COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
SEC West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Hugh Freeze, 7-6 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Matt Luke, Dan Werner | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jason Jones, Dave Wommack
If quarterback Bo Wallace is healthy, the Rebels have a chance to be a top-25 team in 2013.
Eight starters return from a unit that made big gains in the first season of the up-tempo spread of new coach Hugh Freeze. The Rebels’ highest statistical ranking in 2011 was No. 83 in rushing offense. They were a top-50 squad in every category in 2012, including No. 47 in scoring at 31.5 points per game.
Quarterback Bo Wallace — a first-year junior college transfer a year ago — passed for 2,994 yards and 22 touchdowns and was the team’s second-leading rusher with 390 yards and a team-high eight rushing touchdowns. Another spring to develop chemistry with receivers might have helped him reduce his 17 interceptions, but offseason shoulder surgery prevented that. Ole Miss is confident he’ll be full-go in August.
Running back Jeff Scott thrived as well, rushing for 846 yards and six scores. He was also very active in the passing game. Sophomores Jaylen Walton and I’Tavius Mathers played well in the bowl game when Scott was injured. And they may not be the best young backs on the roster. Freshman Mark Dodson, an early enrollee from Memphis, was impressive in the spring.
Wide receiver Donte Moncrief had 10 touchdown catches and is one of three returning regulars, along with Ja-Mes Logan and Vince Sanders. Freshman Laquon Treadwell, the nation’s top recruit at the position, should figure into the rotation as well.
Starting tackles Emmanuel McCray and Pierce Burton are back. It’s possible one could move inside if incoming freshman Laremy Tunsil, another of the Rebels’ elite recruits, works his way onto the field.
Defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, the nation’s No. 1 recruit, should help provide a pass rush off the edge. But a lesser-known signee, junior college transfer Lavon Hooks, arrives at tackle, a position of greater need.
Denzel Nkemdiche, Robert’s brother, was the Rebels’ top defensive playmaker last year and is back to man one of the two linebacker spots Ole Miss’ 4-2-5 scheme. Senior Mike Marry is a big hitter, albeit a step slower than Nkemdiche. The wild card at linebacker is D.T. Shackelford, a former rising star who tore up his knee in the spring of 2011. He’s back, but his return to form is far from a sure thing.
Nick Brassell was a two-way player on a bad Ole Miss team as a freshman in 2011. Grades forced him to leave school and play at a junior college in 2012. If he is eligible this fall, it will be a big lift to the secondary. Freeze has already identified Brassell as an “NFL corner.” Senior Charles Sawyer and athletic junior Senquez Golson bring experience to the secondary.
Placekicker Andrew Ritter and punter Tyler Campbell, who led the nation as a sophomore in 2010 with a 46.4-yard average, both redshirted last year as fourth-year seniors. Ritter served as the kickoff specialist in his first three seasons but has yet to attempt a field goal or extra point. The Rebels struggled at times covering kicks, and it was costly — they gave up an 89-yard punt return touchdown in a six-point loss at LSU. The signing class could add depth on special teams and require regular starters to play less.
Wallace can be a star if he cuts down on his interceptions. The Rebels need him to do that to be successful on the road early — they play at Vanderbilt, Texas, Alabama and Auburn — so that they’re not forced to climb uphill in the standings in a late string of home games.
Ole Miss exceeded expectations last year largely because it stayed relatively healthy. A similar dose of good fortune would be helpful again. The starters are talented, but the Rebels do not have quality depth across the board.