Published August 15, 2012 - 11:50am
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Ole Miss has fallen on hard times.
In two seasons, the Rebels have gone from back-to-back nine-win seasons including a pair of Cotton Bowl wins to 18 losses in 24 games. Since getting all the way to No. 4 in the AP Poll during the 2009 season, a once prolific offense can’t produce and national notoriety is non-existent.
What happened to those Rebels that consistently threatened SEC West big wigs Alabama and LSU? The ones during a two-year window that most folks picked as a national champion sleeper?
Ole Miss may not be equipped with a trio it once had — Jevan Snead, Dexter McCluster and Shay Hodge — but there’s still talent in Oxford. First-year coach Hugh Freeze inherits a group thirsty for respect. Facing what could be the toughest schedule in the country, Arkansas State’s former leading man has a lot of work to do and athletes to find.
There are key positions to figure out too.
Junior quarterbacks Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti are in the middle of a heated battle for the starting job against Central Arkansas on Sept. 1, the only “gimme” on the Rebels’ schedule. Last year’s quarterback, Randall Mackey, will be used at running back and wide receiver to take advantage of his playmaking ability. He joins sophomore Donte Moncrief, who is the budding star in the program.
In all, Ole Miss returns 17 starters to a team that crumbled down the stretch last season when it became evident Houston Nutt was on his way out. The Rebels were within striking distance of BYU, Georgia and Arkansas at the halfway point before losing by at least two touchdowns to each opponent (including La. Tech) the final five weeks of the season.
Perhaps Freeze could help Ole Miss avoid a similar fate despite the schedule being just as treacherous this fall. If the offense turns the tides on a minus-8 turnover differential and improves on its 34 sacks allowed, the Rebels could come away with three, possibly four, September wins. The SEC gauntlet begins Sept. 29 at Alabama, however, and is followed by trips to Arkansas, Georgia and LSU.
Based on schedule, let’s project a best-case scenario for the Rebels this season:
Sept. 1 Central Arkansas, WIN
Sept. 8 UTEP, WIN
Sept. 15 Texas, LOSS
Sept. 22 at Tulane, WIN
Sept. 29 at Alabama, LOSS
Oct. 6 Texas A&M, WIN
Oct. 13 Auburn, LOSS
Oct. 27 at Arkansas, LOSS
Nov. 3 at Georgia, LOSS
Nov. 10 Vanderbilt, WIN
Nov. 17 at LSU, LOSS
Nov. 24 Miss. St., WIN
With a little luck (and splitting games against A&M and Auburn), Ole Miss can end the regular season 6-6 overall with three wins in the SEC. That should be good enough for a bowl berth and an improvement from 2011. If Vegas was involved, the Rebels are likely underdogs in nine games this season.
The Rebels are the only team from the SEC West without a trip to the conference title game and it’ll be a long time before the program is good enough to get there. Freeze is building a foundation and with that comes trials and tribulations.
Realistically, there will be highs — but mainly lows — for Ole Miss this season.