Ten reasons Ole Miss will win 10 games in 2014
Ole Miss is ranked No. 19 in the preseason USA Today Coaches’ Poll and is considered one of the most dangerous teams in the loaded SEC West.
Here’s 10 reasons why the Rebels will live up to expectations and win 10 games in 2014:
1. Defensive line: The Rebels enter the new season with one of the best defensive lines in the nation. Ole Miss returns its two leading sack artists from a year ago in defensive tackles Robert Nkemdiche and Issac Gross, and get defensive end C.J. Johnson back from injury after he missed the team’s last nine games in 2013. The addition of freshman Marquis Haynes adds even more depth to an already dangerous unit, which should give opposing offensive lines fits in the coming year.
2. Bo Wallace: Wallace enters this season with more career starts under his belt (26) than any other quarterback in the SEC. That experience will go a long way in the West division, especially as teams like Alabama and LSU turn the page with first-time starters under center. Wallace earned preseason All-SEC recognition and will have a major say in how productive the Rebels’ offense is this season. If he can stay sharp and minimize turnovers, Ole Miss could be well on its way to 10 wins.
3. Laquon Treadwell: Treadwell was a Freshman All-American a year ago after leading Ole Miss with 72 catches. He will take on a bigger role in 2014 with the departure of Donte Moncrief to the NFL, and has the size and ability to be a premier pass-catcher in the SEC. If Wallace and Treadwell find a rhythm, they could be the deadliest quarterback-receiver combination in the conference.
4. Cody Prewitt: Prewitt is the Rebels’ most talented player at any position heading into 2014. Last season, Prewitt registered 71 tackles and a team-high six interceptions on his way to first-team All-America honors, and this season he is the undisputed leader of the Ole Miss defense. Prewitt’s ability to limit big plays and force turnovers could ultimately determine whether this team is able to compete for 10 wins in the West division.
5. Tailback tandem: Ole Miss returns its top-two running backs in I’Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton, both of whom will have the opportunity to make an impact in the Rebels’ offense this season. Mathers is a more traditional tailback who ran for 593 yards at nearly six yards per carry in 2013. Walton, meanwhile, is more of a pass-catching tailback whose 29 receptions a season ago added a wrinkle out of the Ole Miss backfield. If these two backs can work in tandem another year, their varying skill sets could cause problems for opposing defenses in 2014.
6. Veteran defense: The Rebels return nine starters on defense including Prewitt, Nkemdiche and sixth-year senior linebacker Deterrian Shackelford. As a unit, Ole Miss knows what coaches like Nick Saban, Les Miles and even Dan Mullen like to run on offense, and they won’t be caught off guard in those games this season. The members of the defense know their roles and how those roles fit together. Their ability to limit opposing offenses will keep games close and allow the Ole Miss offense a greater margin for error this season.
7. Hugh Freeze’s recruiting: Freeze has a stellar recruiting record since arriving in Oxford, posting two top-20 classes in the last two years. Freeze’s recruiting tactics have not only stocked the roster with talent but have also changed the culture surrounding the program. The Rebels have the look and feel of an elite team, which is a credit to the type of players Freeze has brought in to fill his program. The next step in the program’s evolution would be a 10-win season, which could come this year.
8. Home field advantage: Playing in the SEC West means taking on a difficult schedule, but Ole Miss has one of the more favorable home schedules among teams in the West division. The Rebels will avoid the state of Alabama entirely this season as they play host to both ‘Bama and Auburn, and they’ll also take their turn hosting the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State in the final week of the season. Even the Rebels’ opening weekend game in Atlanta is far closer to Oxford than it is to their opponents from Boise. Ole Miss’ most difficult road games this season will be against LSU and Texas A&M, two teams Ole Miss played close in 2013 who are now replacing their starting quarterbacks in 2014. Again, no one said it would be easy, but as far SEC West schedules go Ole Miss’ could be far worse.
9. Momentum: The Rebels took a big step forward last season with a statement victory over LSU and a 25-17 victory in the Music City Bowl over Georgia Tech. Ole Miss lost games at Auburn and to Texas A&M by a combined 11 points, and those 11 points were all that stood between the Rebels and a 10-win season in 2013. Ole Miss knows 10 wins is possible, even in the SEC West, and the momentum and confidence it takes from last season will go a long way in deciding if it can get over the hump in 2014.
10. A little help from Lady Luck: As with any 10-win season in college football, Ole Miss will need its share of luck to reach double-digit wins in 2014. Great performances can be undone by an unlucky bounce of the ball, and legendary victories are often decided by a matter of inches. The Rebels have the talent in place to reach 10 wins this season, but they’ll need luck on their side to do it.