Leading the Charge

Winning teams are normally known by their quarterbacks. Teams that endear themselves to fans usually have quarterbacks they remember.

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Add Bo Wallace to that list. In Hugh Freeze's first season as the Ole Miss head coach, it's Wallace who has led the Rebels to a bowl game and now claimed the Conerly Trophy, named for another Rebel quarterback.

Charlie Conerly, the trophy's namesake, led his Rebel team to the Southeastern Conference crown in head coach John Vaught's first season in 1947. The Clarksdale native went on to quarterback the New York Giants and played in "the Greatest Game" in 1958, the NFL title game against the Colts, then of Baltimore.

Eli Manning followed that same path and has won two championships. So far.

Ole Miss teams have, by and large, been known by their quarterbacks. The list is long. The Rebels' first winner of the Conerly Trophy, Stewart Patridge back in 1997, was on a team that he defined as its quarterback. There was a host of high-profile, talented players on that Rebel team, several who made their way to the NFL.

Patridge to Cory Peterson for a successful two-point conversion to beat Mississippi State 15-14, followed by a Motor City Bowl victory against Chad Pennington, Randy Moss, and Marshall, made that team unforgettable, along with its quarterback.

In Saturday night's Battle for the Golden Egg, won by the Rebels 41-24, it was Wallace who upstaged Bulldog quarterback Tyler Russell in leading his team to victory. One of the reasons MSU hasn't had the success through the years that Ole Miss has is the quarterback position. All-Star quarterbacks at State have not been the rule but the exception.

Ole Miss has had its share of good and even great ones. Sure there are other important parts to any winning team. Wallace wanted to make certain fans remembered that Tuesday night when he tweeted this:

"Thanks to everyone for their tweets. This should be looked at as a TEAM award!!! Things are bright in Oxford!!! Hotty Toddy!!!"

Wallace, who led the Rebels to a 6-6 record this year and their first bowl berth since the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2, 2010, passed for 2,843 yards with 19 touchdowns, ran for another 363 yards and eight touchdowns and scored a touchdown on a 25-yard pass reception while logging a cumulative 144.20 quarterback rating this year, one of the best in the SEC and among the top 40 in the nation.

And really, nobody knew exactly what to expect from the quarterback position prior to the season. There was Barry Brunetti already in the fold. And there was Randall Mackey that had sometimes been under center. They were here for the 2-10 debacle last season. Wallace arrived in time for second semester and the new regime.

Bo Wallace
File Photo

Wallace started every game for Ole Miss this year, and his 3,206 total offensive yards make him only the second player in school history to eclipse 3,000 yards in a season behind Eli, who reached that total twice during his Ole Miss career. Wallace's eight rushing touchdowns are the most by a Rebel QB since Eli's father, Archie, in 1969.

"Coach Freeze and our coaching staff spent a lot of time and effort getting everyone on our team to buy in to their long-term vision and plan for our program this year," Wallace said in a press release from Ole Miss. "It paid off as we have one of the most exciting teams in college football with tremendous momentum to build on this year's success on into the future."

He also again reiterated the "team" aspect of not only the award but the season.

"It's something special," Wallace told the Associated Press. "Some people look at it as an individual award, but I think it's more of a team award. I know my teammates are really proud about this and I couldn't be prouder of them and I was very fortunate to play with them this season."

The Conerly Trophy has been around for 17 years. Five Ole Miss players have now won it six times. Eli got it in both 2001 and 2003. In addition to Patridge in the second year it was presented, there were running back Deuce McAllister (1999) and linebacker Patrick Willis (2006). And now Wallace.

His path from Giles County High in Pulaski, Tenn., took him to Arkansas State when Freeze was an assistant there in 2010, then last year to East Mississippi CC where he led his team to a national JUCO title, one of those teams fans don't forget.

In the Grove Bowl game in April, Wallace threw for 240 yards on 16 of 26 passing with two touchdowns, setting himself up for an emergence as the starter in the fall. Freeze didn't make the decision until right before the first game, and it was quickly apparent Wallace was keeping the reins of the up-tempo offense.

Now it's on to a bowl game for Wallace as the sophomore quarterback at Ole Miss, with one of those teams fans endear themselves to. And another quarterback they won't forget.

Neither will the state of Mississippi. And that's with two more seasons left to play.

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