Commentary by Lee Ann Herring-Olvedo, HottyToddy.com sports contributor
I know that we’re on the verge of football season when my phone begins to ring off the hook either asking for tickets to games or posting my favorite question: “How are the Rebels going to do this year?”
For all the advice I’ve given away free, I’m sure I have made many of my friends and family a few dollars on the Vegas lines. If all else fails, at least I could have a lucrative career as a bookie (just kidding.).
As a football analyst most sports fans expect you to have the magic formula and predict what’s to come. Let me let you in on a little secret. Most analysts, such as myself, can speculate and throw a few statistics your way, but it’s really a fugazi as the Italians like to say. It’s no more real than we make it out to be.
So what really can we expect from the Rebels this season? I don’t like to give my readers false hope based on statistics or probabilities. Another thing I won’t do is sit and compare what we don’t have to what we do have as a means to say just how it’s going to be either.
Here’s my initial breakdown as we head into the opener. There is something to be said when Ole Miss is climbing the ranks in pre-season polls, but Rebel fans don’t get two starry-eyed just yet over that No. 18 spot this week because we have a long way to go.
However, last season proved to be the second year of a successful Freeze era with the Rebels having the most wins in four years. You know Coach Freeze and the rest of the gang are looking to top that record and 2014 could be the best chance for the Rebels to do that. It’s hard to believe that two seasons later, the Rebels are more than just the hype that was centered around the infamous 2013 recruiting class that put Ole Miss back on the map.
In 2014, it looks like the Rebels will finally get to see the fruits of 2013 flourish — but of course strong recruiting will do that for you. We have come along way from that 2-10 season when Hugh Freeze took over in 2011.
This season’s schedule seems to favor of the Rebels with four of the first seven games in Oxford. Despite back-to-back home games for Ole Miss last season, the tough road schedule clearly turned out to be more of foe than a friend. Though physically you could see the attributes of a strong group of players, fatigue began to wear on every aspect of the Rebels offensive and defensive forces. At times we seemed unable to execute and close the games we needed last season — remember Auburn?
Coach Freeze has admitted that depth issues and fatigue may have contributed to the wear and tear on his boys. This year Rebel Nation can be assured that depth is improved everywhere except, perhaps, the offensive line. Conditioning will certainly not be the death of the Rebels chances this year for national glory. Some of the changes Coach Freeze may be considering are altering his weekly schedule — whether that means changing practice times or taking Sundays off all together. If the Rebels hope to be more than hype they will need to hang with physically gifted and deep squads like the Tide, Auburn and LSU until the final whistle.
Well, someone has finally decided to schedule Boise State in a non-conference game and the Broncos open up things for the Rebels in less than nine days in the Georgia dome. No denying that Ole Miss is an overall stronger and better team than season’s previously and a stouter football team than the blue-turfers from Boise. My pundit colleagues predict the Rebels will start the season 4-0 before they host Saban’s boys in Oxford. The Crimson Tide will open October play for the Rebels.
While the Rebels will enjoy a few non-conference home games before Alabama, that contest will lead into a tough SEC gauntlet traveling to Texas A&M, hosting Tennessee, traveling to LSU and hosting Auburn. Those five games, beginning with Alabama, will determine just how good Ole Miss could be this season.
Here is what we are working with in 2014, and it’s not to shabby. The Rebels return 16 starters from last year. It’s apparent that Bo Wallace is back in business. Bo will look to make things happen with sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell to get that Rebel offense on the board this season.
Defenses in the SEC are always going to be elite. The Rebels are looking to be amongst the best in 2014. Robert Nkemdiche, 2013 Freshman All-American, is going to be a force on the gridiron for the Rebel D. Let’s not forget the Ole Miss secondary, which is athletic enough to win one-on-one match-ups and allow the imposing Ole Miss defensive line to tear up some quarterbacks and open up field position opportunities for the Rebel playbook to cash in.
No matter who we play in the formidable SEC, we’re always going to have to bring our A-Game. The SEC is always loaded with talent. I believe the key for the Rebels is to condition themselves for the long haul and recharge when necessary. Don’t forget, they’re striving to be a contender — not just for a conference title, but for selection as one of the new playoff system participants.