In just 12 short months, the Rebs went from being a bumbling 2-10 team in 2011 to a 7-6 unit, including a bowl win over Pittsburgh, an Egg Bowl victory over rival Mississippi State and a program that produced a Top 10 recruiting class in February, including inking the number one player in the nation, DE Robert Nkemdiche.
Freeze did it with a win-the-day formula that brought pride, belief and enthusiasm back to the Ole Miss program and it spread throughout the fan base, leaving everyone wanting more.
The reason for the optimism is clear. While a few very effective players graduated, none of them fall in the irreplaceable category and a team that was young in 2012 has grown some fangs. The Rebels still have depth issues in some areas, a problem only a couple of more solid years of recruiting will cure, but they have enough key players returning to make 2013 very interesting.
On offense, four of five starters up front, Quarterback Bo Wallace (photo at right), Tailback Jeff Scott and WR Donte Moncrief, of "Feed Moncrief" fame, return. Wallace missed spring training rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery, but should be fine when August rolls around. Moncrief is an All-American candidate, with all the tools to earn that elite status.
Couple all that with the return of WR Ja-Mes Logan, WR Vincent Sanders and a stable of quality backs to relieve Scott and you have the makings for a solid offense in Freeze's up-tempo, and oft times unpredictable, system.
The issues on offense? The Rebs graduated all three tight ends and none emerged as "the guy" in spring training. There is also a need for more depth on the OL and WR and the Rebel faithful will be holding their breath that Wallace remains healthy.
On defense, it starts with Denzel Nkemdiche, who was All-SEC a year ago as a redshirt freshman. Although undersized for an OLB, Nkediche has the it factor and simply makes plays.
The Rebel stoppers can also boast of more star potential in DE C.J. Johnson, LB Mike Marry, LB D.T. Shackelford (who missed two years with a knee injury but had a productive spring), FS Cody Prewitt, SS Trae Elston, DT Issac Gross, DE Cameron Whigham, CB Senquez Golson, DT Bryon Bennett and CB Charles Sawyer, all returning starters.
What emerged in spring was some, not enough but some, quality depth with competent players like LB Keith Lewis, DT Woodrow Hamilton, S Chief Brown – most improved in spring, CB Nick Brassell, and LB Serderius "Bird" Bryant.
Freeze redshirted Punter Tyler Campbell and PK Andrew Ritter last year and their return will add more firepower to the special teams.
One drawback may be a quirky, difficult schedule. The Rebs play four of their first five games on the road versus Vanderbilt, Texas, Alabama and Auburn, and when they do come home, they will have to face Texas A&M and LSU back-to-back.
Regardless of the outcome of the 2013 season, the Ole Miss program is going in the right direction and that has Rebel Nation excited.
Defensive end Robert Nkemdiche