Give it Some Time, Ole Miss
By Steve Barnes
Ole Miss fans are having a summer unlike any other they've experienced in a long time — a summer anticipating the realization of great potential.
I have heard it from several of my Ole Miss friends. In the spirit of full disclosure, I attended the University of Mississippi for a year. It was the fall of 1983 when I arrived in Oxford as a sophomore and Billy Brewer began his tenure as the Rebels' football coach. Since there were some athletic department shenanigans and I had a 1.8 grade-point average, we both left on probation.
The fans have a right to be excited. A solid 2012 season capped by a bowl win along with a recruiting class universally rated in the Top 10 in the nation has spirit at a fever pitch in The Grove. But careful my Rebel friends, don't go overboard — I don't believe this is the year.
There is a lot to look forward to at Vaught-Hemingway this season, most notably the arrival of four of the top high school recruits Ole Miss has ever landed at once. Defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, that nation's top recruit, will suit up for the Rebels as will the class' top wide receiver in Laquon Treadwell, No. 1 offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil and the second-rated defensive back Tony Conner.
Could a freshman come into the Southeastern Conference and dominate right off the bat? Sure. Bo Jackson did it at Auburn and Herschel Walker did the same at Georgia. But the odds of four freshmen knocking the collective socks off the rest of the conference from the outset doesn't seem plausible. Remember, each week thousands of people hit one number in the lottery.
Ole Miss could hit multiple numbers, however. The young Rebels will have the advantage of stepping in and learning from some seasoned SEC veterans. Quarterback Bo Wallace returns after missing spring drills recovering from clavicle surgery. He will be joined by two returning wide receivers who were starters a season ago, six running backs who saw playing time, including leading rusher Jeff Scott, and four starting offensive linemen.
Ole Miss is experienced on defense as well. A host of starters return, including C.J. Johnson, who led the team in sacks, both starting defensive tackles, a pair of starting linebackers and four defensive backs.
All told, the Rebels' roster features players with more starts in their careers than any other school in the country with the exception of Texas.
That experience provided a good season in 2012. The Rebels won some games that in years past they wouldn't have, routed Mississippi State, had near misses against Texas A&M and LSU and took care of Pitt in a bowl game. All in all, it all points to a bright future.
But before Rebels fans start making travel plans for Atlanta and the SEC championship game, they should remember one fact: Ole Miss plays in the SEC West. LSU has won a recent national title and so has Auburn. There is also that pesky little fact that Alabama is gunning for its third straight crystal trophy. As improved as the Rebels will be in 2013, the division and schedule works against them.
Ole Miss opens at Vanderbilt and the Commodores always played tough against the Rebels when they were little ol' Vandy. Now Vanderbilt is a legitimate threat to everyone in the conference. After the home opener against Southeast Missouri, Ole Miss has back-to-back games at Texas and Alabama. Fortunately, the Rebels don't leave Lafayette County from mid-October to late November, hosting Texas A&M, LSU, Arkansas, Missouri, Idaho and Troy before the annual Egg Bowl against Mississippi State in Starkville.
The key to a successful season could simply be the Vanderbilt game. Lose the opener and 1-3 looks the Rebels right in the eye. Win it and Ole Miss should be no worse than 2-2 heading into the marathon home stand with a chance to seize some momentum down the stretch. If Ole Miss can keep the momentum — and it can change quicker than you can find a pretty Kappa Delta co-ed on campus — the Rebels are looking at a bowl much better than the one they went to in 2012.
As for a date in the Georgia Dome in December, it is probably not in the cards. But a win over LSU or A&M or even an upset of Alabama is not out of the question. There is just a better shot once the heralded recruiting class gets a little SEC action under their belts.
So, get ready to tailgate Rebel fans. Eat, drink and scream "Hotty Toddy" at the top of your lungs. The time is coming for Ole Miss.
Just be patient.