Has Ole Miss peaked, and is trouble ahead?
When you head into the offseason, everyone is optimistic about next year. And with good reason. The slate is clean and it’s not possible to go out and lose a game until September.
But when you look at the big picture, often looking back is just as important as looking ahead. And at Ole Miss, this question has to be asked: Did the Rebels blow their window of opportunity?
Three years ago, Hugh Freeze talked stud five-star recruits Laremy Tunsil, Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Tony Conner into coming to Oxford.
According to the 247Sports Composite rankings, there were seven four-star recruits in that 30-person recruiting class as well — players like Evan Engram, Quincy Adeboyejo and Fadol Brown.
Big things were expected of the Rebels. Very big things
They’ve had plenty of success – their 27 wins over that three-year span is the most in school history since the 1959-to-1961 seasons – but there’s also been major disappointments as well.
So have they peaked? Is this as good as it gets?
Let’s look a few parts of that equation a little more closely:
Failing to capitalize on beating Alabama – twice!
It takes a heck of a lot to clear the Alabama hurdle in the SEC. But Freeze and the guys have been up to the task these last two years, beating the Crimson Tide in both 2014 and 2015 seasons. That’s the first time in school history that they’ve beaten Alabama in consecutive years, which is an amazing statistic itself.
But what did they have to show for it? Absolutely nothing, other than bragging rights on that specific Saturday. Both seasons, with head-to-head tiebreaker in hand over Alabama, the Rebels couldn’t close out the deal and earn their first-ever trip to Atlanta as the winner of the SEC West.
There’s a bit of a built-in excuse for 2014. That team was still pretty young in a lot of spots and that win over Alabama was considered a bit more shocking. Certainly the 2015 win was an upset too, but with Chad Kelly at QB and Treadwell back being healthy, no one howled over the Rebels No. 3 ranking. They looked like a legitimate playoff contender.
But bad losses to Florida and Memphis sent them plummeting in the polls and that wild overtime loss to Arkansas basically cost them the West and the trip to Atlanta.
This year, it got away from them.
Let’s remember where they came from – and who they are
Before Freeze arrived in 2012, his two predecessors (Houston Nutt and Ed Orgeron) each were run out of town after having winless SEC seasons. There’s no way to sugarcoat 0-8. The Rebels were that bad.
So what Freeze has done has bordered on incredible, turning things around so quickly. He’s been able to convince five-star recruits – and a lot of them, at that – to come to Ole Miss. And even though the 2013 guys leave without an SEC title, there are more five-stars on the way.
Freeze has set the table, and Ole Miss can became a destination for the top recruits. He’s beaten Alabama for kids the Tide really, really wanted. He’s beaten Georgia and LSU too, and the national teams that keep raiding the south like Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan.
When you look at those seven teams in the SEC West, it takes something special for the two Mississippi schools to get to the top. Let’s not forget that Ole Miss hasn’t won an SEC title since 1963 and Mississippi State has only won one, way back in 1941. Neither has any interest in being perennial cellar-dwellers and being the whipping boys for the Alabamas and Auburns and LSUs of the world.
They’ve overcome serious odds, both of them. And the Rebels look to be in good shape for years to come.
Going forward, is there a run still in them?
Of course there is. I’ve had some debate looking ahead and a few people said they would vote Ole Miss fifth in the SEC West next year, behind Alabama and LSU, and even behind Arkansas and Auburn.
Me, I don’t see it. Especially if Chad Kelly stays.
Granted, I’ve been on this Rebels bandwagon all year and I love watching them play. I loved how they closed out the season after the bitter OT loss to Arkansas, playing great in wins against LSU, Mississippi State and Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl.
Sure, they’re losing a lot of talent but there’s plenty coming in, too. I think they’ve learned a lot about trying to stay consistent from start to finish in a season. I think they play with confidence against Alabama, something that very few schools can say these days.
So is there another win in them? Absolutely. Yeah, they missed the boat on a golden opportunity this year – and wouldn’t it have been fun to see what the College Football Playoff committee would have done with a two-loss SEC champion Ole Miss team – but there are more chances ahead.
I will stand by my high dysfunction quotients at LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn, and Arkansas and Mississippi State each have a ton of skill-position people to replace. I wouldn’t put it past Freeze and the Rebels to win the SEC West next year.
I’m in the minority, I’m sure. That’s OK. They’ve got a winning formula at Ole Miss right now and I don’t see it going away anytime soon.
Trending downward now? No way.