Coach: Hugh Freeze (24-15 entering fourth season; 54-22 overall)
2014 results: 9-4 (5-3 SEC, third in West division)
Look back: Ole Miss continued to rise up the ranks in the SEC but might look back on 2014 as what could have been. The Rebels’ Oct. 4 upset of Alabama highlighted a 7-0 start during coach Huge Freeze’s third season in Oxford.
But back-to-back losses by a total of seven points at LSU and versus Auburn ended the Rebels’ hopes of their first appearance in the SEC title game. During the 34-31 loss to Auburn, star receiver Laquon Treadwell broke his fibula in gruesome fashion and let the air out of the Rebels’ season.
Ole Miss limped to a 9-4 finish that included a 30-0 loss at Arkansas and 42-3 rout at the hands of TCU in the Peach Bowl.
Offensive starters returning: 9
Offensive starters lost: 2
Defensive starters returning: 7
Defensive starters lost: 4
Key losses: QB Bo Wallace, S Cody Prewitt, CB Senquez Golson, LB D.T. Shackelford, WR Vince Sanders
Top returnees: WR Laquon Treadwell, TE Evan Engram, OT Laremy Tunsil, DT Robert Nkemdiche, S Tony Conner, S Mike Hilton
Strengths: Freeze has stockpiled talent since he arrived in Oxford. The Rebels enter the season with arguably the SEC’s top player at five positions – receiver (Treadwell), tight end (Evan Engram), offensive tackle (Laremy Tunsill), defensive tackle (Robert Nkemdiche) and safety (Tony Conner).
Tunsill (ankle) and Treadwell (fibula) are coming off serious injuries, but each they expected to be All-American candidates. Tunsill is a franchise left tackle and is one of five returning starters on the O-line. Treadwell headlines a talented receiving corps. He had 48 catches and five catches in just nine games, while the 6-foot-3, 227-pound Engram averaged 17.4 yards on 38 catches.
Nkemdiche, though, might be the best of the Rebels’ 16 returning starters. The nation’s top recruit in 2013 is incredibly quick and agile at 6-foot-4, 280 pounds. Conner is expected to step into the role vacated by 2014 All-American Cody Prewitt with the Rebels suffering little to no dropoff. And Trae Elston actually may have been the Rebels’ best safety the past two seasons.
Weaknesses: Quarterback Bo Wallace won 24 games as a starter at Ole Miss, but also lost a few with careless turnovers and questionable decision-making. Despite his inconsistency in big games, the Rebels would love to have him back on a team that might be a quarterback away from winning the SEC. Freeze hopes former Clemson quarterback Chad Kelly can step in.
Kelly, nephew of NFL Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, threw 47 touchdowns in junior college last season, but was arrested within two weeks of his arrival to Ole Miss. While the Rebels’ receivers are elite, Kelly will not be able to rely on a strong running. Jaylen Walton, who is just 5-foot-8, 166 pounds, could be the team’s featured runner.
The Rebels’ defense led the nation in scoring defense (16 points per game), but they have to replace both cornerbacks, including All-American Senquez Golson (10 interceptions in 2014).
Outlook: The Rebels have increased their win total during each of Freeze’s three seasons. If he can find a quarterback, Ole Miss has the talent to post double-digit wins and challenge for the SEC crown.
The schedule, however, works against the Rebels. A Week 3 visit to Alabama is the showcase game of the season’s first month. The Rebels also have to travel to Auburn Oct. 31 and to rival Mississippi State Nov. 28.
Sept. 5 Tennessee-Martin
Sept. 12 Fresno State
Sept. 19 Alabama
Sept. 26 Vanderbilt
Oct. 3 at Florida
Oct. 10 New Mexico State
Oct. 17 at Memphis
Oct. 24 Texas A&M
Oct. 31 at Auburn
Nov. 7 Arkansas
Nov. 21 LSU
Nov. 28 at Mississippi State
College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com