October 28, 2014

Auburn and Mississippi found themselves in the top four of the inaugural College Football Playoff rankings - but one team will be making a short stay there.

The No. 4 Tigers will visit the seventh-ranked Rebels on Saturday night in what figures to serve as an elimination game in the playoff and SEC title chases.

Auburn (6-1, 3-1) found itself at No. 3 in the first rankings released Tuesday by the 12-member selection committee. Ole Miss (7-1, 4-1) is at No. 4 after suffering a 10-7 loss at then-No. 24 LSU. A loss Saturday would almost certainly prevent either team from finishing in the top four - and both clubs also need to win to stay alive in the SEC West, which is led by Mississippi State at 4-0 in the conference.

For the Tigers, this is the first of three matchups with teams ranked in the top nine in their final five games. They head to No. 9 Georgia in two weeks and close out the season at No. 3 Alabama two weeks later.

Coach Gus Malzahn was adamant that his team's focus is on this week's contest alone and not its playoff implications.

"We've got to go there and we've got to play well to win," Malzahn told the team's official website. "That's the only thing on our mind. We aren't looking ahead to this and that. We are going to Ole Miss and we are trying to win the game."

Auburn bounced back from its loss at Mississippi State with a 42-35 home win over South Carolina last Saturday, though it surrendered five fourth-down conversions and a successful onside kick. Jonathan Jones' second interception of Dylan Thompson secured victory on the final play.

The Tigers ran for a season-high 395 yards, including 167 from Cameron Artis-Payne - who is the SEC's second-leading rusher with 118.7 yards per game. They improved to 8-1 in games decided by eight points or fewer since the start of last season, only losing to Florida State in the BCS National Championship game.

"We found a way to win games late last year and we still feel that same way about this team,'' Artis-Payne said. "We feel like if it's tight in the fourth quarter we will find a way to win."

Auburn has won 26 of 31 in the series dating back to the 1971 Gator Bowl. It claimed a 30-22 victory last season despite being outgained 464-375 in total yardage, though the Tigers ran for 282 yards to improve to 14-0 against Ole Miss in that 31-game stretch when recording 200-plus rushing yards.

The Rebels are still the nation's only team yet to give up more than 20 points, while the Tigers are one of four teams to score at least 20 in every game since 2013. Mississippi allows an FBS-best 10.5 points per contest while Auburn is 15th in the country offensively with 39.3.

Ole Miss surrendered a season-high 264 rushing yards to LSU, though it came on 55 carries. An inept offensive performance was more blameworthy, however - the Rebels gained a season-low 313 yards and Bo Wallace's 91.2 passer rating was his worst of the year.

Coach Hugh Freeze drew some criticism for dialing down the pace on offense and relying on his dominant defense. Ole Miss allowed the go-ahead touchdown with 5:07 left and Wallace was picked off in LSU territory - his first in SEC play - with nine seconds remaining.

"Hopefully we can be more aggressive this week, but I'm going to run the plays that are called," Wallace said. "That's all I can do.''

Wallace was 25 of 48 for 336 yards with two TDs and two interceptions in last year's matchup.

Ole Miss will be without linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche for the rest of the season after the reigning second-team All-SEC selection suffered a broken ankle against LSU. The Rebels also lost his brother Robert, offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and safety Cody Prewitt, but Freeze said all are expected to play Saturday.

This marks the first-ever meeting between top-10 teams in Oxford.

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