College and Magnolia: I think more than a few people, including myself, believe Ole Miss could be the surprise team in the SEC this year and win nine or 10 games. What are expectations like in Oxford?
Red Cup Rebellion: Fans are all over the place it seems. A lot of people are already talking about 9 or 10 win seasons, whereas others simply want this team to return to the postseason. I tend to fall with the latter. If Hugh Freeze can get this team back to at least six wins then he will have the progress and momentum needed to have an even better team in 2014. Additionally, one would have to think that another bowl would be enough of a signal to recruits that this coaching staff is, at worst, consistent if not altogether good at what they do. I think most people will be happy with 7 or 8 wins, especially if one of those wins comes in the postseason.
CaM: If I recall correctly, Ole Miss fans weren't upset with the Hugh Freeze hire, but they weren't all that excited, either. After a better-than-expected 2012 season and 2013 recruiting class, what are opinions of Freeze now? What is Ole Miss' ceiling under Freeze?
RCR: People may nitpick over some details, but few Ole Miss fans are upset with his overall body of work. With 2011 being as bad as it was, it was so exciting to see a team actually play like it gives a damn and surprisingly return to postseason play. And then with his recruiting bringing in both high caliber players and so much positive media attention, it's no wonder the lot of us are pleased ad punch with the guy.
His ceiling though depends so much on what the rest of the SEC West does. If he can keep beating the teams he should and recruit talented players to Oxford, then he's bound to succeed and put the program in much better shape, but as it stands right now it's somewhat impossible to see Freeze's squad consistently competing with Alabama and LSU on their level in the immediate future. I think we will learn a lot in years two and three.
CaM: Dan Mullen: He's just the absolute worst, right?
RCR: I have a theory that, in private, Dan Mullen isn't such a bad guy. His whole shtick of continuously needling Ole Miss has less to do with annoying Rebel fans than it does with making State fans happy. I mean, we're talking about a guy who grew up in New Hampshire, played college football in Pennsylvania, and then followed Urban Meyer around until he found himself an offensive coordinator in the SEC. He doesn't give a damn about Ole Miss or the Egg Bowl rivalry outside of it being a vehicle by which he maintains job security. So, to keep the Bulldogs placated, he has to thump his chest about beating the Rebs while making comments about "one program being on the rise (in Mississippi)" and proclaiming that State will "never lose to [Ole Miss] again."
Like a politician hamming it up for votes, Dan Mullen's going to say what he feels he needs to say to stay in control, and not necessarily what he really means or believes. That said, yes, he is indeed the absolute worst.
CaM: Ole Miss gets just about everyone back this season. What will the Rebels' strengths be?
RCR: On offense, Ole Miss is strongest at receiver. The team's top three receivers return (Donte Moncrief, Vincent Sanders, and Ja-Mes Logan), and joining them are freshmen Laqon Treadwell and Quincy Adeboyejo, five and four star prospects respectively. There is a lot of experience and depth at this unit, so if Bo Wallace and the offensive line can stay healthy, then Ole Miss should have one of the SEC's more potent passing games.
On defense, I would call Ole Miss' linebackers the strongest unit. DC Dave Wommack runs a 4-2-5 for the most part, with the fifth defensive back being a hybrid safety/outside linebacker whose role changes depending on whatever looks the offense gives. Because of this flexibility, the Rebels only need two true linebackers on the field, and I think the duo of freshman all-American Denzel Nkemdiche and Chucky Mullins Award winner Mike Marry are as good a duo we've seen in Oxford for the past few seasons. Nkemdiche is smaller and rangier, and has an exemplary understanding of the sport, whereas Marry is the more traditional mike linebacker (see: would be all B1G) in that he's big, strong, and sure tackler.
CaM: How about weaknesses? What will give Ole Miss trouble?
RCR: On offense, Ole Miss doesn't really have a tight end it seems. Both Ferbia Allen and Jamal Mosely graduated this past year, and freshman Christian Morgan injured his knee in spring workouts, so the Rebs are down to Evan Engram, who is really just a big wide receiver, and a handful of walkons at the position.
On defense, the Rebels could use a few more cornerbacks, as that unit is perilously thin. Senquez Golson and Charles Sawyer are a capable duo, and Dehendret Collins is a fine backup, but beyond that there isn't much to work with. Furthermore the unit took another step back earlier this week with Nick Brassell being kicked off of the team for poor grades.
CaM: How do you think the Rebels' season will play out?
RCR: I imagine it will be similar to last season. With the schedule being what it is, the team will struggle early, and could even drop the season opener to Vanderbilt. With the back end of the schedule being somewhat easier though, it's likely that the Rebs could start out with a 2-4 record only to finish with a 4-2 record or better to return to bowl eligibility.
This team could improve a great deal from last season and not show much improvement in wins and losses due to the schedule being as tough as it is.
CaM: What are your way-too-early thoughts on the Auburn game? Care to offer a tentative prediction?
RCR: I think Auburn and Arkansas made great hires this offseason. Unlike Arkansas, however, Auburn was already a fairly talented team and added to that even more talent with a solid recruiting effort. With the game being played at Jordan Hare and with Gus Malzhan leading the Tigers, I think this will be a very tough out for the Rebels. If Malzhan and Freeze both have their offenses working the way they want them to, then it is conceivable to think that this could be a close and relatively high-scoring game.
If I must venture a score, then I'll say 35-31 Ole Miss, with the lead changing a few times in the second half. Sheesh, I'm getting nervous just writing about it. It would be such a statement win for Freeze (his lone road win in the SEC is against Arkansas last season by a field goal) and Malzhan, and both should be treating it as such.
More from College and Magnolia:
- Fall practice report: Aug. 2
- Five-star RB Roc Thomas commits to Tigers
- Good luck, Michael Dyer
- Initial reactions to the preseason coaches' poll
- Auburn unranked in preseason USA Today Coaches' Poll