Why Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace Could Be the SEC Breakout Player of 2013

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistAugust 20, 2013

"You're afraid of making mistakes. Don't be. Mistakes can be profited by. Man, when I was young I shoved my ignorance in people's faces. They beat me with sticks. By the time I was forty my blunt instrument had been honed to a fine cutting point for me. If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you'll never learn."

        –Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Bo Wallace led the nation with 17 interceptions last year, the elephant on a stat line that was otherwise semi-elite. Then just a sophomore, he led the SEC by four picks, finishing as far away from second-place Tyler Wilson (13) as Wilson did from eventual Heisman winner Johnny Manziel (nine).

Any way you slice it, no matter how good Wallace looked at times in 2012, his propensity for picks put a threshold on how good he (and by extension Ole Miss) could be.

But in 2013, Wallace should reap the fruit of those faults. He should be older and wiser and braver—but less rash. Coach Hugh Freeze wasn't afraid to let him make mistakes last season, allowing defenses to beat him with veritable sticks.

And now, because of that, he has been allowed to learn.

First, it's important to sort through some misconceptions. Raw interception totals, read without context, are slightly flawed figures. They don't take into account the offense being run, the talent around the quarterback or the situation where each interception was thrown.

The most recent examples of this fallacy are Chase Daniel and Matt Ryan, both of whom were (rightful) All-American candidates despite posting more than 17 INTs. Ryan finished seventh in Heisman voting in 2007 despite tossing 19 picks; Daniel finished fourth with 18 picks the same year. Interceptions, though obviously bad, are not the end-all be-all of efficient quarterback play.

More than that, underclassmen who throw a lot of picks typically progress the next season. That they weren't yanked after frequent turnovers usually suggests their talent; coaches wanted them to stay out there and learn because they saw some sort of latent potential.

Since 2006, six freshman or sophomore QBs from BCS conferences have thrown 17-plus interceptions in one season. Here's how they fared the following year:

Other than Jacory Harris, who was so historically bad in 2010 that he has to be considered an outlier, every quarterback on that list got better the following season, most of them drastically so.

Excluding Harris' results, the other four guys improved by an average of 3.5 percent completions and 12.4 efficiency. They learned (via trial by fire/stick-beating) how to play with prudence and dropped their interception totals by an average of eight.

If Wallace follows the baseline of those four guys, he'll finish 2013 with 67.4 percent completions, nine interceptions and a 155.1 efficiency. For context, Manziel finished last season with 68 percent completions, nine interceptions and a 155.3 efficiency.

With more or less average improvement, Wallace would match the passing numbers of last year's Heisman winner. But what if he instead makes a Jimmy Clausen-like leap?

And why shouldn't Wallace make a more-than-average leap after last year's up-and-down campaign? He certainly has the skill, and just like Clausen in 2009, he'll also have the talented supporting cast.

Junior Donte Moncrief, Wallace's favorite target, finished sixth in the SEC with 66 catches and 979 yards last season. With Justin Hunter, Cobi Hamilton and Ryan Swope all now gone, he stands poised to improve those rankings in 2013. He should be an All-SEC first- or second-teamer, giving Wallace something every breakout QB needs—a bona fide No. 1 option.

Except he might, by season's end, actually be option No. 1(a). That's how impressive freshman Laquon Treadwell has looked in camp. The top-ranked receiver on 247Sports' composite, Treadwell has already started running with the Rebels' first team, according to Hugh Kellenberger of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

Trite as it sounds, the sky is indeed the limit for how good he might be.

The offensive line returns four starters, adding blue-chip freshman Laremy Tunsil (the No. 4 overall recruit) and Austin Golson. Plucky running back Jeff Scott is back in Oxford after gaining 1,000 yards from scrimmage as a junior. Serviceable (and experienced) receivers Ja-Mes Logan and Korvic Neat give Wallace more and more quality options in the passing game.

Freeze has done his part to give Wallace weapons. Now all Wallace needs to do is turn off the safety and fire.

Of course, this argument would be moot without mention of Wallace's own physical skill set. Whatever the numbers say about progression to the mean, and no matter how talented one's teammates are, no QB can truly break out without talent.

Fortunately, Wallace has that to spare.

Last January's shoulder surgery has been long since recovered from, allowing Wallace full utility of his tools. And those tools are not in short supply. Wallace is 6'5'' and thick, a physical presence with a legitimate downfield arm.

But he's also quite nimble, as anyone who watched the LSU game would attest. 247Sports even classified him a dual-threat QB coming out of JUCO. A man that size with that kind of mobility? It's hard not to make some comparisons of grandeur.

Now entering his second season with SEC coaching, he should be that much closer to putting those tools together. Like a skyscraper in construction, each day brings him nearer to the finished product. There's a reason ESPN's Mel Kiper (Insider subscription required) ranked him among the top 10 2014 QB prospects, ahead of guys like Aaron Murray, Stephen Morris and Bryn Renner. In Kiper's own words, "Wallace can play."

The schedule is dark and full of terrors. Ole Miss plays on the road in four of its first five games, including all four against FBS competition. Those games include trips to Vanderbilt, Alabama and Texas, the last of which picked off Wallace three times in a 66-31 rout last season.

But that road trip, too, is part of Wallace's learning process—a chance for him to continue growing as a player. And if he can make it through the desert of those first five weeks, an oasis lies beyond it: six consecutive games in Oxford, Miss.

By Oct. 12's showdown with Texas A&M, Ole Miss could realistically be 4-1 or 3-2, rounding into a six-game homestand with a rising star under center. And given the form Wallace should show by mid-October, it wouldn't be unfounded for him to keep pushing toward All-SEC contention.

It was a learning year—supposedly a "rebuilding year"—for Ole Miss in 2012, and Wallace still finished with 3,000 total yards and 30 total touchdowns. How well can he fare with the Rebels in win-now mode?

How much did he learn from last year's mistakes? 



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