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Tested No. 5 Tennessee welcomes undefeated No. 22 Ole Miss

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Tennessee was expected to be a national contender this season, as signified with a ranking of No. 9 in the preseason poll.

Ole Miss wasn’t in the AP Top 25, or even on the radar, when it failed to receive a single vote in October.

The Rebels are ranked now and visit the No. 5 Volunteers (10-3) to open SEC play Saturday night in Knoxville, Tenn. The No. 22 Rebels (13-0) haven’t been flawless, but Ole Miss is undefeated.

First-year Ole Miss coach Chris Beard, who formerly was head coach at Texas Tech and Texas, has a team that has matched the 2007-08 team’s school-record 13-0 start. The 13-game winning streak also matches a school record.

“Chris Beard has done a fabulous job already at Ole Miss,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said, “gotten them off to one of the best starts ever and he’s got guys that are playing with the kind of passion he coaches with.”

The Rebels are one of just three remaining unbeaten teams along with No. 3 Houston and No. 19 James Madison, who also were 13-0 through games of Wednesday.

“When I think of those kinds of things, I just think of the players,” Beard said. “The players deserve all of the credit – the guys who chose to come back and trusted us in the coaching change.

“If we’re going to do the things we want to get done here, why we came to Oxford, there’s going to be a lot of records that need to be approached and broken over the years and over the next months and weeks.”

Ole Miss’ non-conference run isn’t viewed as hollow by Barnes. Not with victories over Memphis and fellow Power 5 teams Temple (on the road) and N.C. State.

“I think our non-conference schedule proved a lot,” Beard said. “To me it proved that we can play. I don’t think our schedule has gotten the respect that it should. We’re one of the very few BCS teams who played two true road games (against Temple and UCF). We played opponents from (power conferences), NCAA Tournament teams from last year.

“The schedule challenged us in a lot of ways and I think for the most part we’ve answered the call. To have 13 wins going into SEC play doesn’t mean anything on Saturday when the ball goes up, but just to take a quick second to reflect, a lot of work went into these wins in November and December, so I think the players deserve all the credit.”

When it comes to pre-conference prep, there’s not many teams that measure up to Tennessee. Barnes navigated the Vols through a non-conference slate dotted with ranked teams in Purdue, Michigan State, North Carolina, Illinois and Kansas.

“The schedule has been great,” Barnes said. “We really searched to try to get quality teams to play. We obviously want to play the top 150 if we can.

“It’s been a good schedule for us, but you can throw it all out the window now. It’s extremely hard to win at home and it’s extremely hard to win on the road. I don’t think there’s any easy game.”

The Vols have won six straight games after a three-game losing streak.

–Field Level Media

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