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How did Lane Kiffin wind up at Ole Miss? Start with Katy Perry

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Lane Kiffin thought about Katy Perry.

Before Kiffin accepted the Ole Miss job in December 2019, he reflected on his three matchups against the Rebels as Alabama’s offensive coordinator.

One game, in particular, stood out: Ole Miss’ 23-17 victory over No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 4, 2014.

Or, as Kiffin put it during an interview in June, “Katy Perry day.”

ESPN "College GameDay" traveled to Oxford, Mississippi, for the game featuring a pair of top-15 teams.

Perry, the pop star who had recorded several No. 1 hits, was the guest-pick expert on the television set, and she brought the raucous crowd to a crescendo when she picked the Rebels to upset Alabama.

Ole Miss had gone 20-28 in the four seasons before Kiffin’s arrival in Oxford, but that’s not the way he remembered the program. He remembered Katy Perry day. And the Rebels beating Alabama twice during Kiffin’s three seasons on Nick Saban’s staff.

“I know a big part of the intrigue for the job came from being at Alabama when Ole Miss was playing good, and only losing two regular-season games in three years at Alabama, and both were to Ole Miss — one here and one there,” Kiffin told me in June.

“Seeing the stadium that day (in 2014 in Oxford), that was the Katy Perry day and everything.

“To me, it wasn’t like a program that you’ve got to do some miracle that’s never been done before, or the last time we won was 20 years ago. So, that was fresh in my memory.”

Mississippi head coach Lane Kiffin walks the sideline during an NCAA college football game against Austin Peay in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Bruce Newman)
Mississippi head coach Lane Kiffin walks the sideline during an NCAA college football game against Austin Peay in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Bruce Newman)

Halfway through Kiffin’s second season, No. 12 Ole Miss (3-0, 0-0 SEC) is humming at a level not seen since the 2014-15 seasons.

Kiffin will try to become the first former Saban assistant to beat the greatest college football coach of all time when the Rebels face No. 1 Alabama (4-0, 1-0) on Saturday (2:30 p.m. CT, CBS) in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Kiffin’s Rebels can do it, too, for the same reason that those 2014 and ’15 teams beat Alabama: Their quarterback is good enough to give the Crimson Tide fits.

Bo Wallace completed 18 of 31 passes for 251 yards with three touchdowns when the Rebels upset the Tide in 2014.

Chad Kelly was 18-of-33 passing for 341 yards with three touchdowns in the 43-37 Ole Miss triumph in 2015.

Wallace and Kelly ranked among the SEC’s best quarterbacks in those respective seasons.

Ole Miss' quarterback this season, Matt Corral, is playing as well as any quarterback in the country. He’s better than either Wallace or Kelly. He’s as good of a dual-threat quarterback that Alabama has faced since, well, as long as Saban can remember.

“The guy is very elusive. He can extend plays. A very accurate passer,” Saban said Monday. “He executes their offense extremely well.

“He is about as talented of a guy as anybody we’ve seen, run and pass, for a long time.”

Of course, Alabama’s defense is different type of beast than the ones at Louisville, Austin Peay or Tulane that Corral has faced so far.

And it’s not like Corral will be the only good quarterback in the building.

Corral vs. Alabama’s Bryce Young is as compelling as Kiffin vs. Saban. Heisman Trophy voters might want to tune in.

Like Wallace and Kelly before him, Corral is mobile. The list of dual-threat quarterbacks to beat Alabama during the Saban era includes Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel and Deshaun Watson.

Of course, Corral threw for 365 yards and two touchdowns last season against Alabama, and Ole Miss lost 63-48. The Rebels’ defense, which has resembled an improved unit this season, can’t collapse Saturday.

“Their overall team is improved in every category – on defense, on special teams, they really are playing extremely well,” Saban said. “This is one of the best offensive teams in the country, no doubt.”

Kiffin sent the praise back toward Alabama.

“We’re a huge underdog for a reason,” he said Monday.

This matchup has everything needed to be an instant classic.

Historically great coach against the party-wrecker.

Top-notch quarterbacks.

SEC football inside a college football cathedral.

All it needs is a pop star to show up Saturday morning.

Follow Blake Toppmeyer on Twitter @btoppmeyer.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Lane Kiffin: Katy Perry's ESPN appearance helped him pick Ole Miss job