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With no bowl in sight, Ole Miss WRs compete for a title belt

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Intriguing SEC matchups headline Week 3 (2:16)

Kirk Herbstreit breaks down the games he is looking forward to this weekend, including LSU vs. Auburn and Alabama vs. Ole Miss. (2:16)

It took only 33 ticks of its first game clock for the country's best receiving corps to make its mark.

Two plays into Ole Miss' 2018 campaign, D.K. Metcalf blew by a Texas Tech defender, caught a bomb from quarterback Jordan Ta'amu and, 58 yards later, the Rebels' receivers were off and running.

Metcalf, too, was running -- toward the Ole Miss sideline to claim his desired and, at that moment, rightfully earned possession: a black championship belt sporting the letters NWO.

Nasty Wide Outs.

"We train to be the best and to beat the best," junior All-American receiver A.J. Brown said.

It would be easy to dismiss the belt as simply another sideline prop, a product of an exploding trend following the popularity of Miami's turnover chain.

But for Ole Miss receivers coach Jacob Peeler, it was an organic idea designed to give his position group an identity. If nothing else, it rings true. This group of pass catchers is downright sick.

As the centerpiece of an offense that has scored a whopping 123 points in the first two weeks, the NWO will be the biggest test to date for Alabama's revamped secondary when Ole Miss (2-0) hosts the Crimson Tide (2-0) on Saturday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN).

"We have a lot of respect for Alabama's defense, obviously," offensive coordinator Phil Longo said. "It's probably the most talented defense that we've seen this year, without question. The corners are longer. ... They've got great feet and great hips.

"I do know that the receivers are very aware that they have a challenge this week."

Nobody will confuse the Rebels' first two opponents with the '85 Bears, but that doesn't change the fact that their receivers have been exceptional. The group, headlined by Brown, Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge, has hauled in more receiving yards (805) than any other group of receivers in the Power 5 so far. Coming into the season this type of production was expected, as the unit was widely considered one of the best in college football.

"They're so talented," Ta'amu said. "They're the best in the nation. I believe that in my heart. I'm grateful they're on my side and I can throw to them."

What makes them so good? Let Peeler explain:

"You have A.J. in the slot, who's a non-traditional slot player," he said. "Normally slot guys are the smaller, quicker kinda jitterbug types, whereas A.J. is a big, physical mismatch. He's great after the catch and he makes defenders miss, and he also has the ability to separate and run away from defenders.

"Then you got Lodge, who is more of your take the top off [the defense], beat you deep, good route runner, can make that big catch on the sideline, can make those acrobatic catches.

"Then you've got D.K., who is just a physical freak," Peeler said. "He looks like a defensive end, and he's playing receiver and the [stereotype] with big receivers is they normally can't separate and run. It don't matter if it's Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, don't matter if it's at lunch, dinner or breakfast, whatever time of day, he's gonna run a 4.4 [40-yard dash] for you every single time. He's 245 pounds and he can take the top off and he can play big."

Brown is widely considered a future first-round draft pick and Metcalf was a preseason All-SEC selection. Those talents, paired with Longo's quarterback- and receiver-friendly Air Raid offense, make for fireworks.

"I mean, they're just physical, athletic, big-time guys," said Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, whose defense surrendered 330 yards to Ole Miss' receivers in Week 1. "You know, they'll all three play in the NFL. Obviously, they're well-coached. They're put in positions to be successful, and so that's a recipe for a really good offense."

When Peeler got to Ole Miss in 2017, he was well aware of their talents -- he evaluated the trio when they were recruits and thought highly of each of them. Upon arriving in Oxford, he wanted to give them an identity.

So he went back to his days as a 1990s wrestling fan and adopted the NWO moniker, changing the original acronym (New World Order) to "Nasty Wide Outs." It's even Peeler's Twitter handle (@NastyWideOuts).

"We talked about ... the way we carry ourselves and when we walk off the field, we want to be the best unit," Peeler said. "When I think of 'Hollywood' Hulk Hogan and those guys, I loved the energy they brought when they walked down the aisle to the wrestling ring. I was just thinking of something fun and came up with 'nasty wide outs.'"

To complete the idea, Peeler did a Google search for wrestling championship belts and found a website that produced them, so he had one made for his group. The logo on the front will look familiar to fans of the original wrestling group. On different parts of the belt are four terms that Peeler says embody the position group: "humble," "relentless," "mindset" and "beast mode."

"We just ran with it," Brown said. "He told us about the expectations of the belt and of the room and it's a standard and he's not willing to change it for anybody, so we have to raise our standard."

Before a game, Peeler decides who gets to wear it into the stadium. In Week 1, senior Floyd Allen -- a former walk-on who was awarded a scholarship during training camp -- was the winner. Allen, a Houston native, was able to carry it on the team flight to his hometown, the bus ride and walk into NRG Stadium.

Last week, senior Alex Weber was the recipient and carried it through The Grove ahead of the Rebels' home opener versus Southern Illinois. Perhaps feeding off the energy of the honor, Weber made a memorable catch, leaping and reaching his hands around a defender's back to secure the ball.

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Ole Miss WR reaches around defender for unbelievable catch

Alex Weber reaches around Madre Harper and pins the ball to his back for the highlight-reel reception, setting up a Rebels touchdown.

At game time, the criteria for earning the belt is clear: Find the end zone.

"Once the game starts, we have a guy who, as soon as somebody scores, is meeting him with the belt," Peeler said. "Once they get the belt, they kinda do their own thing with it. ... It's something fun for the group to kinda have their own little flair."

Claiming the belt has led to spirited competition within the group, and teammates have noticed.

"That belt is something they crave," kicker Luke Logan said. "So if you see them balling out there, it's all to get that belt."

Said Ta'amu: "They're always excited to grab the NWO belt. Sometimes I wanna grab it, but that's their thing."

Brown, who scored a touchdown in the season opener, even took it upon himself to claim ownership after the game and wore it as he walked off the field back to the locker room.

"I didn't personally win the belt [at that moment]," Brown said with a laugh. "I just got the belt and put it on."

The battle for the belt hasn't disrupted the camaraderie between the receivers. The group was already tight knit when Peeler arrived.

"The thing I really am impressed by is how they play for each other," head coach Matt Luke said. "How they complement each other is really, really special, and we just want to continue to build on that."

Incentives like this one are useful for the Rebels. As they serve the second year of a two-year bowl ban, there isn't a postseason to shoot for this year. In the preseason, Luke mentioned that despite the situation, his team is "competing and playing for each other."

The showdown with the Crimson Tide is motivation itself, because who doesn't want to beat the No. 1 team in the country?

For the Nasty Wide Outs, that mentality is at the heart of their identity.

"It's not about nobody else, it's about us," Brown said. "It's about us being better every week, no matter who we play."