)
The other possibility is the ReliaQuest Bowl, which also takes place on Jan. 2 in Florida.
Ole Miss has played in this bowl once before, beating Indiana after the 2020 season when the contest was known as the Outback Bowl.
Both Erick Smith of USA Today and College Football News have the Rebels taking on Iowa. The Hawkeyes are 7-4, having won four in a row after a difficult start.
What can Ole Miss do to improve its stock?
Ole Miss’ reality following the results around the SEC last week is that the Citrus Bowl is likely the ceiling.
A New Year’s Six bowl would likely have required the Rebels to be the highest-ranked at-large team for the Cotton Bowl to select, and that’s probably out the window now following the Arkansas setback. The other possibility involved two SEC teams making the playoff, and the Rebels rising above Alabama, LSU or Tennessee to claim an Orange Bowl spot. That looks incredibly unlikely now, too.
The focus for the Rebels then turns to ensuring they do their part to stabilize their stock. A loss to Mississippi State — on top of the rivalry implications — could see the Rebels get caught by the Bulldogs or potentially even South Carolina. Both of those teams also have four losses.
David Eckert covers Ole Miss for the Clarion Ledger. Email him at email@example.com or reach him on Twitter @davideckert98.