2011 Record: (2-10, 0-8 in SEC)
Head Coach: Hugh Freeze (first year at Ole Miss, 30-7 All-Time)
Last Bowl Game: 2009 season Cotton Bowl: beat Oklahoma State 21-7
Stat to Cheer: Held opponents to 59.57% TD rate in the red zone
Stats to Fear: allowed 59 plays of 20 or more yards in 2011 (last in SEC); allowed 32 plays of 30 or more yards in 2011 (last in SEC, 105th in Nation); only had 13 sacks in 2011 (last in SEC, 111th in Nation)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 8; Defense: 8; Specialists: 2)
Key Defensive Returnees: S Charles Sawyer (70 tackles, 4 INT), LB Mike Marry (81 tackles, 2 sacks)
Key Offensive Returnees: WR Donte Moncrief (31 rec, 4 TD), RB Jeff Scott (529 yds rush, 6 TD)
Inside Scoop with Red Cup Rebellion:
CFBZ: In our Exit Survey from January, you said that Barry Brunetti would be the man at QB for the Rebels in 2012. After spring practice do you still see him as the best choice to run Hugh Freeze's offense?
Red Cup Rebellion: It looks now like the quarterback position is Bo Wallace's to lose. Wallace has the better arm of the two, and spent a year under Hugh Freeze at Arkansas State so his familiarity with the offensive system helps a lot. At SEC Media Days, wide receiver Donte Moncrief agreed that Bo will likely be getting the nod at the position, crediting him for his leadership in the offseason.
This isn't to say that I don't think Barry Brunetti is a capable quarterback. In Hugh Freeze's offensive system - which is an up tempo system run primarily out of the shotgun featuring a lot of read option - a mobile quarterback can do quite well. Brunetti's feet and speed are excellent. He reminds me of a Jeremiah Masoli or a slightly slower Pat White in that regard. His arm and decision making are suspect, though.
CFBZ: Ole Miss had the worst defense in the SEC last year. What are the biggest reasons for optimism on the defensive side of the football?
Red Cup Rebellion: Ole Miss does return some significant experience on the defensive side of the ball. Linebacker Mike Marry led the team in tackles last season and will hold down the middle linebacker spot for the entirety of the season assuming he stays injury-free. Several other linebackers, including Joel Kight and (hopefully, assuming his knee is healing well) DT Shackelford, have seen significant playing time in past seasons.
In the secondary, Brishen Mathews, Cody Prewitt, Aaron Garbutt, Frank Crawford and Wesley Pendleton all saw significant SEC action for much of the season last year, and one has to hope they all grow from that. Safety Charles Sawyer is the most heralded of the defensive backs, as the safety led the Rebel secondary in interceptions last year. Of the guys I've seen on this Rebel defense, I would say that Sawyer is the most "NFL-ready" of the bunch.
Still, Ole Miss will struggle to establish a pass rush again this year, meaning the defense will struggle overall.
CFBZ: How important is it for Hugh Freeze to beat Dan Mullen's Mississippi State squad in year one?
Red Cup Rebellion: For his job? Not important at all. For the sanity of the Ole Miss fan base? Quite significant. It's not that Ole Miss fans want to beat Mississippi State so much as we hate losing to them. His seat won't warm up at all in year one though if he doesn't beat the Bulldogs.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for 2012 and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Red Cup Rebellion: I'll say 4-8. This team is more talented than they appeared last year, and Hugh Freeze has had success, at least on the offensive side of the ball, everywhere he has coached. So I do feel that this team will look much better this year than it did last year. It will look more like an actual SEC team, if that makes any sense. Still, the talent gap between Ole Miss and most of the Rebels' opponents is too wide and the schedule too tough for much improvement. The season will be a success if the team can win four or more games or, at the very least, show enough improvement to build up momentum in recruiting.
Houston Nutt posted two strong seasons at 9-4 before the wheels came off. After finishing 4-8 and 2-10 there was nothing Ole Miss could do but look for another coach. Last year, the Rebels combined the second to worst offense in the league with the worst defense and what resulted was zero conference wins. This off-season, Ole Miss tabbed Hugh Freeze as their head coach. Freeze was wildly successful in his one year at Arkansas State but now he's in the toughest division in all of football so it will be very interesting to see how long it takes to turn around this Rebels squad.
Ole Miss has some talent on offense. Donte Moncrief and Jeff Scott should both fit in well in Freeze's system. What they need is someone to get them the football. Ole Miss played three QBs last year and none of them saw any success. Both Zack Stoudt and Randall Mackey completed less than half of their passes. Overall, Ole Miss QBs combined to throw 9 TDs and 13 INTs. Freeze will be running an offense that he compares to "basketball on grass". As noted above it looks like Bo Wallace will be taking over at QB and that's probably the best thing for Ole Miss. I think it's clear they will have more success on offense then they did last year and the key will be the distributor and how effective he can be.
Ole Miss has hired Dave Wommack as their DC. His most recent position was at Arkansas State with Hugh Freeze. Before that he was at Georgia Tech for a couple of years but he's never really been in a place for an extended period of time so the verdict is still out on him. Wommack will be installing a 4-2-5 scheme and will use both man and zone. Wommack wants the team to be quick and physical. One thing is for sure, Ole Miss has to get more pressure on the QB and it will be interesting to see how a 4-2-5 translates in the SEC with teams like Bama and LSU that want to pound the rock.
Ole Miss went 2-10 last year but right out of the gates there are three games on this schedule that Ole Miss should be embarrassed if they lose. Outside of those three games wins will be tough to come by. It all depends on how quickly Freeze can implement his system and how effectively Wallace, or whoever is QB, can distribute the football. I do like that Ole Miss has those three games early in the season. After the first four games Ole Miss should be 3-1 and that will give this team some confidence as well as some time to get the offense down with real game experience. One thing I like about this schedule is that all of the "tough" games are on the road (Bama, Arkansas, Georgia, LSU). Let's be honest, Ole Miss wasn't going to win those games anyway. What that does is it leaves some winnable games at home. Ole Miss will welcome Texas A&M, Auburn, Vandy and Mississippi State to Oxford this year. It's not implausible that they could steal a win or two against that group. I like the way the schedule plays out and I could see Ole Miss taking more than one conference game this year but I have to see it before I believe it. I think Ole Miss hired the right guy but in the SEC, and with what Nutt left behind, it's going to be a process.
2012 Prediction: 4-8
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