If you check out all of the tell-tale signs, the 2013 Ole Miss football team appears on the cusp of something special.
All the momentum missing lately in Oxford is back with the choice of the appropriate captain to steer the ship. Now that head coach Hugh Freeze prepares to enter his second year at the helm, the Rebels' ship looks to be moving a few knots faster in the right direction.
Early scheduling for the '13 season has Ole Miss visiting Vanderbilt for the opener as well as a trip to Austin, Texas in week three. A visit to Tuscaloosa on September 28 is followed by four consecutive home games including Auburn, Texas A&M, LSU and Idaho.
The August 31 matchup against Vandy will give the football world a good gauge how far the team has come since the Commodores edged Ole Miss (27-26) last season in Oxford.
The 7-6 record last fall is a bit misleading since three of those losses came by a total of 10 points - the Vanderbilt game, a 30-27 loss to Texas A&M and a 41-35 finish at LSU that was much closer than the score indicates.
The upcoming home slate looks to be favorable for Freeze and his troops. Beginning with the Idaho game (Oct. 26) , the Rebels will square off with a pair of SEC foes that finished in the lower tier (Arkansas and Missouri) followed by in-state rival Mississippi State to close out the season. That's a lineup of five winnable games during the final stretch.
Ole Miss averaged 31.5 points per game on offense but allowed 27.6 points. The up-tempo attack recorded 249.9 yards through the air and produced 423.8 yards per outing overall. They were also tops in conference in 4th down conversions with a 72.2 percent success rate. The red zone offense was best among conference brethren with 91.1 percent success rate (30 touchdowns and 11 field goals).
The Rebel "D" was an attacking bunch with 38 sacks, second behind South Carolina's 43 in SEC. However, the offense allowed 34 sacks.
A very disciplined group emerged under Freeze as the fourth-least penalized in the 14-team SEC, seeing just 62 yellow flags.
Hugh Freeze began his 2nd tour in Oxford last season after serving as the recruiting coordinator and wide receivers coach under Ed Orgeron 2005-07. During that span, he was instrumental in the development of Pittsburgh Steelers star Mike Wallace and has also coached future Ole Miss alums NFL standouts Michael Oher and Greg Hardy at Briarcrest Christian School.
Freeze has been successful everywhere he has landed. Prior to his return to Oxford, the Rebels only had 6 wins in the previous two seasons. He is a highly-regarded recruiter who runs a high octane offense. He is astute in developing quarterbacks and worked his magic in during a two-year stint at Arkansas State, turning the program into winners fast.
Following a 2-11 finish by Ole Miss in 2011 the year before his arrival, memories of the storied program's history when they were in national prominence have returned. In 2003, the Eli Manning-led Rebels finished ranked 13th nationally followed by ending up 14th in '04. Going back to the Ole Miss glory days, the program was 8th in 1969 and a perfect 10-0 with a national title recognition in 1962 under legendary coach Johnny Vaught.
The player who will make the biggest impact this upcoming fall appears to be junior quarterback Bo Wallace. The Pulaski, Tennessee product broke the state record with 4,195 total yards his senior season and threw for 2,994 yards with 22 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 2012. He was 5th in the SEC in total offense with 3,825 yards as a first-year starter in 2012.
Wallace (6'5-210) became only the second player in NCAA history to surpass 4,000 yard mark passing and the first freshman to win National JUCO offensive player of the year since 2004 while at East Mississippi Community College. Wallace also spent time at Arkansas State with Freeze the junior college stint that led him to Oxford.
Showing the capabilities of taking over a contest, Wallace completed 83.4 percent of his attempts against Central Arkansas last season (264 yards passing; 82 more on the ground) and threw for 305 yards against Texas A&M plus 278 yards in rallying him team to a last-second win over Arkansas.
A week after a tough loss to LSU , Wallace put up a five touchdown, 294 yard performance versus arch-rival Mississippi State in a 41-24 Egg Bowl win. He put a bow on the season with a decisive 38-17 victory over Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
The backup job is in the hands of a former prep All-American, Barry Brunetti out of Memphis, Tennessee. He played one season at West Virginia. Brunetti's skills - especially his mobility - could have him nipping at Wallace's heels for playing time.
Then there's the new arrival, dual-threat Devante Kincaid (6'1-185) out of Skyline High in Dallas, Texas. He rebuffed offers from Notre Dame, Nebraska, Mississippi State, Kansas State, Illinois and others to get in line to become a key figure for the anticipated success of the Ole Miss program.
The favorite target for the offense is junior wide out Donte Moncrief (6'2-214, 4.45) who had 66 grabs for 979 yards and 10 scores in 2012. Perhaps the best wideout in the SEC, Moncrief will be joined by explosive compliment Ja-Mes Logan. Moncrief had eight catches in three sepearate games and over 100 yards in four contests last season and could easily top that total next fall.
Senior RB Jeff Scott returns as the team's leading ground gainer with 846 yards and six touchdowns. Sophomore back Jaylen Walton shrinks the field for the offense, averaging 24.7 yards per kickoff return.
On the offensive line, senior Evan Swindall will assume the spot as the conference's top rated center to begin the 2013 season.
The Rebel defense last season featured some ball hawks with sophomore rover Denzel Nkemdiche who had four forced fumbles and led the defensive unit with 82 stops. Safety Cody Prewitt, a junior, added 80 tackles while senior MLB Mike Marry chipped in 78 stops.
Junior end C.J. Johnson had a team high of 6.5 sacks. That number should expand for the former five-star recruit.
The secondary is in good shape overall. Senquez Golson returns for his junior campaign at cornerback after making three interceptions in 2012. He is joined by senior corner Dehendret Collins who also had 3 picks. Golson is an interesting talent, previously drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 2011 MLB draft as a center fielder.
The 2013 signing class is what really has everyone buzzing about the Rebels. A national top six finish resulted this month after 17 of the '13 signees were ranked in the top 50 at their respective positions. Offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, DE Robert Nkemdiche (the nation's consensus top prep senior), WR Laquan Treadwell and safety Antonio Conner were ranked in the top three in the country at their positions.
Also added to this year's impressive haul is top 10 offensive tackle prospect Austin Golson (6'6-290), expected to form a terrific tackle tandem along with Tunsil. Freeze was able to swipe Golson right under the nose of Nick Saban out of Prattville, Alabama.
The defense received an immediate upgrade, along with Nkemdiche with the addition of JUCO DT Javon Hooks ( 6'4-290) out of NE Mississippi Community College. Hooks recorded 9.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss last season.
The offense corralled 4-star TE Christian Moore (6'4-255) who should see the field early in 2013.
The 2014 recruiting class is off to a fast start with four already committed. Highly-regarded running back D.K. Buford (5'10-200) pledged to the Rebels this weekend, joining big time safety prospect C.J. Hampton (6'1-190) already in the fold.
The exciting future looks even brighter at Ole Miss with 10 of the top 50 ranked players nationally listing the Rebels on their radar.
The big freeze of tough times for Ole Miss football appear to be over for the foreseeable future.
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