Hugh Freeze was hired by Ole Miss in December of 2011 and ever since then it's been one big love affair between him and the Rebels fanbase. Freeze took the 2011 Ole Miss squad that gave up on Houston Nutt and went 2-11 and turned them around in one year to a 7-6 team that won their bowl game by 21 points. And then came the recruiting landslide. Ole Miss finished sixth in the Nation in our cumulative recruiting rankings and right now there is a ton of positive momentum in Oxford.
Things are looking up for Ole Miss. Way up. But let's pump the brakes just a bit. Without a doubt Ole Miss was a much improved team last season but let's remember that they didn't have a win over a top 25 team and their first five victories of last year weren't exactly against a who's who of success stories (Central Arkansas, UTEP, Tulane, Auburn and Arkansas). The Rebels did beat Mississippi State (a big win over an in-state rival) and Pittsburgh (a team that was much better at the end of the season) late in the season but Hugh Freeze will enter 2013 still looking for his first signature win.
Ole Miss returns 18 starters off of last years squad (8 on offense and 10 on defense) so it would be tough for them to take a step backwards. One reason they could take a step back is quarterback play. Bo Wallace had a nice season for the Rebels as he finished with almost 3,000 yards passing but he also threw 17 INTs (11 of which came in losses). Wallace needs to improve this season (which he should as a second year starter) and the Rebels also need to develop a back-up they can count on. RB Jeff Scott (850 yds rushing) also returns and he's a guy who is a difference maker when he's in space. The Rebels need to find a tag-team partner for him so they can have a one-two punch. The biggest loss for the Rebels on offense will be do-everything Randall Mackey (25 rec, 325 yds rush). In the second year of Freeze's offense, the Rebels will continue to grow. Laquon Treadwell (Rival's #1 WR prospect in the Nation) will be one to watch. Hopefully for Rebels fans, he grows into his role quicker than Dorial Green-Beckham did for Mizzou last season.
On defense, the Rebels return their six leading tacklers (and eight of their top ten), all 15 of their interceptions and their leading sacker C.J. Johnson. If there is a concern it's losing their #2 and #3 sack guys along the DL but there are high hopes for 5-star prospect Robert Nkemdiche. According to Rivals, the Rebels will add four defensive players that ranked as 4 or 5 star prospects.
Another reason to cheer for Ole Miss? They trade out Georgia in favor of Missouri for their SEC East revolving opponent. That being said, don't be surprised if Ole Miss struggles in the first half of the season as they have games at Vandy, at Texas, at Bama, vs A&M and vs LSU in their first seven. This is clearly going to be a better Ole Miss team than it was last year but I'm not sure how much better it will be in the win column. Ole Miss fans should temper their expectations for this season. They will be good but we will have to wait and see just how good.
Previous SEC First Looks: