Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin finally got a long-awaited signature win this weekend. It’s one that could be used as a jump start for his Rebel squad through the rest of the season. But for Kiffin himself, it’s one that potentially gets doubters off his back, for now at least.
Now in his fourth season in Oxford, Kiffin has done enough to keep Ole Miss fans happy. For the most part.
The entertainment level is certainly higher. Recruiting has gotten lightyears better, both at the high school level and through the transfer portal. His offensive scheme is known nationwide as being must-see television. Furthermore, it goes deeper than just the product on the football field.
This school year’s freshman class is the largest in Ole Miss history, per the administration. Unlike most of history, many kids are excited to come to Ole Miss. That’s not just for classes, or parties (although parties may have something to do with it). It’s because the football program is much better than in years past. And when you’re an SEC school, having a good football program absolutely helps with overall enrollment.
There’s a reason the SEC’s motto is “It Just Means More.” Down south, it really does. And that’s exactly why, despite all the positives, a lot of people have become slightly unhappy with Kiffin.
Kiffin’s Huge Contract
Following a 10-win season in 2021, and a promising start to the 2o22 season before the wheels came off, it was well-known that other programs were going to become interested in luring Kiffin away from Oxford. This became apparent after last season when chaos broke out as reports started circulating connecting him to the Auburn job.
Knowing that Auburn had the ability to virtually put a blank check in front of Kiffin, Ole Miss had to act. Shortly thereafter, Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter managed to get a new contract signed, keeping him in Oxford through 2026. While details of the deal weren’t immediately available, they soon became public knowledge.
The new deal pays Kiffin a base salary of $8.75 million for the 2023 season. It then increases slightly, to $8.85 million for next year. While this was big news for Rebel fans, it did come with expectations. After all, if you’re going to make nearly $9 million a year, solid results are expected.
Kiffin’s Been Close, but Never Able to Get His “Signature Win”
Ole Miss, under Kiffin, has primarily won the games they were expected to win, but they really haven’t been able to pull off any prominent upsets. They’ve come close against Alabama, but Kiffin has yet to knock off his former boss.
Diving deeper, during Kiffin’s tenure, Ole Miss is 6-7 vs. ranked opponents. However, they’re only 2-5 against Top-10 teams. Those two wins: a bowl win vs. Indiana, and a win over Kentucky. Neither of those teams would ever really cross your mind as elite teams.
On the road, they’re 1-3 against ranked opponents. The only win: was their win over Tulane earlier this season. Tulane, while a good football team, doesn’t qualify as elite to many people. In addition, the Rebels have been favored in most of those wins over ranked opponents.
In short, Kiffin’s doesn’t have a win that sticks out as a potential program changer. That may have changed on Saturday.
Ole Miss Squeaks Past LSU in Shootout
Oxford was a crazy place on Saturday night, as Ole Miss squeaked past LSU 55-49. As you can tell based on the final score, defense wasn’t a factor. In the first half alone, the two teams combined for 760 total yards. That was the most in an SEC conference game in two decades.
It was also a huge shift from the previous week. In their matchup last weekend against Alabama, Ole Miss fell 24-10. Both defenses played reasonably well. Neither offense looked all that impressive. This week proved to be exactly the opposite. The Rebels offense looked unstoppable at times. The problem? The Tigers offense did, too.
For an Ole Miss defense that wanted to improve under its new defensive coordinator, it was a step back. However, the offense bailed them out. For Kiffin, that’s good enough. Offense is his specialty, and that’s what shined on Saturday.
LSU was a field goal favorite coming into the game, and a Top-15 team, and based on the previous week, some thought the Tigers may run away with it. That didn’t happen. Instead, Ole Miss managed to come back late. With the comeback, Kiffin managed to do what he hadn’t done in the previous three years: Pick up a program-defining win.
This is a relatively new spot for Ole Miss’ football program. Ranked in the Top 15, with arguably two of their three toughest games out of the way, the question now becomes how they handle success. Two years ago, during their 10-win season, they handled success reasonably well. Last year, not so much. After jumping into the Top-1o following a 7-0 start, the train derailed, and the Rebels ended the season at 8-5. We’ll see how they handle success this time around.
There’s an argument to be made that the Rebels will be favored in all of their remaining games, except for traveling to Athens to take on the back-to-back defending champion Georgia Bulldogs. That’s a game that Ole Miss is expected to lose.
Apart from that, if they can avoid any other slip-ups the rest of the way, Kiffin will have solidified himself as being worthy of the massive contract he signed. If they falter, it takes the luster away from this win, and the questions will once again be brought up. However, for now, the win vs. LSU is the win that has desperately been missing from his resume.
Where the Lane Train goes from here, we’ll all have to wait and see.