SDS kicks off a series looking in-depth at teams and their biggest subplots heading into 2014. Next up: Ole Miss Rebels.

SEC Subplots 2014:

1. This is the year
Ole Miss fans have had this year circled. Ever since Hugh Freeze electrified the country by landing Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Connor and Laquon Treadwell, among others, in 2013’s talented recruiting class, this was the year the Rebels were supposed to make some real noise. The Rebels return the SEC’s most experienced and active career leading passer, and they could have the biggest two emerging stars in Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche.

2. Bo Wallace
Speaking of the quarterback, Bo Wallace leads all current SEC career stats…by a mile. Wallace has thrown for 6,340 yards, and the next closest competitor has thrown for 3,270 yards in Kentucky’s Max Smith. That’s astounding. Wallace has thrown for 40 touchdowns and 27 INTs; both lead the SEC. So, while Wallace does have a gunslinger mentality and routinely forces passes, he has the tools necessary to become the SEC’s Offensive Player of the Year. Yeah, I said it. Should Ole Miss win 10 or more games, Wallace will be the biggest reason.

3. Consistent running game
With the loss of Jeff Scott, Ole Miss is still searching for their every-down running back. It looks like I’Tavius Mathers could become that player, with Jaylen Walton becoming a more situational player who can attack the edge. Nonetheless, Hugh Freeze’s offense must run to set up the pass, and the running game could determine how explosive the offense really will be this season. And how explosive the running game is will largely be determined by the offensive line.

4. Loaded defense with emerging stars
The biggest reason Ole Miss fans are feeling good about this season, outside of a senior quarterback, is that nasty defense. The Rebels will challenge anyone in the country for the best defensive line and secondary, headlined by defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and safety Cody Prewitt. Serderius Bryant is also a leader of the defense at linebacker, and finding the right pieces of Bryant, Denzel Nkemdiche, DT Shackelford and Tony Connor will be interesting to watch. Bryant and Nkemdiche are essentially the same style of linebacker, but neither can afford to be on the sideline.

SDS Takeaway: On paper, Ole Miss’ roster is just as elite as Alabama’s, LSU’s and Georgia’s, thanks to 2013’s recruiting class. The Rebels are very much a contender in the West, and they have the schedule to capitalize on it. Could this be the year Ole Miss makes a serious run at the Western Division? I can see it happening.