Ole Miss took a step forward in its first year under head coach Hugh Freeze, and it is hoping to leap ahead in 2013. The Rebels are adding a highly-rated recruiting class to a group that is losing very little. Freeze is hoping this year's class combined with that returning experience can turn into wins and momentum for the program.
The Rebels will need to show that they can hang with the top teams in the SEC if they want to improve on a 7-6 record from 2012. Ole Miss couldn't hang with Alabama and Georgia earlier in the season, but did show improvement late. A 41-35 loss to LSU was followed by a win over rival Mississippi State to earn bowl eligibility. The Rebels then took down Pittsburgh in the Compass Bowl to notch a winning season, a drastic improvement from a 2-10 finish the year prior.
While the latest recruiting class is cause for celebration in Oxford, the reality is the Rebels merely brought in talent that could get them on par with Alabama, LSU, and other SEC powers. Ole Miss was among five SEC schools among the top 10 recruiting classes in the nation, according to 247's composite rankings.
Can the Rebels turn this new influx of talent into conference contention? That's the big question at Ole Miss for this and future seasons.
Spring practice start date: Mar. 6, 2013
Spring game date, location: Apr. 13, 2013, Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium, Oxford, Miss.
Approximate returning starters: Ole Miss will be loaded with returning talent to complement its elite recruiting class. Every starter is back on defense, while nine return on offense.
Quarterback Bo Wallace is injured this spring, but will likely enter his second season as the starter, and Ole Miss will likely be hoping he can cut back on his interceptions. Wallace threw 17 as a sophomore, but completing 64 percent of his passes was a welcome change from the 49 percent that Ole Miss QBs combined for in 2011.
On defense the top returner is outside linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, who received All-SEC honors last season. He was also instrumental in landing his brother, the top overall recruit in the 2013 class.
Biggest addition: Ole Miss not only grabbed the top high school player in the country for 2013, but it grabbed the best junior college prospect as well in defensive tackle Lavon Hooks out of Northeast Mississippi Community College.
Hooks is already enrolled and will participate in spring ball. He could step in right away to help out on the line, but he also has three years to play two, so a redshirt is also a possibility. It will likely depend on how he performs in the next few months.
Biggest loss: Jack-of-all-trades Randall Mackey has graduated, and he was a versatile performer for the Rebels. After some struggles at quarterback during his junior season, he moved to the skill positions.
Mackey was a danger on the ground and in the air. He rushed the ball 79 times for 325 yards and four touchdowns, and caught 25 passes for 346 yards and a score.
New players? Along with Hooks, Ole Miss also welcomed junior college transfers Nickolas Brassell and Quadarias Mireles, along with high school prospects Christian Morgan and Mark Dodson as early enrollees.
Dodson is a consensus 4-star running back out of Memphis (Tenn.)'s Whitehaven High School. He possesses good balance and agility, and chose Ole Miss over an offer from Arkansas. His junior year highlights can be found here:
New coaches? Ole Miss has not yet had any turnover on its coaching staff other than losing defensive backs coach and ace recruiter Wesley McGriff to the NFL.
New schemes? Who knows what Freeze did to bring in all the top-rated talent that usually passes on offers from Ole Miss? Could he have given coordinating duties to Robert Nkemdiche? Might Ole Miss bring back the player-coach?
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