SEC subplots: Is Ole Miss a dark-horse contender in the West?

NCAA Football: Ole Miss at LSU

SDS kicks off a series looking in-depth at teams and their biggest subplots heading into 2013. Up next: Ole Miss.

SEC Subplots

1. A year early?

Ole Miss’ expectations should be high this season. Hugh Freeze sent shockwaves around the SEC when he transformed a 2-10 team into a 7-6 bowl-winning, up-and-coming program. I penned this gem back in February, asking whether this team is a legit contender for the Western crown. We’re probably a year premature, but with 18 returning starters and the success of second-year head coaches, I could see Ole Miss moving into that second or third slot in the West. The Rebels host both LSU and Texas A&M this season after almost pulling the upset card last year. It could happen, and I believe we’re only a year away from the Rebels being a legit contender in the division.

2. Impact recruiting class

The success on the field didn’t stop there. The Ice Man went ahead and inked a top five recruiting class that features top prospect Robert Nkemdiche and two other top players in Laremy Tunsil and Laquon Treadwell. Of all the new signees, I look for Nkemdiche, Lavon Hooks, Treadwell and Tony Connor to have the biggest impact. But don’t forget about running back Mark Dodson, who showed out this spring. That’s five to watch for, but I have a feeling Tunsil is going to find playing time. He’s too talented.

3. ‘Sunshine’ Wallace

Ole Miss will go as far as Bo Wallace takes them this season. He was up and down last year with 22 TDs and 17 INTs, but he has talent all around him. He’s a seasoned starter now, and the speed of the game should slow way down from last season. Wallace dominated JUCO, and he has the ability to be the most improved player in the SEC. How high can he take the Rebels’ offense?

4. All about the defense

The bad news is the Rebels’ defense lost two defensive tackles in Gilbert Pena and Uriah Grant. The good news is they got better by adding Lavon Hooks and Robert Nkemdiche, not to mention they return CJ Johnson, Channing Ward, Isaac Gross and Cameron Whigham. The linebackers are deep, headlined by Denzel Nkemdiche and Mike Marry. The secondary still concerns me. They finished 11th best in the conference but return all four starters. If DBs Trae Elston and Senquez Golson can show marked improvement, the sky is the limit for this unit and team.

SDS takeaway: I love the direction this program is headed entering 2013. The key to the entire season is week one against Vanderbilt. The Rebels beat Vandy, and they are set up for a very successful season. Regardless, winning less than eight regular games is a down year, and this team looks to be loading up for an epic 2014 season.

Photo Credit: Beth Hall-US PRESSWIRE

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COMMENTS

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  • I know PCB Rebel thinks that I am too harsh with Ole Miss, and I might be to a certain extent. Of course the program has taken a turn for the better, and it’s all because a solid coaching staff. If they continue to reel in recruiting classes like they did back in February, they’ll become contenders quickly. Recruiting combined with productive coaching will take you far in football, and the Rebels seem to be on the right track. But (hear me out), they’ve been at the threshold of being a contender before, and have come up short. The Rebs could be a top contender next year, but their future success depends greatly on their production this season. It’s easier for schools like UF and LSU to bounce back after underachieving seasons because they’re already established brands. Schools like Ole Miss and Arkansas are still fighting to be established. It is crucial for the Rebels season to find a way to win in Week 1 against Vanderbilt, which won’t be easy (my knock on Vanderbilt is this – Franklin has been tremendous in two seasons at the helm, but he also had Rodgers as his QB in those two seasons). After that, they’ll have to find a way to get at least one win over the Big 3 in the West – Alabama, Texas A&M, or LSU, again no easy task. The Rebs will also have to play better against Texas, after giving up 66 points to pretty mediocre team a year ago. Games against Auburn, Miss State, and Missouri should result in victories, but they have potential to be close. And although OM had the chance to win big games last year, let’s not forget that their wins only came against Arkansas, UTEP, Tulane, Auburn, Central Arkansas, Miss State, and Pittsburgh (not a résumé to hang your hat on). Ole Miss should have a pretty talented defensive line, but they may have some trouble in the secondary – not a good thing when playing Alabama or A&M. They’ll have a good cast of WRs, but are still lacking at TE. They will also have to find quick replacements on the offensive line, mainly for AJ Hawkins. Also, both kickers have been lost to graduation. The Ole Miss program is on the verge of being extremely competive in the conference, but they need a solid season to keep the momentum moving forward. And I’m not sure how many wins it will take to keep that momentum (I’ll say 8 or 9). The Rebs have the potential, and they could turn some heads, but I will remain skeptical until they prove otherwise.

    • Very fair assessment. That’s the first time I’ve seen you post anything about Ole Miss without it containing a completely sarcastic undertone. I appreciate that. I’m looking forward to this season. With our quirky schedule (thanks Mike Slive), I could see us being markedly improved & still only win 7 games. We’ll see. I still think it’ll be 2014 before we can start considering our team as a West contender. I do believe we have the coach that can do it though. Hotty Toddy!

    • You’ve said a lot of true things. But losing kickers to graduation is not one of them. We red-shirted our “star” kickers so they could play this year. Though, I’m sure your time spent over that comment was not fully weighing on kickers, I just wanted to clear that up.