Thursday, July 31, 2014
We've arrived at the dawn of another college football season. Ole Miss players report on Friday, and Hugh Freeze will hold his opening press conference that afternoon. On almost every day thereafter Ole Miss Rebels will be strapping on pads and snapping their chinstraps as preparations begin for what should be an exciting season for Rebel fans.
Ole Miss returns a depth chart full of experienced and talent players from a team that finished 8-5 and won last season's Music City Bowl. Expectations are that the Rebels will exceed that win total this year. If you believe the hype then this could be a big, big year.
Hype is word with which Ole Miss fans are all-too familiar. It's in years like this that seasoned Rebel fans have learned to brace themselves for what could go wrong as they've learned over the last 30 years that hype and doom often go hand in hand.
Eli's loss to Memphis his senior year; Jevan Snead's implosion and Houston Nutt's stubborn refusal to unleash Dexter McCluster until almost midway through the 2009 season are the two most recent examples. Those Billy Brewer years had a few hype-filled summers closely followed by disappointment, too.
But what if this year is different? What if this is the year that Ole Miss lives up to, or even surpasses the fairly large expectations placed upon it by people like your's truly. I have the Rebels finishing the season 10-2 in the season predictions column I wrote for Reb & Blue Magazine. I'm not alone. ESPN's Edward Aschoff calls Ole Miss his darkhorse candidate to win the West. I read a Neal McCready piece on RebelGrove.com that said he didn't think 10 wins was outside the realm of possibility.
For the Rebels to live up to those prognostications they will have to get a few lucky bounces, make some big plays and avoid that injury bug.
Below are a three benchmarks the Rebels will have to meet in order to get that 10-win season.
1. Bo Wallace must have an All-SEC caliber year. Wallace was disappointed he wasn't selected 2nd Team All-SEC behind Auburn's Nick Marshall. For Ole Miss to win 10 games or more Wallace will need to have a 1st Team All-SEC type of year. He's the most experienced quarterback in the SEC by a longshot. He's got weapons in Laquon Treadwell and Evan Engram. He knows the offense. He's seasoned, having been in two years worth of SEC battles. He's played in the most intimidating venues under the brightest of lights. His shoulder feels as good as it's been since his gun-slinging junior college days. This is the year for Bo. I expect it will be a good one. In fact, I have a bet with a person who shall remain nameless (but she knows who she is;)) that Wallace will be 1st Team All-SEC at season's end. For Ole Miss to win 10 games or more he will have to be.
2. The defensive line must be dominant. Dominant defensive lines win games almost all by themselves in the SEC. They take away the running game. They get to quarterbacks. They mess up the entire flow of their opponent's games. A dominant defensive line is an offensive coordinator's worst nightmare. For Ole Miss to have the kind of season we're hoping for, the Rebels must be dominant along the defensive line. I believe it can be. It all starts with Robert Nkemdiche. At 290 pounds and a freakish 9 percent body fat Nkemdiche is a defensive tackle like no other. A giant muscle who is physically equipped to tear through his blocker and wreak havoc at the line of scrimmage. If Nkemdiche makes that leap from freshman year to sophomore year that we expect then he will require double teams from offensive lines, and that will free up guys like C.J. Johnson, Marquis Haynes, and Carlos Thompson to get the quarterback. It's not all on Nkemdiche. The Rebels are deep along the front. Issac Gross, Woodrow Hamilton and Bryon Bennett give Ole Miss a deep, deep front. Chris Kiffin should be able to rotate linemen freely, and those fresh bodies should severely interrupt offensive game plans. They will have to. For Ole Miss to reach a warm January bowl game the defensive line must dominate.
3. The offensive line must be better than decent. See No. 2 (above). Bo Wallace is at his best when the Rebels are able to run the football. That makes him no different than any other quarterback. If the Ole Miss offensive line gets manhandled by giant defensive fronts like those it will face against Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Mississippi State this season will not go as well as hoped. That's a lot to ask of an offensive line that lost three starters from last year. Laremy Tunsil is expected to be great, but he's just one man. Can Aaron Morris stay healthy? Can Fahn Cooper be ready to play after one August camp? Is Ben Still good to go at center? Can Rod Taylor contribute as a true freshman? Who can back those guys up? These are a lot of questions that offensive line coach Matt Luke must have good answers for if the Rebels are to be in the SEC West discussion come November. Ole Miss must be able to run the football. The running backs are talented and deep, but the offensive line will make or break them. This season is riding on their large shoulders.
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Ole Miss grabbed a commitment from Southaven guard Terence Davis on Wednesday. Davis chose the Rebels over Cincinnati and Louisiana Tech. As a junior, Davis averaged 22 points and 9 rebounds per game.
I am committing to be a student athlete at the University of Mississippi! #TeamThad4life #olemissbasketball #sec pic.twitter.com/A75YzNAqqt
— 2sports_star (@TerenceDavisJr) July 30, 2014
Offensive linemen of the SEC better eat their Wheaties. He's coming...
#OleMiss sophomore defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche is up to 290 with nine percent body fat, S&C coach Paul Jackson told me today.I don't claim to be a defensive tackle expert, but how many SEC defensive tackles have nine percent body fat? I'm guessing none. To give you some perspective on weight and body fat, former Rebel and current Atlanta Falcon Peria Jerry is listed at 295 pounds, but he's nowhere near 9 percent body fat:
— Ben Garrett (@SpiritBen) July 30, 2014
|That's not 9 percent body fat on the left.|
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Ole Miss senior quarterback Bo Wallace isn't just a little more experienced than his SEC brethren...
Bo Wallace is the most experienced returning QB in the SEC. (26 sts, 11 more than any other SEC QB) #31DaysToGameDay pic.twitter.com/tfm3gVSeYdTweet
— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) July 30, 2014