Ole Miss expects tough challenge in OSU

The Ole Miss football team reconvened Monday in Oxford to begin practices for the Sugar Bowl.

The Rebels worked in full pads inside the Manning Center. Head coach Hugh Freeze said they’ll spend six days in pads and two focused only on weights, conditioning and run-throughs. Ole Miss will meet Oklahoma State Jan. 1 in the Superdome in New Orleans, La., at 7:30 p.m. CT. The Rebels are the home team.

Ole Miss is making its fourth straight bowl appearance for the first time since 1997-2000.

“I actually haven’t watched much of their defense yet. I watched more of their offense,” Freeze said of the Cowboys. “Started watching a little bit today, but I’ve kind of been tied up with a lot of different things going on. But we’ve started our game plan. I’ll look at that shortly and see. Tomorrow’s when I’ll dig in and start looking at the other areas.

“I’ve seen the stats, obviously. We’re playing at a high level offensively. Can’t let this spell of being off … we’ve got to attack it. I didn’t like the way last year went obviously. I’m going to make sure our kids, every single day, hear that from me. If they really want to be great, we’ve got to compete in these type of games. They’ll hear that from me quite frequently.”

Ole Miss (9-3, 6-2 SEC) is 10-2 in its last 12 bowl games dating back to the 1992 Liberty Bowl. Freeze is 2-1 in bowl games, including a loss to TCU in the Peach Bowl a year ago. The Rebels are appearing in their second New Year’s Six game in consecutive seasons. This is their ninth appearance in the Sugar Bowl, tied with Florida and Georgia for the third-most in history.

The Rebels are 5-3 all-time in the Sugar Bowl, including a 27-22 win over Arkansas in their last appearance in 1970. The Cowboys enter the game 10-2 on the the year. They were 7-2 in Big 12 play.

“They throw and catch it as well as any we’ve seen,” Freeze said. “The quarterback is extremely accurate and throws a really good deep ball. The receivers are very physical, get off of coverage and run extremely good routes. They’ve done that for the duration of (Mike) Gundy’s career there. I used to study them some. They are really talented. They have really good concepts. They have answers for different coverages. Again, you have a quarterback who is on target with receivers that are athletic. It’s a tough matchup for most people, and this has been. They’ve been very good at it all year.”

Random Notes:

* Junior quarterback DeVante Kincade announced his intentions to transfer from Ole Miss last week to be closer to his family. However, he is still with the team and will practice during Sugar Bowl preparations. 

* Speaking of quarterback rumors, junior Ryan Buchanan is expected to stay with the program, according to sources. With Chad Kelly expected to return next season and five-star quarterback Shea Patterson being added to the mix, Buchanan will join redshirt freshman Jason Pellerin in a talent-rich quarterback room. 

* Sophomore safety C.J. Hampton was practicing with the team today. He was on the stationary bike for a portion of practice Monday, but it looks like Hampton is recovering from the stinger that held him out of the final two games of the regular season. 

* With Hampton out, senior Chief Brown has really stepped up and played well. However, it wasn't Hampton's injury that got Brown back on the field. The coaches have been really pleased by his play, and once he got the opportunity, he's made the most of it and been a real factor on the backend of the Rebel defense. 

* Robert Nkemdiche did not practice Monday, but he is in Oxford. Of course, his status remains up in the air following this weekend's events. With Nkemdiche out, freshman Ross Donelly is stepping up as the fourth defensive tackle in the rotation. 

* Freeze mentioned Ole Miss had sent in paperwork for NFL draft evaluations for junior tight end Evan Engram, defensive end Fadol Brown and others. Schools can submit paperwork for up to five players. They will hear the results around the first of the year. Freeze said Monday he thinks junior Tony Conner is for sure coming back. On Engram, Freeze said he thinks it's still up in the air, but our sources feel like he is leaning towards turning pro. “I think kids just in general kind of want to see where they are. The new grading system is just predicts if you’re a first round or a second round or come back to school, which I think is very good. The last few years you had 50 percent of the kids that declare for the draft didn’t get drafted. You talk about a slap in the face, a cold bucket of water, that’s a different animal. A kid needs to know if he should come back to school. If he still makes that decision, I think that’s much better than the old way of saying, “Well, you could go in the third, maybe the second, maybe not at all.” You didn’t know what to tell a kid. I think some kids should do that just to see where they are. I think Tony for sure should be coming back. Evan I think is in the air some. But I have been out for two weeks.”

* Freshman running back Eric Swinney was practicing with the team Monday. However, he is not participating in contact drills. He has bulked up to 211. Swinney was listed at 197 pounds at the beginning of the season. We spoke with Ole Miss running backs coach Derrick Nix briefly Monday, and he described Swinney as a player who will truck you but still has some wiggle and speed to him. They are really excited about what he can bring to the table in 2016.

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