Ole Miss began the 2014 season 7-0 and was one of the favorites to make a lot of noise in the SEC but back-to-back losses to LSU and Auburn thwarted any dreams of making it to Atlanta to play for the conference championship. Ole Miss is still the only original SEC West team that has yet to make an appearance in the SEC Championship Game. The 2014 season was a roller-coaster ride for fans that saw their team defeat Alabama for the first time since 2003 and also beat in-state rival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl, but end the season by getting blown out by 39 points by TCU in the Peach Bowl.
Going into his fourth season leading the Rebels, head coach Hugh Freeze returns 16 starters on a team that was better than its 9-4 record. The 2013 recruiting class that was hailed as one of the best in school history and a top-five class by most recruiting services must carry the load if Ole Miss wants to reach the SEC title game this season.
Ole Miss’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Chad Kelly
With Bo Wallace gone, some Rebel fans will be happy and some will be sad. You just never knew if “Good Bo” or “Bad Bo” was going to show up. Fast forward to this season and Freeze brings in a quarterback who could be great or may not ever see the field. It really is all up to Kelly. He finished his junior college career at East Mississippi Community College with 3,900 yards passing, 47 touchdowns and a NJCAA national championship ring. Kelly was accurate and showed poise last year and that is exactly why Freeze wanted him. With playmakers such as Laquon Treadwell and Evan Engram returning for an offense that averaged 263 passing yards per game in 2014, Kelly will have plenty of opportunity to show his arm strength. The question will be if he can be the leader of the offense.
2. Who Will Step up at Running Back?
Going into camp, Ole Miss will have last year’s leading rusher back in Jaylen Walton. Walton averaged 5.5 yards per carry and should be a nice security blanket to take some heat off of Kelly. The offensive line returns 112 career starts so Walton should have no trouble finding running lanes. The backfield lost I’Tavius Mathers and Mark Dodson to transfers and the aforementioned Wallace to graduation. A lot of pressure will be put on Walton, Akeem Judd and sophomore Jordan Wilkins to make up for lost production.
3. Replacing Cody Prewitt and Senquez Golson
Ole Miss will return playmakers all across its defensive front seven, but two key players from the back end are gone. With Prewitt and Golson no longer around, Freeze will have the daunting task of replacing two Jim Thorpe Award semifinalists. The Rebels do return their top tackler in Mike Hilton and an All-America candidate in safety Tony Conner, but it will be no easy task replacing a pair of productive players who combined for 28 interceptions in their collegiate careers.
4. Laremy Tunsil
After getting the news that both Tunsil and his stepfather, Lindsey Miller, dropped the domestic violence charges against each other, Rebel fans will be ecstatic about getting their best offensive lineman back after such a rocky offseason. Tunsil was a first team All-SEC pick last year and will be the backside wall that will keep pressure off of Kelly. Having these charges dropped should give Tunsil a clear mind headed into camp and is literally (and physically) a huge addition to this Ole Miss offensive line.
5. Forgetting the TCU Game
The old saying is “You’re only as good as your last game.” Ole Miss certainly hopes this is not true. The Rebels ended a good 2014 regular season by getting blown out 42-3 by TCU in the Peach Bowl. Some will say TCU would have beaten any team it faced after many thought the Horned Frogs were left out of the College Football Playoff, but Ole Miss never even showed up. Freeze and his coaching staff should be quick to not let his players forget what happened in Atlanta, but also remind them that this is a new season and a new team. Those who forget their past are doomed to repeat it. Remember that Ole Miss, because you do not want to repeat that game.
— Written by Justin Nails, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @justinnails.