Ole Miss Football: Will Rebels’ famed 2013 recruiting class bring home SEC title?


The Ole Miss football program had been the SEC’s red-headed stepchild for many years, but Hugh Freeze and his knack for getting kids to sign on the dotted line has brought the spotlight (but no title) to Oxford. Is that all about to change?

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Up until a few years ago, when you thought about Ole Miss football, you probably had to reach back to some shadows of the past. The program hasn’t won a conference title since 1963, and hadn’t given fans much to cheer about since the days of Eli Manning.

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Granted, the Rebels play in the swagger-filled SEC West, and have had to deal with a run of success by Alabama and LSU that kept pretty much everyone in the division down, but there were some pretty bad Ole Miss teams over the years as well.

When Hugh Freeze arrived on the scene in 2012, many questioned the hire. Here was a guy who only had one full year of head coaching experience in Division I play, and that was at Arkansas State…a far cry from what he was about to experience in the rock’em-sock’em robots world of the SEC.

It didn’t take long for Freeze to show that he had the ability to get the attention of a locker room, as well as a real knack for talking to high school kids and convincing them that Oxford — not Tuscaloosa, Baton Rouge, Athens or Gainesville — was where they needed to be. Perhaps it was because he wasn’t very long removed from his time as a high school coach, but it was clear Freeze could recruit.

In 2013, Freeze and the Rebels hauled in one of the most impressive recruiting classes the school had ever seen, and their performance on the field reflected that luminous appraisal.

You list off the names from that recruiting class, and you may as well just read an All-SEC and All-American roster. Names like Robert Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell, just to name a few, littered a recruiting class that ended up being ranked eighth in the nation and fourth in the SEC that season.

In 2014, those multi-star names started playing together as a big-time unit. For the first time since 2003, the Rebels were a factor in the SEC West, and actually had a legitimate shot at an SEC as well as a possible national title.

But as the old saying goes, all success is fleeting, and the Rebs found out how true that was during October and November, when the tough opponents (and some unfortunate bad luck on the injury front) brought their ascendancy to a quick halt.

Ole Miss Rebels
Ole Miss Rebels /

Ole Miss Rebels

Here we sit on the cusp of the 2015 season, and despite finishing 2014 with a 9-4 record, the thrashing that the Rebels took at the hands of the TCU Horned Frogs in the 42-3 Peach Bowl loss raised more doubts about whether this program was ready to become an SEC power.

So can this vaunted class, this group of superhuman 4 and 5-star prospects, bring home the gold and give the fans in Oxford their first conference championship since JFK was in office?

Short answer? Probably not.

It’s not that the talent isn’t there…because it is.

It’s not that good coaching isn’t there…because it is.

It’s not that some of the other SEC West teams aren’t going to be down this year…because they are.

It’s just that the Rebels are missing something down in the trenches that is crucial to winning in the SEC.

The offensive line.

Hugh Freeze’s specialty is offense, and he’s shown that he can take even a piss-poor offense like Arkansas State, which was ranked 95th in the nation prior to his arrival as offensive coordinator, and turn them into a pretty good offensive unit, raising them to 40th in total offense in just one season.

The year before he arrived in Oxford, the Rebels were ranked 114th in total offense. In each successive season since Freeze took over they’ve been ranked 46th, 21st, and then 54th in 2014.

But it was the emergence of the Rebels’ “land shark” defense that had them riding high in 2014, not the sporadic performances of Bo Wallace and company. And as good as those guys were on defense, they couldn’t play well enough to make up for what was happening on offense.


Ole Miss ranked 28th in the nation in turnover margin, which on the surface doesn’t sound so terrible. But when you break down what was happening on the field, you see why the defense got so frustrated. Of the Rebels’ 25 total turnovers, 15 of them were interceptions (only 22 teams were picked off more times) which means that Wallace and the other Ole Miss QBs were either making bad decisions or were under duress.

That stat is further held up by the tackles for loss stat, with the Rebels giving up 89 tackles totaling 319 lost yards…good for 108th in the nation. The Rebs weren’t much better blocking for the run game either, finishing 75th in the nation in rush offense at only 155 yards per game.

All those interceptions and tackles yielded for a loss point to problems on the offensive line, and of the 21 enrollees in the Rebels’ 2015 class, only four of them are offensive linemen with only two of those four expected to be impact players.

Oct 4, 2014; Oxford, MS, USA; Mississippi Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace (14) is sacked by Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman D. J. Pettway (57) and linebacker Reggie Ragland (19) during the first half at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

That means the guys who are coming back from last season — the ones who gave up all those sacks and tackles behind the line, and forced their quarterbacks into making bad throws — will have to seriously kick their games up a couple of notches if Ole Miss is expected to make another serious run.

Even with a healthy Laquon Treadwell, who was injured most horrifically in the Nov. 1 loss to Auburn, the new Rebels’ quarterback (whoever wins the job) has to have time to throw the ball.

Yes, this is a quality Ole Miss team, and with the right breaks and some stumbling by other teams, they stand a good chance of coming out on top of the West, but there’s an awful lot of ifs involved in that happening, and given the murderous schedule in front of them this year, it doesn’t seem likely to happen.

The Ole Miss Class of 2013 may go down as one of the greatest in history that couldn’t bring home a conference championship.

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