Final SEC Rankings: Ole Miss is on the rise

NCAA Football: Music City Bowl-Mississippi vs Georgia Tech

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:

14. Arkansas
13. Kentucky
12. Florida 
11. Tennessee
10. Ole Miss
9. Mississippi State
8. Georgia
7. Vanderbilt
6. Texas A&M
5. LSU
4. Alabama
3. South Carolina
2. Missouri
1. Auburn

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.

Photo Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

REFERENCES

COMMENTS

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  • I completely agree, but I think I am pretty sure Ole Miss is turning the corner and is going to start competing for the West. I’m not saying they will win it, but they are going to be a team that is in the conversation year in and year out now. Hugh Freeze and his staff have proved that they can recruit the best players and that is very important. i do think Ole Miss is better than 10th in the SEC this year.

    • They better get control of their players actions off the field. Looks like OM has the inmates running the asylum.

      • One is certainly serious if it proves to be true. The other 3 all had to do with drinking. They’re college kids for Christ’s sake. They’re going to have a little fun in the off-season. I’m just glad that none of them are drug or gun related charges that do get very serious.

  • I disagree with Mississippi State being ranked at #9 and ahead of Ole Miss. They did win the Egg Bowl in part thanks to a very poor performance by Bo Wallace. Moreover, they didn’t win any meaningful games other than the Egg Bowl. If you look at each team’s wins, Ole Miss clearly had the better season. Beating the likes of Arkansas, Kentucky, and Rice doesn’t really validate the hype surrounding them in 2014. They are essentially the same team minus Gabe Jackson, Denico Autry, and Nickoe Whitley. Thus, they lost three legitimate SEC players without replacing them with equal talent. So, I’m not understanding your logic. One loss doesn’t overshadow a team’s body of work for the entire season.

    • You obviously didn’t watch MSU the last 4 games of the season. The defense improved tremendously and the offense was able to improve though Prescott was injured and essentially beat ole miss with a freshman qb seeing his first play. They manhandled ole miss on both lines and had Prescott been in the entire game it wouldn’t have been a game. This list was put together by someone who saw that MSU grew to be a better team at the end of the year than OM was. Regardless of the overall record, they played Bama close and if they could have gotten one stop they could have beat a&m. Look for the momentum to continue and MSU to have a top three defense his season.

      • And, it amazes me how the rebel faithful see the loss to MSU as simply a bad game for Wallace as though the MSU defense had nothing to do with it. Get over yourselves and realize that OM is not necessarily a better program than MSU. You might win the party and win the recruiting (in your eyes) but winning on the field is where it’s at. OM is on the rise but no more than MSU and if MSU goes into to oxford and wins it will be Katy bar the door.

    • I completely agree with you. It took Ole Miss to play it’s worst game of the year by far and one of MSU’s best to beat Ole Miss. There is a lot hype for MSU going into this upcoming season, I think they will be a good team, but not a team deserving of a lot of hype. At least not until they can beat some not named Ole Miss. I don’t think they will be a push over or anything. I do believe the SEC and the West in general is going to very interesting to watch this season. Because so many teams are replacing QBs and a lot of productive players. It will be interesting to see how all of that plays out.

      • Both programs are trying to achieve the same goals and that is to at least be in the mix for the west if all other teams normally up there are down. For either of us to even be in the running for the west it will take a&m, Bama, LSU and auburn to be in a down cycle. It’s all about continuing to get depth and in my eyes we are both on equal ground but we have been fortunate to win the games between us lately.

        • I can agree with your last post. But i don’t think that’s entirely true that Ole Miss or MSU can only compete for the West if Bama, LSU, Auburn, and A&m are down. I’m speaking for Ole Miss when i say that Ole Miss will be able to compete year in and year out because they are recruiting well enough that teams like Bama and LSU aren’t going to be able to beat Ole Miss just with their talent because Ole Miss is going to have just as much talent on the field. Ole Miss is proving that when it comes to getting talented players, that they can recruit with anyone now days.

        • We’ll, if you think that OM can compete for the west when these teams aren’t on down cycles then you are not in touch with reality. Yes you have had a couple of good recruiting years and OM will be much more competitive but no matter how many good recruits you get you still have to coach them up. Stars don’t mean everything and OM will never be on the level of Bama and a&m or LSU when it comes to recruiting on a regular basis.

    • Let’s see. Ole Miss beat LSU by a field goal and that’s about it. The hype for us is we have a legitimate QB that is being coached amazingly and will continue to develop tremendously along with more returning (talented) starters than 4/5 of the conference. We played Alabama, A&M, LSU (up until the 4th), and (especially) Auburn really close, and Ole Miss wouldn’t have been a contest if Dak Prescott was in the whole time. We have an easier schedule, and the teams we do play are losing key elements. Believe the hype, because it’s about to get real.

        • I do believe that Prescott is a stud. He finished #10 in QBR while Bo Wallace finshed #28. That being said, MSU is a solid team; however, I just don’t believe that they have one position group that is better than Ole Miss. Let’s take a position by position synopsis.
          QB: Push- (Prescott has more upside, but Wallace is the more proven commodity experience wise.)
          RB- Advantage Ole Miss- ( MSU loses Perkins while Ole Miss returns a stable of talented tailbacks)
          WR/TE- Push- ( If Moncrief had stayed, I would have given the advantage to Ole Miss.)
          O-Line- Advantage Ole Miss- (Both teams lost starters; however Ole Miss is more talented, but both lack depth. MSU returns Day, Clayborn, Clausell, and Malone but needs others to take a big leap. Ole Miss returns Tunsil, Morris, Golson, Bell, and adds Cooper and Taylor. Ole Miss will be thin as well, but I give the talent edge to them because Tunsil and Morris if healthy have All-SEC potential)
          D-Line- Advantage Ole Miss (MSU loses Autry leaving question marks at rush end and defensive tackle. Chris Jones and Preston Smith are studs, but Nick James, P.J. Jones, and Kaleb Eulls have to show major growth. Ole Miss returns Nkemdiche, Johnson, Gross (who will go throug his first full off-season program), and adds Fadol Brown. This unit has more depth in comparison to MSU. Injuries last year allowed for a lot of PT to go around.)
          Linebacker- Push (McKinney is one of the top SEC linebackers and Wells, B. Brown, and R. Brown are athletic options who need experience. Ole Miss returns All SEC linebackers D. Nkemdiche and S. Bryant. They also add Christian Russel who with K. Lewis will fill the void left by Mike Marry)
          Cornerbacks- Push -( Both secondaries are young and inconsistent at times. Love, Calhoun, and Jiles are good but not great for MSU. The same can be said of Golson, Hilton, and Jones for Ole Miss. The wildcard is if Tee Shepard can qualify.)
          Safeties- Advantage Ole Miss- ( Cox, Arrington, Market,and Hughes are a solid group for MSU. Ole Miss though is loaded at this position with Prewitt (All-SEC), Conner, Elston, Brown, Alford (may start), and Hampton.
          Note: Feel free to debate. I look forward to both teams having great seasons. Both teams are equally matched, but I do believe Ole Miss currently has a slim talent and depth advantage. The great equalizer is the QB, though, so both seasons depend on the growth and maturation of Wallace and Prescott.

        • Very true. Quarterback is key. If Wallace improves and drastically cuts down on interceptions and such, Ole Miss will be a threat. Prescott may not have the experience, but rare running capabilities and raw talent and potential will propel him to the next level in 2014. (love your comparisons, by the way;) It’ll be fun to see these two teams play in November, no?

      • I think you have lost touch with reality, Ole Miss was in every game it played in except for the Bama game. MSU doesn’t have a good coach and isn’t getting the same caliber of players that Ole Miss is getting. Just because ya’ll think Prescott is going to be a good QB doesn’t mean anything. When MSU beats someone besides Ole Miss, then maybe you can start to talk some, but until then MSU hasn’t done anything.

        • Yes, this will be one of the more hyped Egg Bowls in recent memory. Also @ArmyGuy007, I don’t think Mullen is a bad coach. He has done really well given the difficulties that come with his job. He has truly been a great talent developer. That being said, not enough State fans give Freeze credit for turning around a train-wreck of a program in just two years. He has recruited well and added much needed depth. He inherited a roster deficient in SEC caliber players and performed nothing short of a miracle in a brief time period.

        • Army guy, I don’t get it! You keep making the argument that OM is the better team and that State doesn’t have a coach. However you also say that we have to beat someone besides OM to get justification that they are improving. Not getting the same caliber of players? Talk about being out of touch. Just so you know, the number of stars a player has beside his name is not the only evaluation tool used when picking a recruit. Character is also considered and in my opinion that’s where freeze doesn’t have a clue.

  • Wow. I see these posts devolved into a “my dad can beat up your dad argument”. I think the article’s assessment of our team is fair. The 2 losses at the end stung, but we finished with an 8-win season, a bowl win, and another solid recruiting haul. We’re moving in the right direction. Also, for those bickering above, it’s completely fair to rank State’s season ahead of ours since they beat us. That sucked, but I will definitely take our program’s momentum over theirs. Hotty Toddy!