Ole Miss went 6-18 overall and 1-15 in the SEC the two years prior to Hugh Freeze taking over as head coach in Oxford.
While Freeze has two losing records in conference play in two years, there is little doubt that he was clearly the right guy for the job. Ole Miss has posted back-to-back winning seasons capped by bowl wins. More importantly, Freeze has totally revamped Ole Miss recruiting and has a roster returning in 2014 that could be the best Rebels' fans have seen in years.
Questions still remain about the rosters, in particular along the offensive line, but the biggest hurdles are those swirling in the dangerous waters of the SEC West. In a division with Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M, can Ole Miss compete for an SEC championship?
That's something the Rebs haven’t won since 1963.
Ole Miss Rebels 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 8-5 (3-5 SEC)
Spring Practice Opens: March 3
Spring Game: April 5
Three Things to Watch in Ole Miss' 2014 Spring Practice
Develop the offensive line
Playing in the treacherous SEC requires an excellent offensive line. Protecting the quarterback and running the football are even more important against the elite SEC defensive lines. With the loss three full time starters and a key reserve, the offensive line is going to be a major area of concern for Freeze and company this spring. Five-star prospect Laremy Tunsil more than acquitted himself a year ago as a true freshman and fans will look for him to take another step in his development, along with the return of All-SEC-type guard Aaron Morris from his season-ending injury. These two playing at the top of their game this fall is a great place to start. However, other names like Justin Bell (13 starts) need to step into leadership roles to stabilize an offensive line that was 98th in the nation a year ago in allowing sacks. Shoring up the front line is a great way to protect one of the better returning quarterbacks in the conference in Bo Wallace.
Find experience and leadership
There aren’t many glaring holes on this depth chart other than the offensive line. Would Freeze like to find a workhorse back? Would he like to develop depth in his front seven? Certainly, but he isn’t hurting for options at either position, so finding experienced field generals who can lead by example appears to be one of the most important goals of the spring. Jeff Scott and Donte Moncrief, for example, were two veteran leaders on the offense who are no longer around. Replacing their production shouldn’t be difficult with a host of talented players returning to Oxford. However, with five junior college transfers and a handful of redshirt freshmen working their way into the rotation, developing a pecking order on the practice field should be a focus of the staff. Laquon Treadwell, Tunsil, Tony Conner and Channing Ward have elite raw physical talent and upside but this team will go only as far as their leadership and maturity takes them. Speaking of maturity…
Stay focused on and off the field
Both Nkemdiche brothers, Denzel and Robert, have dealt with serious off-the-field issues as have a variety of other members of the Ole Miss roster. Spring practice is a time of learning, development and camaraderie, especially for a roster as young and talented as the one in Oxford. Freeze’s staff needs to be sure his players understand the goal/opportunity at hand for 2014. Winning an SEC title is difficult enough without off the field distractions dragging a team down the standings. The ’14 season could be a special one for the Rebels if things fall right in Oxford, but the margin for error is razor thin. The tiniest issues — be it injuries, arrests or immaturity — can derail a championship run in this conference, especially for a team like Ole Miss that won’t be favored against the big boys on its schedule.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 7-9
Ole Miss is certainly trending in the right direction. Freeze returns 14 of 22 starters, including his quarterback and the majority of his defense. The highly touted freshmen class of 2013 not only lived up to the hype but could develop into one of the great collections of talent ever signed in Oxford. There are few holes on this depth chart other than offensive line. Should leadership develop, a trip to the SEC title game in Atlanta isn’t out of the question. However, the schedule is absolutely brutal with Boise State in the non-conference and a typical run of nasty road SEC games (LSU, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, Arkansas) is intertwined with monumental home showdowns against the last two SEC champions in Alabama and Auburn. After improving from seven to eight wins in his first two seasons, improvement to nine or ten seems like a tall order but isn't out of the question should Colonel Reb pull and upset or two.