After Strong Start, Ole Miss Poised to Play Dark Horse in the SEC
by Sammy Burch
Welcome to the SEC, where seemingly every year more teams start in the preseason rankings. The current AP Top 25 rankings feature seven SEC teams, including five in the top 12. Among those teams are Alabama, the back-to-back BCS champions which return its starting quarterback and a strong defense, Texas A&M, which features Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, and South Carolina, which boasts college football's most intimidating defensive threat in Jadeveon Clowney.
Photo by Srgragg via Wikicommons
Some experts are quick to crown Alabama as a prohibitive favorite, but less heralded SEC teams aren't backing down. Texas A&M exposed holes in Alabama's defense last weekend even though it couldn't upset the top-ranked team in the nation. A familiar SEC foe is next up for the Crimson Tide. Fresh off of a surprising seven-win season last year, the Ole Miss Rebels and second-year coach Hugh Freeze entered the 2013 season riding a wave of momentum. After a 3-0 start, the Rebels' confidence couldn't be higher as it prepares for next week's game against Alabama. With a healthy starting quarterback, strong recruiting class and a favorable schedule, Ole Miss is poised to be the underdog who rises in the SEC.
Rebels Rise in 2012
No one expected much during Hugh Freeze's first season as Ole Miss head coach last year, but the offensive guru led an explosive attack, particularly in non-conference games. Quarterback Bo Wallace played through pain for most of the season, but he still managed to throw 22 touchdowns. Not only did Ole Miss win six regular season games, it also proved itself against the toughest SEC competition. The Rebels led by 10 in the fourth quarter against Texas A&M before letting the win slip away. Ole Miss also played well against the eventual champions Alabama, losing 33-14 in a game that was closer than the score indicates. It's 6-6 regular season record made Ole Miss bowl eligible for the first time since 2009, and the Rebels thrashed Pittsburgh 38-17.
A Stellar Incoming Class
Part of Ole Miss' 2013 hopes rest in its stellar recruiting class, which Rivals.com declared seventh best in the nation. The class is headlined by Robert Nkemdiche, a 6'5", 260 lb defensive end who many experts believe to be the best incoming player in the country. Nkemdiche, along with fellow blue-chip recruits Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil, should be able to contribute immediately. Ole Miss returned more starters than any other SEC team, and with this infusion of talent, you would expect them to build on its successful 2012. Welcome to dark horse status. The Rebels are still looking up to teams with Championship pedigrees, but the SEC is renowned for its parity. With this amount of talent, Ole Miss can beat any team on any day.
The Schedule Sets Up
With a slew of tough away games to start conference play, Ole Miss will need to hit the ground running if it wants to make noise in the SEC. Last week's win at Texas gives the Rebels much needed confidence heading into its next conference game at Alabama. If you don't have coverage of these early season clashes, www.direct.tv
can provide you with all of the marquee college football match-ups. If Ole Miss fans are looking for a glimmer of hope against the Crimson Tide, consider this: Hugh Freeze and his staff have two full weeks to prepare for Alabama, who plays Colorado State this before it takes on the Rebels. Alabama has hit its stride late in the season under Nick Saban, so if anyone's going to beat Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium, it will probably be early in the year. Most of Ole Miss' home games come during the second half of the season, when the Rebels hope to be in contention for an SEC West title.