Ole Miss Sets Sights on the SEC Upper Echelon
Since becoming the head coach at Ole Miss in 2012, Hugh Freeze has been on a mission not only to make the Rebels respectable, but to make them a contender.
He’s accomplished the first. Now he’s looking for the second.
And, he’s got enough talent to where it just might happen.
After going just 6-18 in 2010-11, Ole Miss has rebounded to go 15-11 under Freeze, including two bowl victories. With fifteen returning starters, the Rebels and their fans feel another step forward is in the works this season.
Ole Miss returns quarterback Bo Wallace, who has thrown for 6,340 yards and forty touchdowns and rushed for 745 yards in two years as a starter. Wallace set the all time single season total offense record at Ole Miss last season. In addition, the Rebels return their top two running backs in juniors I’Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton. Sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell was a first team Freshman All American and the SEC Freshman of the Year. The Rebels lose two very good receivers, but senior Vince Sanders moves into a starting role and Freshman Markell Pack is one to keep an eye on. Tight end Evan Engram was second team all-SEC last year as a freshman. Another freshman All-American Laremy Tunsil is back to anchor an offensive line that also returns starter Justin Bell. Aaron Morris is back after missing most of the last year with an ACL injury.
Ole Miss played quite a few freshmen last year on defense and they’re pretty talented. Robert Mkemdiche was a second team Freshman All-American as a DT. Linebacker Tony Conner was also a second team frosh AA and CB Derek Jones returns in the secondary. Ole Miss also welcomes back LB Serderius Bryant, who was a second team all-SEC selection as a junior. DE C. J. Johnson missed the last eight games of the season last year because of an injury. He’ll be back in a starting role. Last year this unit was young and inexperienced. Free Safety Cody Prewitt had six interceptions last year on the way to third team AA honors. This year, they have a good mixture of upper and lower classmen, but a lot more experience.
Ole Miss will not be experienced on special teams as they have to replace their punter, kicker and punt returner from a year ago. Andrew Fletcher, a senior who started his career at Louisville, will handle the placements, while redshirt freshman Gary Wunderlich will handle the punting duties.
Ole Miss plays in the brutal SEC West, but they get both Auburn and Alabama at home, as well as arch rival Mississippi State. They also miss the best three teams in the SEC East, playing Vandy and Tennessee. In the SEC, your schedule doesn’t get much better than that, especially if you’re in the West Division. In addition to Louisiana, Ole Miss also has Boise State in Atlanta on Thursday to open the season and Memphis and Presbyterian at home.
OUTLOOK: Most feel Ole Miss is destined for fourth place in the SEC West, and when you look at the three picked ahead of them, that probably makes sense. Whether or not they finish any higher will probably depend on the play of Wallace. He’s thrown for 40 TD’s the last two years, but has also thrown 27 picks. If he comes out and plays like a senior, the Rebels can use his play and the schedule to be a contender in the West.