The Ole Miss Rebels are entering 2014 as one of the handful of teams set to challenge for SEC West supremacy, which is amazing to say considering the Rebels were winless in the conference in 2011. That was before Hugh Freeze came to Oxford, and Ole Miss is primed to make big strides in his third season at the helm.
Where the Rebels want to be is in the SEC Championship game, and with six starters returing on offense and nine back on defense, they may the have the squad to get the job done.
Ole Miss is one of just a handful of teams in the league returning their starting quarterback, as Bo Wallace is back for his senior season.
"I would have thought that he would have been talked about more this year than he was," said Freeze. "Maybe he'll use that as motivation. I'm not really sure why he hasn't been. He has a chance to break every passing record in the history of Ole Miss football, which a pretty good accomplishment."
Wallace said, "I've seen a lot of different things. I don't think there's a lot of different things you can throw at me that I haven't seen. It'll be different for other teams but there are also great quarterbacks coming in. Nobody knew Johnny Manziel before he took his first snap."
The Rebels were 7th best in the in the SEC in defense in 2013, and with so much talent returning to a scheme they're familiar with, safety Cody Prewitt thinks they can be much better in 2014. "This year's going to be one of our strong suits. We've really practiced our craft and practiced being in this scheme for the last couple years. We're at a level now where we all know the defense like the back of our hand."
Freeze has done a great job winning recruiting battles in his time in Oxford, bringing in top 15 classes the past two seasons. But it's his veteran players, who went through a 2-10 2011 season, that are the backbone of the Rebels success now. Prewitt said, "We came into this program when it was not so good. Coach Freeze came in and he started bringing in all of his recruits. I think that it really helped having older guys know what the worst feels like, and having us be able to really help develop the younger kids. With us doing that it really helps them want to push the program to the next level. For myself, I couldn't, it'd be really hard to handle one of those seasons like I had my first season here."
The Rebels kick off 2014 with a tough match-up against Boise State in Atlanta August 28. They hope to return to the Georgia Dome December 6th for a chance at winning their first SEC title since 1963.