OXFORD, Miss. (AP) During the summer it looked like Mississippi's game against Memphis would be little more than a speed bump for the Rebels before a five-game stretch against Southeastern Conference teams to end the season.
That's not the case anymore.
No. 13 Ole Miss (5-1, 2-1 SEC) travels to face undefeated Memphis (5-0) on Saturday in a surprisingly intriguing non-conference matchup. The Tigers haven't lost in a full calendar year, winning 12 straight games thanks to a stellar offense led by quarterback Paxton Lynch.
Now it's their chance to knock off a regional rival and a team from the SEC. The two schools are about an hour's drive apart and the connections run deep.
Ole Miss running back Jordan Wilkins is one of 11 players on the roster from the Memphis area. He said he knows several Tigers and has even had to engage in a little trash talk with his girlfriend, who is a cheerleader at the school.
Wilkins said Memphis' elevated status in the college football world only adds to the excitement.
''It's just natural that it hypes you up a little more when the game is competitive.'' Wilkins said.
It's also familiar territory for Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, who coached at a high school in Memphis for about a decade before a quick rise through the college coaching profession.
Freeze had nothing but praise for Lynch and fourth-year coach Justin Fuente, who is only 39 years old and viewed as one of the rising stars in the profession. Ole Miss beat Memphis 24-3 last season in Oxford.
''It's a quality, quality football team and they're playing with great confidence,'' Freeze said. ''And they have what a lot of us desire in a really sound, good quarterback. He's one of the better ones I've seen on film.''
Memphis was off last weekend, giving the Tigers nearly two weeks to prepare for Saturday's game. In some ways, Ole Miss had an off weekend too, breezing past New Mexico State 52-3 while resting several starters who were nursing nagging injuries.
Memphis hasn't had a problem scoring this season. The Tigers rank fourth nationally with 47.8 points per game.
The problem is their schedule hasn't exactly included college football's finest. A win over the Rebels would give Memphis a signature moment - and the national attention - it craves.
''Honestly, every week we're trying to prove something,'' Memphis receiver Phillip Mayhue said. ''We're just trying to prove that we're basically here. We're not a slouch. We worked hard and we're going to prove each and every week that hard work pays off.''
The game figures to be a difficult test for the revamped Ole Miss secondary. The Rebels shuffled players at several positions since star safety Tony Conner went down with a knee injury three weeks ago.
The newest lineup was fine against New Mexico State, but the Aggies didn't have anything near the firepower that the Tigers possess.
''All five of us mesh pretty well back there,'' Ole Miss safety Mike Hilton said. ''We have more experience, more speed out there now. We miss Tony, he was a big piece, but with the guys we have in place we are not losing a step.''
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