7-6!

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Rebel Coach Hugh Freeze was asked during the week leading up to the Compass Bowl how important a win to get to 7-6 would be. He hedged on his answer, but after the Rebs won, 38-17, over Pitt, he admitted it was "huge."

When the final horn sounded on Ole Miss' convincing 38-17 win over Pitt, a game that really was never in doubt from early on, something strange took place.

Not only was Coach Hugh Freeze given a Gatorade bath, but he was also carried to midfield to shake hands with Panther Coach Paul Chryst.

Those are normally actions reserved for teams winning conference titles or national championships, not teams who finish the year 7-6.

For some, those acts might seem like overkill.

But those with intimate knowledge of this program, in its first year, and this team, down and out a year ago, know how special this season has been.

A year ago, this was a program that was like a thrice-divorced, unemployed alcoholic. There was no direction, no vision, no leadership, no discipline, and not a helluva lot of hope for what was ahead. Disarray personified.

The fan base was teetering on throwing in the towel and spending their entertainment dollars somewhere else.

Flash forward to the Compass Bowl. . .

A record crowd in what QB Bo Wallace said "was like a home game because of our fans."

Why?

Simple - Rebel Nation can see what's happening and it isn't about a meager 7-6 record, as satisfying as it is.


Randall Mackey
Bruce Newman

There's a laundry list of reasons Ole Miss fans have gotten behind this team in what Freeze calls "the journey."

From the exciting style of play to the discipline to the way the stars are aligning in recruiting to the unity and genuine love on the team to the effort they gave each week to the organization to the sheer joy and fun they are having playing the game for their fans, this team gives Rebel everywhere something to hang their collective hats on.

In fact, Rebel Nation is rabid now.

The whole bowl experience encapsulated what this program is all about.

Freeze came up with a relatively light schedule, but when it was time to work, it was time to put it all on the line.

Practice sessions were broken into two segments with a lenient Christmas break, instead of grinding them, taking priority.

He was demanding, but fair, after a grueling regular season.

The players responded, working hard but having fun in their preparations. They were intense, but loose.

It's easy to say after the fact, but Pitt really did not stand a chance. Everything pointed to the Rebels all week.

I'm very conservative in predictions, but when a friend who likes to wager on college football text me before the game and asked if the Rebs could cover the four-point spread, I text him back, "bet the house."

When the game rolled around, it was basically academic. The Rebs didn't play lights out, but their energy and enthusiasm and desire to come out on top overcame some miscues that appeared to be more rust from having not played in over a month than anything else.

The defense, for the most part, smothered Pitt and forced three turnovers against a Panther offense that had only turned the ball over one time in the last seven games.

On top of that, the Rebel defense physically abused the Panther offense with big hit after big hit. It may have been the Rebs' most physical outing of the year.

On offense, the Rebs were not particularly crisp, but they made enough plays to rack up 38 first downs, 387 yards and they did create some explosive plays.

And the special teams, led by return ace Jaylen Walton, had one of their better overall outings.


Bo Wallace was named Compass Bowl MVP
Bruce Newman

After the game, Freeze admitted the importance of the win.

"To have a winning season in the first year of our journey is huge," he said. "I think we put a product out there all of Rebel Nation can be proud of. This being our first bowl in this program will always hold a special place in my heart."

The Rebels had a lot of peaks and valleys in year one of the Freeze Era, but they stayed consistent in their approach.

"We played every game as hard as we could play and never got too up or too down," said Freeze. "I knew when we would come back together on Sundays after a loss and the players would pick me up that we could do something real good.

"I think they started believing after the Alabama game, when we went toe-to-toe with them physically, and it just built from there, even when we had more losses."

With this season in the books, and still wet from the postgame drenching, Hugh looked to the future.

"Life is a journey. There are good times and bad times. It's good to finish phase one of our journey to build a program that can compete with the best in the country on a high note," he closed. "Our journey is just starting. There is a lot more to do and a lot more to accomplish."

True, but what a start.

And while Freeze would not admit it during the week leading up to the match with Pittsburgh, 7-6 beats the hell out of 6-7.

Momentum in anything is important, especially in sports.

The Rebs have it and it will continue to pay dividends through recruiting and into year two of this journey.

Hold on to your hats. It's only going to get better.


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