Ole Miss comes in at No. 10 Saturday Down South’s final SEC rankings, an unrivaled look at how the league’s 14 programs fared last season based on preseason expectations, on-field success, coaching stability, recruiting and program momentum.
Final SEC Rankings of 2013:
Enjoy the debate.
10. Ole Miss (8-5, 3-5)
Two years removed from a dreadful 10-loss season that sent Houston Nutt packing, the Rebels appear revitalized under Hugh Freeze with an exciting offense led by rising senior quarterback Bo Wallace and a roster filled with budding stars. Had it not been for a November slide prior to a Music City Bowl victory, Ole Miss was in line to be the conference’s sixth team with a double-digit win total. Eight victories is certainly respectable and even enticing for a fanbase starving for an annual winner.
On-field performance: B; Fast-paced offense thrives
Wins at Texas and home against sixth-ranked LSU were crucial toward the upward ascension of the Ole Miss program under Freeze on a national scale, but an overtime loss to Mississippi State scaled back an otherwise impressive campaign. The Rebels went 3-5 against SEC competition with three of those losses coming to Top 10 teams and another to Auburn on Oct. 5 when the Tigers hadn’t yet hit their stride.
With a number of speedy playmakers under six-feet, Ole Miss picked up yards in chunks with Freeze’s up-tempo pace and caused confusion for opposing defenses with a variety of formations and dual quarterbacks. Wallace was effective as a mobile passer with 3,346 yards and 18 touchdowns to go along with six scores on the ground.
He’s one of three returning quarterbacks in the West next season — Nick Marshall, Dak Prescott — with all-league potential. Had it not been for red zone deficiencies against Mizzou and sporadic, turnover-prone play during the Thanksgiving rivalry tilt with the Bulldogs, Ole Miss would’ve finished Top 5 in the SEC in several offensive categories. Regardless, 473.3 yards per game was better than 101 other Division I-A teams in college football including Alabama, South Carolina, Louisville and Oklahoma State.
Expectations: B-; Historic freshman class brought unrealistic hype
You can thank true freshman standouts Robert Nkemdiche and Laquon Treadwell for unnecessary preseason sunshine pumping in Oxford at a program not accustomed to elite signing classes. The pair of five-stars along with a couple other top-ranked players almost simultaneously turned Ole Miss into an SEC West ‘dark horse’, unfair expectations for a squad coming off a 7-6 season.
The newcomers no doubt provided a spark for the Rebels, but a bottom of the pack finish — despite eight wins overall — in college football’s most competitive division tempered the buzz. Eight SEC teams won more games during league play, but few provided as much effort as the Rebels displayed.
RELATED: Ole Miss regular season recap
Let’s wait until Ole Miss becomes a consistent threat against the SEC’s top teams before crowning the Rebels as a division favorite. There’s no doubt a loaded-roster will put Freeze’s team in the mix this fall, but top-shelf expectations in 2013 came a year too early.
Coaching: B; Eight wins is a mark to build on
Give Freeze and his well-selected staff of assistants credit — Ole Miss didn’t fall flat on its face when facing gargantuan preseason expectations. While a shutout loss to Alabama was humbling for the 44-year old coach who last worked at Arkansas State prior to Gus Malzahn’s arrival, the division rivalry game itself had meaning and that’s a welcomed feeling for the Rebels.
Ole Miss was bowl-bound for a second consecutive season and hovered in and around the Top 25 throughout. During a strong postseason effort, the Rebels built a 23-7 lead on Georgia Tech in the final quarter before holding on to win. Sophomore backs Jaylen Walton and I’Tavius Mathers continued to see more action down the stretch as they were intertwined as important pieces of Freeze’s speed-first attack. That added workload will benefit the twin home run threats this spring.
Freeze inked a one-year extension to his current four-year deal in December.
Recruiting: B+; Solid class for West riser
The Rebels didn’t have to leave the state of Mississippi for 14 of its 25 signees, hand-picking a slew of the area’s top prospects who the coaching staff views as potential stars. Headlining this year’s class is 305-pound guard Roderick Taylor out of Jackson and hard-hitting safety C.J. Hampton, a lanky 6-foot-1 standout from Meridian. Offensive line is a position of need for Ole Miss and the Rebels lured four to Oxford during this cycle.
RELATED: Ole Miss’ National Signing Day recap
Twin brothers Alvin and Calvin Moore were Miss. St. and Southern Miss targets before the Rebels convinced the athletic pair from Bassfield High to commit. Alvin’s listed as an inside linebacker while Calvin’s expected to utilize his 4.35 speed in some fashion on offense and special teams.
A National Signing Day snafu by Florida running back D.J. Law forced the Rebels to release him from his LOI after he had also signed with Utah. There were questions of whether or not Law would qualify in Oxford, but Freeze and his staff were willing to overlook those challenges before Law signed with the Rebels and the Utes.
Program momentum: B+; Rebels could be turning corner
Coaches at all levels often to refer to “Jimmys and Joes” being more important than the “Xs and Os”, but at Ole Miss, the Rebels have both. There’s reason for excitement on the Grove with a likable head coach and a current different caliber of athlete than what the program’s had in the past. To compete in the SEC Arms Race with Alabama, LSU and now Auburn and Texas A&M, it starts with talent and Ole Miss is continuing to restock its arsenal.
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