The Process

OXFORD, Miss. -- There's something to be said about The Process.

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Every football team, be it Ole Miss or Alabama, faces some form of The Process -- the long and difficult road that leads a team from where it is, to where it can be.

The Process can take some time. It can be painful.

For Ole Miss, that time was two years. Two years of losing Southeastern Conference game after Southeastern Conference game. Two years of six combined wins. Two years of systematic problems, off-the-field issues, academic pitfalls and a coaching change.

But when The Process finally pays off, it pays off in a big way. The reward is what Ole Miss earned Saturday, this the second Saturday in October.

Vaught-Hemingway Stadium rang out Saturday afternoon. From the student section to the high-priced seats, most of the some 51,000 fans in attendance hung around to soak it all in.

Ole Miss had finally snapped its 16-game SEC losing streak. This, again, was part of The Process, or what head coach Hugh Freeze has repeatedly referred to as the wilderness.

Ole Miss fans had waited for this moment, a 41-20 win over Auburn. But it was much more than that.

When Freeze was hired in December, he immediately lowered expectations for what this team would be able to accomplish. There were talent deficiencies everywhere, from the offensive and defensive lines, to running back and the secondary. Linebacker and quarterback were no sure things, either.

He never set a number for wins and losses. He only promised his team would compete for 60 minutes.

Well, for seven games, the Rebels have competed in each and every game. They've fought. Better yet, they've cared.

"I'm very, very relieved we were able to get the job done," Freeze said following the win.

Another step in The Process.

Jeff Scott
US Presswire

There was a step forward, a few steps back and a leap or two forward to get to this point. First, decisive wins over inferior teams Central Arkansas and Tulane. Then, a victory against a capable opponent in UTEP.

Ole Miss was trounced by Texas, 66-31. So, Freeze and staff made personnel moves on defense to mix things up. Two weeks later, the Rebels hung with top-ranked Alabama, even leading for all of 15 seconds, the only deficit Alabama has faced all year.

Ole Miss wasn't competitive in 2011-12, finishing 2-10 and winless in league games. A year later, the Rebels have learned how to compete, figured out the effort needed to win games, followed The Process to a tee and are within shouting distance of bowl eligibility.

They finally got to the fourth quarter with a lead in an SEC game a week ago against Texas A&M. But a 10-point lead with six minutes remaining was lost. Heads hung. Tears were shed. Finishing was up next.

Saturday, Ole Miss finished, scoring 17 points to zero for Auburn in the fourth quarter. And all in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium released a collective sigh of relief.

"We've had this weight on our backs for so long," sophomore safety Cody Prewitt said. "It feels good to finally get it off. We're going to keep going hard."

No one said The Process was easy. Ole Miss is just one win above .500, at 4-3 and 1-2 in the SEC. Games against Arkansas, Georgia, LSU, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State remain.

But Ole Miss has confidence. Confidence it can hang in the toughest league on the planet. Confidence it can get bowl eligible. Confidence it can win. And how do you spell fun? Oh, nevermind.

"Wins bring confidence," sophomore defensive end C.J. Johnson said. "Just looking at, overall, the rest of our season, we can go in all those games and win every single last one of them."

What a difference a year makes.

Ole Miss had no such thoughts last season. There were so many problems with the program, many Ole Miss fans were simply hoping for a team that didn't quit, that would play hard no matter the score. That'd be good enough. Just show improvement.

This season was a hall pass.

But in his first season in Oxford, Freeze has raised the bar. See, with each step reached in The Process comes the next step. What's next? Winning another SEC game, obviously. Two more, in fact.

And there's that little game to conclude the regular season against in-state rival Mississippi State. Ole Miss has lost the last three Egg Bowls, in case you forgot.

All that can wait for another day. The streak is over. The Process continues. And for the first time in two years, there's belief at Ole Miss. This program can rebound; can move out of the SEC cellar and back to respectability.

"Forward. You can't look back," junior safety Charles Sawyer said.

Well said.

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