How will Hugh Freeze’s Ole Miss Rebels fare in 2013?
Excitement around Ole Miss football is greater than it’s been since Eli guided the Rebels to a tie for the SEC West crown in 2003.
On the heels of Houston Nutt’s 2-10 (0-8 SEC) campaign in 2011 and a 4-8 (1-7 SEC) record in 2010, newly appointed Head Coach Hugh Freeze all but turned water into wine in 2012. In his first year on the job, Freeze guided the Rebels to an unthinkable 7-6 (3-5 SEC) season.
Looking Back, Looking Forward
At the beginning of last season, fans would have been pleased with three or four wins overall and maybe one or two SEC victories. However, they got much more: seven wins, a convincing Egg Bowl victory and a surprising recruiting class for 2013.
Not only did the Rebels snap a 16-game SEC skid and earn a bowl berth for the first time since the 2009 season, but they also went toe-to-toe against SEC heavyweights.
Holding late-game leads against Texas A&M and Vanderbilt in 2012, Freeze’s club just wasn’t able to close the deal in Year 1.
Further, there were only three games in which Freeze’s kids were truly outmatched from a talent standpoint: Texas, Alabama and Georgia.
If there’s one thing the Rebel faithful have come to learn over the years, it’s simply to expect the unexpected. Last season was the perfect example, and I'd caution the same for this season.
Expectations This Fall
So, what type of expectations should fans have for the 2013 Ole Miss Football Rebels?
First and foremost, expect to see a confident bunch. Winning solves a lot of problems, and Rebel players finally got to experience that feeling in 2012. It's contagious, and they'll be even hungrier this fall.
Second, expect to see a team better equipped to close out games. With near misses against Texas A&M, Vandy and LSU last year, Freeze’s club also experienced the heartache of close losses.
As heart-wrenching as each of those losses were to Ole Miss fans, coaches and players felt the pain much, much more. A heavy emphasis from the coaching staff will be on finishing each game strong.
Next, expect more depth on both sides of the ball. A major reason the Rebels couldn’t close out games last season was lack of depth. With starters having played the majority of minutes the first three quarters, there was mental and physical exhaustion late in games. It was almost expected.
Between reserves stepping up and showing coaches they’re ready to contribute in 2013 and select minutes from an incredibly talented recruiting class, maintaining fourth-quarter leads should be less difficult.
Newcomers Must Adjust to SEC Football
Speaking of Freeze’s epic recruiting class, fans have to remember that most of these recruits are fresh out of high school. While coaches will likely work players like RB Mark Dodson and the “fab four” consensus five-star recruits (DE Robert Nkemdiche, S Tony Conner, WR Laquon Treadwell and OT Laremy Tunsil) into the mix slowly throughout the season, there will be an SEC learning curve for even the most talented of the class.
There’s an abundance of top-to-bottom class potential, but the majority will take a little time to develop at the college level. That's not to say a player like Nkemdiche or Treadwell won't break out and have a kind of season like South Carolina defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney had in 2012.
Last but not least, continue to expect the unexpected.
Taking a Look at the Schedule
When reviewing the 2013 schedule, most fans will quickly circle Southeast Missouri State (SEMO), Auburn, Idaho, Troy and Missouri as five “automatic wins.” While SEMO, Idaho and Troy should be no real trouble, Auburn and Missouri look vastly better than they did in 2012.
After marking five “for sure” wins, the majority of fans will feel two wins is entirely possible against Vanderbilt, Arkansas or Mississippi State. By the casual fan’s analysis, wins over the Commodores and Razorbacks propel Ole Miss to seven regular-season wins.
Last, contests against Texas, Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU will be considered.
Despite the Rebels' 66-31 loss in front of their home crowd last season, most of the country feels Texas isn’t the Texas of old. Mack Brown played as many true freshmen as anyone last year, and the Longhorns still went 9-4. With players more seasoned in 2013, expect an even tougher game when the Rebels travel to Austin.
As for home games against Texas A&M and LSU in back-to-back weeks, revenge will be the themes of those weeks. In two agonizingly close games last year, the Aggies and Tigers both escaped with wins over Ole Miss.
It’s safe to assume the Johnny Rebs take at least one of these three outings, with LSU likely being the popular choice. However, with the myriad of problems Johnny Football is bringing on himself, a win over Texas A&M may rank right up there with the LSU pick.
So, Ole Miss fans at-large predict eight-regular season wins: Southeast Missouri State (SEMO), Auburn, Idaho, Troy, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Arkansas and LSU. That’s good for an 8-4 record (5-3 SEC) and a trip to a warm weather bowl game.
Will the chips fall just like that in 2013? It’s certainly possible but not likely.
In an effort to maintain a united fanbase and keep the positive vibe alive and well, Rebel fans just need to temper the great expectations in Year 2 of the Freeze era. That’s absolutely not to say it won’t be another successful season on the gridiron. In fact, I personally feel it will be a great year.
The Big Picture
In conclusion, there are four things Ole Miss fans should expect in 2013: a season-long “never quit” attitude among the team, at least one unexpected win and loss, the commitment of a few top 2014 recruits and finally a second consecutive bowl bid.
The 2013 season will be another excellent one for Ole Miss, as long as we simply sit back and enjoy the play of this talented team.