Mississippi football is back, and the program is getting set for its annual Red-Blue spring game on Saturday, April 13.
Hugh Freeze did a fine job getting the Rebels back to playing winning football in 2012 after the program imploded in Houston Nutt's final two seasons.
The SEC is the toughest conference in the nation, however, and it will take an all-hands-on-deck effort from Freeze, his staff and his players to continue improving on last year's 7-6 mark.
Thankfully, the team's defense will remain strong and cohesive, as almost all of last year's starters are returning. If Freeze's offense can continue to improve, the Rebels have a chance to earn a trip to one of the bigger bowls in December or January.
Here's what you need to know about the upcoming spring game.
Where: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, MS
When: Saturday, April 13 at 2:00 p.m. ET
TV: Comcast Sports South and ESPN 3
Position Battle to Watch: Reserve Running Back
Randall Mackey's departure leaves a huge hole in Freeze's offense.
Mackey wasn't just a reserve running back for the Rebels last year—the young man did a little bit of everything for Ole Miss. In addition to running the ball 79 times for 325 yards and four touchdowns, Mackey caught 25 passes for 346 yards and one touchdown and completed three passes for 59 yards and one touchdown.
That kind of production will be sorely missed, and it will be interesting to see which player steps up for Freeze to fill the void.
There are five young men who will be vying for this role: sophomore I'Tavius Mathers, sophomore Jaylen Walton, freshman Mark Dodson, freshman speedster Kailo Moore and freshman Derrick Jones.
Moore and Jones won't be part of the mix at the spring game, as they weren't early enrollees, but Mathers, Walton and Dodson will be there competing.
It will serve them well to impress at the spring game because Moore is one of the incoming freshman who will likely push for playing time in 2013.
Area In Need of Most Improvement: Passing Efficiency
Bo Wallace won't be participating in the spring game while he recovers from recent shoulder surgery.
Reserve quarterbacks Barry Brunetti and Maikhail Miller will run the team's offense at the spring game, but there's no doubt Wallace will be the team's starter once the regular season begins.
Wallace has the tools to be an elite quarterback, but last year he displayed questionable decision-making with 17 interceptions. He also struggled with inaccuracy—especially against top defenses—and he'll need to improve in both areas.
For the season, Wallace's numbers were average. He completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 2,994 yards with 22 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
Missing time on the practice field with his shoulder injury could be challenging, but there's a lot Wallace can learn and improve upon if he's spending his time wisely in the film room.
What to Expect in 2013
Fans of the Rebels should expect another up-and-down year.
Mississippi faces stiff road tests at Texas, Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State and hosts Texas A&M, LSU and Missouri. All seven of these contests could realistically result in losses, and it'll take a stellar effort to produce wins.
If Wallace can up his game considerably, however, Ole Miss has a chance to shock the SEC.
The team's defense must do better this year than it did last year for this to happen, though, as the Rebels allowed 27.6 points per game in 2012.
Freeze seems to have this program headed in the right direction. It's up to his players to execute the game plan, however.
A realistic expectation for Ole Miss in 2013 is another 7-6 record, and anything better would be a pleasant surprise.
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