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Mississippi rebellion brewing in SEC West

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T.J. Yeldon is Bama's preseason All-SEC candidate. (Source: Alabama Athletics Communications) T.J. Yeldon is Bama's preseason All-SEC candidate. (Source: Alabama Athletics Communications)
The SEC West could be up for grabs when Ole Miss and Alabama meet in Oxford on Oct. 4. (Source: Alabama Athletics Communications) The SEC West could be up for grabs when Ole Miss and Alabama meet in Oxford on Oct. 4. (Source: Alabama Athletics Communications)
Auburn Head Coach Gus Malzahn will try to duplicate last year's offensive explosion on the Plains.  (Source: Todd Vam Emst/Auburn Athletics) Auburn Head Coach Gus Malzahn will try to duplicate last year's offensive explosion on the Plains. (Source: Todd Vam Emst/Auburn Athletics)

(RNN) – It’s been more than 15 years since a cowbell was anywhere near the Georgia Dome when it mattered. In 1998, Jackie Sherrill guided the only team from the state of Mississippi to play in the SEC Championship Game.

After a gritty effort, an over-achieving pack of Bulldogs yielded to eventual national champ Tennessee 24-14. And a hearty Rebel yell has not been heard in Atlanta since Sherman passed through. Ole Miss is the only long-standing member of the SEC West to have never played in the SEC Championship Game.

But with two of the conference’s top three returning quarterbacks warming up in Mississippi, could the winner of a late-season Egg Bowl shootout between MSU’s Dak Prescott and Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace be bypassing Tuscaloosa and Auburn on their way to Atlanta?

Uh, no, according to those who like to carry notebooks and be called experts in public places. The same throng at SEC media days that selected Auburn’s Nick Marshall, Prescott and Wallace the top three SEC signal callers, also predicted the Rebels and MSU to finish fourth and fifth in the West, respectively.

But as LSU Head Coach Les Miles wisely pointed out, how many of the football intelligentsia picked Auburn to rule the West in 2013?

Both Mississippi hopefuls entertain Auburn, but MSU plays LSU and Bama in hostile territory. The schedule nod goes to Ole Miss.

If it all comes down to the Egg Bowl and not the Iron Bowl, the Mississippi feud would be the hottest ticket in Oxford since 2003 when Eli Manning had Ole Miss thinking of glory only to be derailed by Nick Saban–led national champ LSU in a deflating 17-14 final.

We’ll take a look at who will be the most offensive in the West.

Rebel revenge?

Wallace is easily the most experienced quarterback in the SEC. He has started 26 games, led the Rebels to two bowl victories and has thrown and rushed for more than 7,000 yards. More important, he’s grown wiser. He threw the ball to the wrong team 17 times in 2012 but had only 10 interceptions in 2013.

But Saban unmercifully put down a border insurgency in Tuscaloosa last September. And seven days later, against unranked Auburn, a Tiger defender emerged from a of nest of players with a tipped Wallace swing pass for a 78-yard pick-six in a foreshadowing of bizarre happenings to haunt foes on the Plains.

Wallace has weapons at his disposal. Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell pulled in 608 yards worth of aerials in 2013, and backs Jaylen Walton and I’Tavius Mathers accounted for more than 2,000 yards of turf. Spotting the tight end is always a smart quarterback’s out and Evan Engram is a good one.

MSU to ride Dak’s back

For Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs, success comes early and fades often. A promising start falls flat and the season boils down to the Egg Bowl. Then a rerun hits the screens the following year.

Dak Prescott offers a new burst of hope. He’s a physical, dual-threat leader who accounted for more than 2,800 yards in 2013 while appearing in 11 games.

Wide receiver and return man Jameon Lewis is back from a 2013 effort that netted more than 1,600 all-purpose yards.

Back Josh Robinson should be eager to take on the feature role after playing understudy to LaDarius Perkins. He averaged 5.9 yards per handoff in 2013.

The Big Three

Alabama, Auburn and LSU have accounted for 18 of the 22 SEC West championships, and are the only three West teams to seize the SEC in Atlanta.

An SEC champ with one loss would be a shoo-in for the new Final Four of football.

After witnessing a production of The Twilight Zone in Jordan-Hare Stadium and a Sugar Bowl embarrassment, a hyper-motivated Saban-coached Alabama Crimson Tide would normally be the wisest choice in the West.

But a new quarterback will be at the controls, although he will command some of the top talent in America. The Nick Pick should be either FSU transfer Jacob Coker or patient senior Blake Sims.

Back T.J. Yeldon contributed more than 1,400 yards in 2013 while Amari Cooper has already thrilled Tide fans in the Georgia Dome. His 736 yards in receptions in 2013 was almost seen as a mediocre performance following his breakout freshman season.

Tide end O.J. Howard, receiver and return man extraordinaire Christion Jones and backs Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake round out an explosive offensive lineup.

"Auburn Fast" is the new motto on the Plains. QB Nick Marshall, backs Corey Grant and Cameron Atis-Payne sped for more than 2,300 yards in 2013. Back also is receiver Sammie Coats, 902 yards, and crunch time tight end C. J. Uzomah.

Hopes are high for junior college transfer Duke Williams stretching defenses deep.

LSU did not have an offensive skill player on the astute media’s preseason All-SEC first, second or third team.

But for Miles, someone always emerges to chew up the turf and the most likely candidates are plus-200 pound senior backs Terrence Magee, Kenny Hilliard and much-hyped freshman Leonard Fournette.

Call the receiver corps “The Unknowns” for now. Ditto for the man taking snaps behind center. It’s a battle they say between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris. Will Miles dust off mentor Bo Schembechler’s playbook?

Keep Hope Alive

For Arkansas and Texas A&M, it’s a throwback to a Jesse Jackson campaign slogan - Keep Hope Alive.

For the Aggies, we all know who’s gone.

The quarterback is not set but Coach Kevin Sumlin is, so hope remains. The battle is between sophomore Kenny Hill and freshman Kyle Allen.

Junior runner Trey Williams is a long-distance threat who should see the ball more behind a veteran offensive line. The Aggies, like LSU, did not have an offensive skill player on the first three All-SEC teams.

Look for A&M to dial back from the air some as Sumlin learns from the success of elder statesman Steve Spurrier in the East.

Arkansas prevailed just three times in 2013 but has returning Alex Collins, who ran for more than 1,000 yards, and QB Brandon Allen who threw for more than 1,500. Junior Johnathan Williams also ate up more than 900 yards.

Outlook for the offenses

The biggest unknown before any season is injuries. Ask any Georgia or Florida fan how they can shellac a season. But casting that concern aside, we will rank the offenses in the SEC West.

1. Auburn – More returning weapons, including a starting quarterback, than any other outfit.

2. Ole Miss – Most experienced returning quarterback but lacks the big, speedy back.

3. Bama – An abundance of explosive talent at receiver and back, but uncertainty behind center.

4. MSU – Strength at quarterback but like Ole Miss lacks the star runner.

5. Arkansas – The Hogs have a returning 1,000 yard rusher and a badger-like commitment to the ground game.

6. Texas A & M - The Aggies have speed at back and will use it more.

7. LSU – An unknown receiving corps and signal caller could leave Tiger fans cheering on a 1970s Michigan-style ground game and special teams. But hey, it doesn’t have to be flashy to be effective.

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