‘We know we’re better’

HOOVER, Ala. - Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze arrived at SEC Media Days with a fresh haircut, buzzed on both sides – a byproduct of losing a golf bet to South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier.

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So, here he was.

However, his hair wasn’t so much the story as he met with local reporters prior to making the rounds in the Wynfrey Hotel ballroom as the expectations for his team in his third season. The Rebels were picked fourth by league media in a wide-open SEC West.

But don’t tell Freeze or fans of an Ole Miss team returning 15 position starters, including nine starters on defense. The Rebels finished 8-5 last season, their season coming to a close with a win in the Music City Bowl in December.

“I think it’s wide open,” he said of the SEC West. “I think that every coach who’s stood here feels the same way I do, that we know we’re better. I’ve said that since spring ball. What does that mean? You’re going to have to do it on the field to see. I don’t know. But I know this: we’re a better football team. But so are the others also. They’re quality also.

“You can’t forecast the health of your players and what’s going to happen to key people throughout the season. But there’s no question I stand here today excited and confident in who we’re playing and who we are at this point.”

"We know we’re better. What does that mean? You’re going to have to do it on the field to see."

Staying healthy is critical for any team, and Ole Miss is already dealing with the injury bug in the off-season. Defensive back “Chief” Brown will miss the season with an Achilles tear, while Collins Moore is out 4-6 weeks after suffering a knee injury.

It wasn’t all bad news Thursday. Senior wide receiver Vince Sanders sat out spring practices in March with a hamstring injury. He’s fully recovered from the injury, and Freeze anticipates Sanders reassuming his place as a leader and starter opposite preseason All-SEC selection Laquon Treadwell.

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Sanders was limited to only nine games, two starts, last season as he battled a broken collarbone and other lingering injuries. He was second on the team with 504 receiving yards on 39 catches in 2012.

“He’s a starter. We’re excited to have Vince,” Freeze said. “He’s a really good player who gets overlooked, in my opinion. I think he’s going to lead that group. We have some good receivers. We’re not as deep as I would like to be. But Vince is definitely one of the leaders there, him and Laquon.”

Even more encouraging, Ole Miss could potentially receive some positive news in the case of decorated signee Tee Shepard, a junior college cornerback and former five-star prospect who signed with the Rebels in February. He’ll conclude summer classes July 25.

“July 25 is when those classes end. Then the whole deal starts about getting grades from the juco to the clearninghouse,” Freeze said. “You're just never sure the time frame of those things, but we feel very confident – right now and today – that he will be a qualifier.

“Still, those classes don't end until the 25th and then we'll start getting everything to the clearninghouse. Hopefully he'll be there right around the start of camp if he finishes the way he's going right now.”

Spring storyline Jeremy Liggins, a Northeast Community College transfer and Oxford, Miss., product, has lost weight this off-season. Whether he sticks at quarterback or not is another matter entirely.

“Absolutely phenomenal work,” Freeze said. “Couldn’t be happier with Jeremy Liggins. He looks like a million bucks, he’s running around, he’s down to about 280. I don’t know where I’m going to play him yet, but he’s going to help us.”

Freeze said Liggins isn’t stubborn about sticking at quarterback, where he starred for Lafayette High School and racked up 1,678 passing yards and 953 rushing yards as a senior. He totaled 34 total touchdowns.

“One of the things I love about him, absolutely not. ‘Coach, I’ll play o-line, I’ll play tight end, I’ll play wherever you want me to play,’” Freeze said. “That’s his attitude. He really, genuinely means it. He just wants to play and contribute. I have no doubt he will.”

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