There might not be a football team that finished 7-6 in a season and generated as much hype around them as the Ole Miss Rebels did during the 2012 football season.
First-year head coach Hugh Freeze took control of a program driven into the ground by Houston Nutt and has been going full speed since the day he arrived on campus. While the team only finished 7-6, they crushed arch-rival Mississippi State in the final game of the season, then went on to have a convincing win over Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Perhaps the biggest news generated by the Rebels and coach Freeze was their absolute dominance on the recruiting trail, which was something people had never seen from a team like Ole Miss. The recruiting class ended up with the No. 1 overall player and a top-10 class nationally. Can they Rebels keep the momentum rolling and build the next big SEC power?
Key Players: Bo Wallace, Donte Moncrief, Robert Nkemdiche and Denzel Nkemdiche
Hugh Freeze brought his up-tempo spread attack with him to the defensive-minded SEC. Being that it was his first year last season, the offense did surprisingly well. The Rebels finished fifth in the conference in scoring offense, scoring 31.5 points per game and they finished fifth in total offense as well, averaging 423.8 yards per game as well.
Bo Wallace returns to play quarterback for the Rebels after a solid sophomore season where he posted 2,994 passing yards and 22 touchdowns to go along with 390 yards rushing and eight rushing touchdowns. Wallace will need to cut down on his turnovers in order to be as effective as possible.
Leading rusher Jeff Scott returns for the Rebels as well as leading receiver, Donte Moncrief, who was a second team All-SEC selection last season after posting 66 receptions for 979 yards and 10 touchdowns. He is set to be one of the top receivers in the SEC this season.
While the defense wasn’t terrible for the Rebels last season, it wasn’t great either. The team finished ninth in scoring defense, giving up 27.6 yards per game last season and they finished seventh in total defense, allowing 375.8 yards per game on the year.
These numbers will need to improve in the Rebels ever want to make a run at a possible conference championship. Coach Freeze addressed the defense heavily in recruiting and was able to sign the number recruit overall, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche.
Nkemdiche is a monster already as a freshman and should contribute heavily right away, and he isn’t even the best Nkemdiche on the roster. His brother, Denzel, was an absolute force for the Rebels last season, lining up all over the field and causing havoc. Both brothers should perform at high levels this season and help improve the defense overall.
Having a top recruiting class is great for a school like Ole Miss, but in reality, Nick Saban brings in the same level of class each season. Can Ole Miss continue their surge and convince recruits to head to Oxford?
They must, because the Rebels are currently in what could be considered the toughest division in all of sports with the SEC West.
The Rebels open with a much-improved Vanderbilt team. Then two weeks after that start, they face one of the most difficult stretches any team in the country will face.
The five week stretch goes as followed: At Texas, at Alabama, at Auburn, home vs. LSU, home vs. Texas A&M. That is absolutely brutal for any team to face, much less a team trying to establish an identity like Ole Miss. The Rebels must win at least two of those games to have any hopes at a successful season.