It has been an unfortunate time for the Nkemdiche brothers. I won't poke fun at Robert's incident and it has certainly been a scary situation for Denzel and his medical status. From a football perspective though, having both of these guys out represents a loss of leadership and physicality for the Rebel front seven. Robert, the former No. 1 overall player out of HS has been as good as advertised in his time in Oxford. Easily a double team option for most offensive line schemes; the Cowboy offensive line, lucked out not having to face the MANimal from Loganville, Georgia. Mason Rudolph appears to be playing and I'm not sure how many hits he could take from the All-American. That doesn't mean Breeland Speaks, Channing Ward, and others won't wreak havoc against a struggling front protection for the Pokes. There will be sacks.
With the Nkemdiche's out of the game, the X-factor for the Rebel defense in my eyes is linebacker/defensive end C.J. Johnson. Johnson was to miss a little over a month of play earlier this season with a torn meniscus, but returned only after two weeks and has been one of the coach and fan favorites in this defensive unit. With Robert Nkemdiche out, don't be surprised to see Johnson move down to defensive end and provide some rush off the edge. It is Johnson's versatility that will make him the player to watch from the first snap to the last.
Ole Miss has a great defensive unit from the front seven to the secondary. That secondary is led by Trae Elston, another All-America pick for the Admiral Ackbar's. Mason Rudolph cannot afford to float passes against this future NFL safety. With his foot injury still recent, albeit healthy now, it will be interesting to see if Rudolph still struggles with getting his feet set on passes to the deep-third. Elston has intercepted four passes and deflected 12 others this season showing his ability to consistently be around the football, even though teams will typically avoid throwing near him. Elston also is quite the thumper as well. Elston has been known to jar the ball loose with big hits. It is safe to say that Ole Miss has plenty of weapons on this defense, even without its best player.
So here it is. The final prediction of the year. Ole Miss comes into this game without its household name player but is as dangerous as any team in the country when clicking. Ask Alabama. Oklahoma State will put up a fight. Bob Stoops doesn't coach Ole Miss so a Bedlam-like result won't happen. That being said though, with uncertainty regarding Mason Rudolph's in-game ability coming off this injury and the physicality of both front lines for Ole Miss, I have to give the edge to the Rebels in this one. Final Score: Ole Miss-31 Oklahoma State 21. Go Pokes and happy new year everyone. See you on the other side.