Editor's note: We’re taking steps to get you ready for every one of Alabama's regular-season opponents. Every Friday we'll go through each week of the schedule, starting with the season-opener against West Virginia and closing with the finale against Auburn.
2013 overall record: 8-5
2013 SEC record: 3-5, sixth in the Western Division
Record all time against Alabama: 9-2-48
Last meeting: Lost 25-0 in 2013
Offense: 6; Defense: 10; Kicker/punter: 0
2013 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: I’Tavius Mathers* (563 yards)
Passing: Bo Wallace* (3,346 yards, 18 TD, 10 INT)
Receiving: Laquon Treadwell* (608 yards)
Tackles: Serderius Bryant* (78)
Sacks: Isaac Gross* (3.5)
Interceptions: Cody Prewitt* (6)
What they're saying:
“They weren’t five-star players anymore; they were Ole Miss football players. That’s how we treated them, and they loved it,” said quarterback Bo Wallace of the Rebels' talented crop of freshmen who got their feet wet last season.
Three things to watch:
1. Signal change on offense: No, the offense isn’t changing. Head coach Hugh Freeze will still employ the same up-tempo, spread attack he’s used his entire career. But this fall he’s committed to changing the way he calls plays following the departure of Ryan Aplin to Auburn. Why is this so important? Well, if you recall the 25-0 shutout Alabama handed Ole Miss last season, you should also recall the allegations after the game that another former Rebels aid, Tyler Siskey, was spying calls on the sidelines. Tide coach Nick Saban denied the allegations, of course, but the video of Siskey, an off-the-field staffer, with a pair of binoculars trained at the Ole Miss coaching staff was pretty telling. This year, expect greater security from Freeze and his staff when they host Alabama in Oxford.
2. Time to prove it: Potential is a tricky thing. Last season, Ole Miss had tons of it as its freshman class garnered many of the headlines. Every broadcast you watched of the Rebels included a mandatory rundown of all the young talent on Freeze’s squad: Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner, Laquon Treadwell, Evan Engram and Laremy Tunsil. Every player was promising and productive, especially when judged by a rookie standard. “Just wait until they get experience,” was the usual refrain as Ole Miss lost three games by a touchdown or less. Well, now they have experience and the freshmen are no longer freshmen. Now Ole Miss must prove that it can translate talent into championships. With a senior at quarterback, a productive defense returning all but one starter and a roster loaded with big-time talent, there aren’t any more excuses.
3. Experience except where it counts: Go look at the “2013 statistical leaders” section of this post again. See all the asterisks denoting a returning starter? A lot of teams around the SEC would love to have that many stars returning. But there’s a problem. If you’re trying to compete in this league, you need experience in the trenches, and Ole Miss is currently trying to replace three such starters on its offensive line. Losing Austin Golson, who was expected to start at right tackle, only further exacerbates the problem. As offensive coordinator Dan Werner told ESPN, “We’re still shuffling guys around.” When you’re a program with hopes of making it to Atlanta, that’s not what you want to hear. Go look at the teams that have won the SEC title lately: They all had experience across the offensive line. With Laremy Tunsil a year wiser, Aaron Morris back from injury and Robert Conyers impressing the coaching staff, Ole Miss has the parts to build a solid line. The question, however, is how and when it will all come together.