What’s next for Ole Miss?
The Rebels entered Saturday’s game at Florida as the top team in the SEC and left with a shocking, 38-10 loss. So where does Ole Miss go from here? Well, if you’re a Rebels fan, you hope that history doesn’t repeat itself.
Last season, Ole Miss earned its signature win against Alabama in a game that — despite being at home — was also considered both an upset and signature win. For two weeks, the Rebels — and in-state rival Mississippi State — sat atop the conference rankings.
But the party didn’t last as Ole Miss lost back-to-back games to LSU and Auburn and ended its season with four losses in six games. Sure, the Rebels finished with their best record in five years, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the disappointment of falling out of contention for a national championship.
In 2015, the team entered with higher expectations given its program-changing 2013 recruiting class having an added year of experience. So naturally, Ole Miss’ early success — prior to its Florida loss — comes as less of a surprise than the previous season.
The Rebels are a better team than they were in 2014. Chad Kelly is a far superior quarterback to Bo Wallace, the poster boy for inconsistency.
Even with key losses — defensive backs Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt and linebacker Serderius Bryant — Ole Miss still has one of the SEC’s most talented defenses.
The Rebels should still be one of the favorites to represent the SEC West in the SEC Championship game, but don’t tell it to their coach. Freeze noted that he doesn’t think the hype surrounding Ole Miss is warranted just yet.
“We are not elite right now,” Freeze said during his weekly press conference on Monday. “We have potential to be much better than the way we played that night, and we’ve shown that. We still have a lot of work to do. It’s evident the other night that we weren’t prepared to play our best and we didn’t.”
Freeze noted that Ole Miss has missed several key players due to injuries, as well as starting offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, who continues to serve a suspension during an NCAA investigation.
“You have to continue to build your program to where you can be elite when [injuries and suspensions] happen. But I am confident. I can’t wait to get to work and back on the practice field to get ready for Saturday.”
At full strength, Ole Miss is a talented team, but that’s not enough to assume its spot as a favorite in the SEC West. The division is stacked with future NFL prospects and each week presents a potential upset.
Even Arkansas — who finished in last place — made a bowl appearance in 2014. The SEC West is the only division in college football to have all of its teams play in a postseason game.
Here’s a look at the Rebels’ remaining schedule:
Oct. 10 NEW MEXICO STATE (0-4)
Oct. 17 at Memphis (5-0)
Oct. 24 TEXAS A&M (5-0)
Oct. 31 at Auburn (3-2)
Nov. 7 ARKANSAS (2-3)
Nov. 21 LSU (4-0)
Nov. 28 at Mississippi State (3-2)
Obviously, Auburn, Arkansas and Mississippi State are far below their preseason expectation ceilings. But still, each remaining game — after New Mexico State — involves a capable opponent.
So Freeze is right to want his team to ignore the hype. Ole Miss lasted just two weeks as the top-ranked team in the SEC before crashing back down to reality.
It’s still too early to think that Ole Miss will end its season with just one loss. But the Rebels do have their most talented roster in several years and Hugh Freeze has managed to improve his overall record from the previous season — 9-4 in 2014 — since arriving in Oxford.
Ole Miss is still a contender in the SEC West, but its hard to call it the favorite. There’s still plenty of games left to play before we know who the true contender is in the SEC. However, the Rebels should remain in fighting distance for the conference’s top prize.