If there is a darkhorse candidate to win the SEC Western Division this season, it could be the Ole Miss Rebels. Head coach Hugh Freeze has done an amazing job during his two years in Oxford, rejuvenating a program that was not in great shape upon his arrival.
Ole Miss was 3-10 in 2011 under Houston Nutt, and the program seemed headed in the wrong direction. That’s when the Ole Miss athletic department hired Freeze, who was then the head coach at Arkansas State.
In his first season, Ole Miss went 7-6, including a win over the Pittsburgh Panthers in the BBVA Compass Bowl. Last season, the Rebels made another jump, going 8-5 with a win over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the Music City Bowl.
Now, it’s year three for Freeze. He has an experienced quarterback returning in Bo Wallace. He has one of the most athletic receivers in the SEC in Laquon Treadwell. And there appears to be enough talent on defense to keep Ole Miss in most of its games.
The challenge for Freeze and the Rebels is to break through into the top three in the division. While the Rebels, under Freeze, have beaten the LSU Tigers (in 2013) and the Auburn Tigers (in 2012), they are a combined 2-4 against LSU, Auburn and the Alabama Crimson Tide. If Ole Miss is to make that leap, they must beat at least two of those three.
While trying to make that leap, Ole Miss must also continue to beat the teams it should beat, like the Arkansas Razorbacks and the Mississippi State Bulldogs. And, in 2014, Ole Miss should be favored to beat the Texas A&M Aggies as well.
If Ole Miss is going to make itself a contender in the SEC, this could be the season when it happens.
Tim Letcher is a contributing writer for RantSports.com and a member of the Football Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter @TimLetcher , on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.