Ole Miss hit rock-bottom last year, winning just two games overall and going 0-8 in SEC play. It was so bad, in fact, that head coach Houston Nutt was let go with three games left in the season. This year, Hugh Freeze will take over the head coach postion. Freeze did well in his first season with Arkansas State, but translating that magic to the SEC is going to be an infinitely more difficult job. You can follow the odds and get expert picks on the Rebels this seaosn over at Football Free Picks.
The first big change Freeze has made is at the quarterback postion. Randall Mackey started six games for Ole MIss last year, but has changed positions and is now a wide receiver. Junior College National Player of the Year Bo Wallace has joined the team and is expected to be the starter this fall.
Mississippi really struggled to get the running game going in 2011. They only managed 130 yards/game last year after averaging over 180 yards/game three straight seasons before that. While they may have lost one of the school’s all-time rushing leaders in Brandon Bolden, they do bring back Junior Jeff Scott, who had an excellent year of his own leading the team with 529 yards and six touchdowns. They are also expecting contributions from sophomore Nicholas Parker and true freshman I’Tavius Mathers.
The addition of Mackey only reinforces an already potent receiving corps, making them even more loaded with playmakers on the outside. The top four wide outs from last season will all return, including sophomore Donte Moncrief, who had a team-best 31 catches for 454 yards and four touchdowns. This unit has what it takes to even be better than last year, especially if Wallace is as good as advertised.
The lack of experience up front on the offensive line is their biggest concern on the offensive side of the ball. The Rebels have to replace four players who started eight or more games last year. This unit really underwhelmed last season though, so an improvement of any sort will be welcome in 2012.
The Rebels struggled to stop their opponent from putting up big numbers on them last year. They allowed over 32 points/game and gave up an average of 419 yards/game. They simply couldn’t do anything with the other team running the ball right down their throats. They allowed 225 yards/game on the ground, one of the worst marks in the country.
Some of Ole Miss’ key players suffered from injuries on the defensive line, which is why they had a lot of problems stopping the run. Each of their top three defensive linemen missed significant time due to injuries last year. It’s hard to see this unit getting that much better this season since they are replacing three of their top performing players from last season.
Linebacker is the Rebels’ biggest strength coming into the season as their top six linebackers all return, including their top linebacker from 2010 D.T. Shackelford (torn ACL in spring last year).
The secondary loses starting corner Marcus Temple and free safety Damien Jackson, but return one of the top safeties in the SEC in Charles Sawyer. One thing to note is that both Temple and Jackson were unable to finish their season, allowing freshmen CB Senquez Golson and S Cody Prewitt some very valuable experience. Both started the final four games of the regular season.
SEC Prediction – 7th SEC West
The Rebels should be improved this year, but do not expect a dramatic turnaround. They play in one of the toughest divisions in college football (SEC West) and will have to adjust to a new head coach. Four or five wins would be considered a huge step forward for Ole Miss in 2012.
Jack Jones provides his expert analysis and picks for Betfirms all season long. Head over there now to read even more about the Rebels in a detailed preview article.