SEC Media Days: High hopes build in Oxford

Photo by Rob Saye

HOOVER – For the second straight season in 2013 the Ole Miss Rebels finished with an SEC record of 3-5. Good news last season is that the year ended with a Music City Bowl win over Georgia Tech.

Even more good news is that the Rebels have 15 returning starters coming back this season. The list includes veteran quarterback Bo Wallace, safety Cody Prewitt, and standout sophomore defensive end/Grayson-product Robert Nkemdiche.

Wallace is back for his senior season and has three of his leading receivers back from a year ago. Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, running back Jaylen Walton, and tight end Evan Engram all bring back over 120 catches combined with just under 12 hundred yards added to that total.

That said, his offensive line is having to replace three starters from a year ago. His blind side is protected, with Laremy Tunsil protecting him. However, he needs to find a new center to snap him the ball.

All of these facts also fail to mention that the SEC is a very unforgiving conference and this is something that Wallace realizes every week he puts on the helmet and pads.

“Week in and week out you have to play the same way you did the week before (last),” Wallace said. “The tough thing is playing on the road. Just in these atmospheres and these environments that you’re going to have to play in, you have to be ready and as the older guy you have to make sure those young guys that have never experienced that are ready to go also.”

Head coach Hugh Freeze has made no reservations in the past about playing younger players for meaningful minutes. Case in point is Robert Nkemdiche getting meaningful playing time in his very first season in Oxford.

With that playing time, players like junior defensive end CJ Johnson thinks Nkemdiche can only improve. This can be especially true, given the fact that he’s another year immersed into the defensive playbook of coordinator’s Jason Jones and Dave Wommack.

“I think a lot times last year you saw him trying to make plays and sometimes that kind of hurt us on defense,” Johnson said. “He’s a good enough player where he can get away with it. But I think this year you should expect to see him make a lot more plays, because he’ll be comfortable playing in the defense. He’s looked really, really good.”

Like their in-state rivals Mississippi State, Ole Miss is trying to take the next step forward for the program. That would be a high finish in the SEC West and maybe a chance to go to Atlanta. Hugh Freeze says the team must reach its goal this season each week, in order to get to the next level for the program.

“Ole Miss in the recent past has not put itself in a position to where every week they are competitive with a chance to win it in the fourth quarter,” Freeze said. “That is the next step for us, to be in every single game at the end with a chance to win.”

Preseason first team All-SEC defensive back Cody Prewitt seems to be on board with Freeze’s logic about Ole Miss being a competitor in the SEC West this season. He’s taking it upon himself and the rest of the players to try and deliver on that goal.

“No matter what we think or say it just really comes down to how we compete and how we play every Saturday,” Prewitt said. “I think with the great coaching staff that we have and the game plans they give us, if we just execute and do what they give us every Saturday, we’re going to have a really positive year.”

The year begins right here in Atlanta on August 28 against Boise State in part one of this year’s Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game doubleheader inside the Georgia Dome. It is also the battle of former Arkansas State head coach’s Hugh Freeze and now Broncos head coach Bryan Harsin.

After this, the Rebels have Vanderbilt in Nashville. Then they’ll take on Louisiana-Lafayette and Memphis in Oxford. The first real hard test of the season comes October 4, when Alabama comes rolling to town.

The SEC Media does believe that Ole Miss will have a good season, picking them to finish fourth out of seven teams in the West. If the media is right, they would only trail behind Alabama, Auburn, and LSU in order of finish for the division.




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