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Observations from the Best Seat in the House -- Jan. 4

Observations from the Best Seat in the House is back, having taken a week off for the Christmas holidays and traveled to Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. The football team finished the season in a "New Year's Six" bowl, the men's basketball team closed out non-conference play, the women's basketball team opened Southeastern Conference play and the spring sports draw nearer. Here are some thoughts and opinions on the week that was:

- The Ole Miss football team ran into a buzz saw in No. 6 TCU, a team playing like it was motivated by the College Football Playoff snub and should have been in the four-team playoff. The 42-3 loss to the Horned Frogs marked the first bowl loss under head coach Hugh Freeze and the worst bowl loss in program history.

"TCU is a very good team," Freeze said. "They deserved every mention they got this year to be in the hunt for one of the four.  They certainly, rightfully, deserve to be in it with the others.... To pick the four is a very difficult task.  They certainly could compete with any of those in it, no question in my mind."

- It's easy for fans to be disappointed by the end of the season, but credit is due to Freeze and the 2014 team, particularly the seniors, many of whom were freshman during a 2-10 season in 2011. They helped lead the program to three straight bowl games for the first time since 1998-2000 and their nine wins are its most in a season since 2009. History will be kind to this team, as the underclassmen on this year's team look to take the program to the next level in the years to come.

"I'm extremely proud of our kids and how they've turned this program, in three short years, to being relevant and competitive. I'm just sick that it wasn't that way for them today," Freeze said.

- Playing in his last collegiate game, senior cornerback Senquez Golson provided a bright spot in the game, as he tied the school record with his 10th interception of the season, the 16th of his career, which is tied for third place in Ole Miss. A projected second-day NFL draft pick, Golson remains undecided on his plans for the spring, whether it's playing baseball or preparing for the NFL Draft.

- He did not want to go out the way he did, saying as much to the media in the postgame press conference, but just as history will be kind to this year's team, it will likely be kind to senior quarterback Bo Wallace. He had his ups and downs, and he would probably be the first to admit that, but he finishes his Ole Miss career with school record for career total offensive yards (10,478), and with 24 wins as the team's stating quarterback, he is tied with Eli Manning as the winningest quarterback in modern Ole Miss history. Among those 24 wins: Three top-10 wins, including No. 1 Alabama, two Egg Bowl wins and two bowl wins.

- Much was made about the SEC's bowl performance and the SEC East's 5-0 record and the SEC West's 2-5 record, headlined by the 0-3 record by SEC West team in the "New Year's Six" bowl games. With that being said, a couple of things to consider: The SEC tied its own record the most conference bowl wins in college football history. When comparing the records of the two divisions, be sure to look at their bowl game opponents, which includes the nation's No. 4, No. 6, No. 12 and No. 18 teams for SEC West teams. Also, should one bowl game carry more weight than the 12-game or 13-game regular season when comparing divisions and conferences?

- Speaking of the "New Year's Six," the new format pulled in historic ratings. The first half of the "New Year's Six" delivered the most-viewed and highest-rated New Year's Eve triple header on an ESPN network on record, including an average of 5,013,000 views and a 3.4 US rating for No. 6 TCU and No. 9 Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl. The semifinals on New Year's Day then delivered the largest two audiences in cable television history and the highest overnight rating for a non-championship game on ESPN and ABC, with a 15.5 rating for No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Florida State in the Rose Bowl and a 15.3 rating for No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. I look forward to seeing the numbers for the College Football Championship on Monday, Jan. 12.

- Looking ahead to next season, Ole Miss will have perhaps its two best offensive players in sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and sophomore offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil coming off season-ending injuries, as Tunsil suffered a broken fibula in the loss to TCU. David Chao, MD, a former NFL head team physician, said on Twitter that type of injury requires surgery, but Tunsil could make a recovery in four-to-six months. Freeze said Treadwell, now out of the boot, will recovered by about the start of spring practice, expecting him to participate in some of spring practice.

- But the biggest question heading into the offseason and the 2015 season? The quarterback position. The Rebels signed the nation's top junior college quarterback in Chad Kelly, and we'll know more about his future with the program in the coming days. And then there's redshirt freshmen Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade, neither of whom has separated from the other through two seasons working behind Bo Wallace. It will be something to watch.

- Other questions heading into the offseason and 2015 season? Who does Freeze hire to replace linebackers coach Tom Allen on his coaching staff? After signing four on junior college national signing day, including the nation's top quarterback, defensive tackle and cornerback, how does Ole Miss finish up its recruiting class on National Signing Day (Feb. 4)? How do Treadwell, Tunsil, among others recover from season-ending injuries? That and more, we'll all have to sit back and watch.

- Speaking of looking ahead to 2015, here's Chase Parham's annual look at 10 dates that are significant for Ole Miss during the next calendar year. A must-read for all Rebel fans, if you haven't already checked it out.

- While in Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, I had the opportunity to visit and tour the College Football Hall of Fame. Wow. If you're a college football fan and haven't yet visited the museum in downtown Atlanta, you need to make plans to do so. 

When you walk in, you see a three-story-high wall of helmets representing the 768 teams that play college football at the FBS, FCS, Division II, Division III and NAIA level. When you walk upstairs, you walk through the history of college football, whether it's through exhibitions, many of which are interactive, or through films. And then there's some Ole Miss flavor, from a "Speed Limit 18" sign, to an Archie Manning 1970 magazine cover, to a game ball from the 2011 seven-overtime game against Arkansas, and then the helmet wall, films and interactivity of the exhibits will blow you away.

- As part of bowl week, I also had the opportunity to visit Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite Hospital, shadowing three of team's 21 seniors in Cody Prewitt, Billy Busch and Charlie Scott. It was great to watch the players interact with the patients, sharing stories and brightening their day. It gave you perspective. 

Another senior, Lavon Hooks, said it best: "It was a great opportunity getting to hang out with kids that might not get the same opportunities as us. It brightened my day, just being able to give back. I think it brightened their day, too, getting to play and hang out with some people they may see on TV and look up to."

- The Ole Miss men's basketball team had an interesting non-conference, defeating Creighton, Cincinnati away from Oxford, while losing to Charleston Southern and Western Kentucky on their home floor. The Rebels closed out the non-conference slate with a 9-4 record, rolling past Austin Peay 92-63 on Saturday. Ole Miss shot a season-best 54.8 percent from the floor, but head coach Andy Kennedy was most pleased by 23 assists on 34 made field goals.

"There have been a lot of things I was not expecting," said Kennedy of non-conference play. "I felt like the continuity would be a little better because we had more experience. The reality is we are still integrating new guys into the way we do things. It took us a while to figure out who's best with whom. This team needs to share the ball. We have to help each other get shots."

- Preseason All-SEC first team selection Jarvis Summers has come on strong entering the start on SEC play. He has scored in double figures in each of his last three games, including a team-high 18 points in the win over Austin Peay.

"Tonight as we were making that push, he was the guy that was being the player we need him to be," said Kenned of Summers, the Rebels' second-leading scorer. "My hope is he's getting back into a rhythm. He understands the importance that he brings to this team."

- The Rebels open SEC play on Tuesday when they play on the road at No. 1 Kentucky in Rupp Arena. Kennedy and Summers both stressed the importance of making jump shots and keeping the Wildcats off the offensive glass to keep the game close and give themselves a chance at the upset.

- The Ole Miss women's basketball team opened SEC play, defending their home court in a 71-57 win over Arkansas and then playing No. 11 Kentucky to the wire in a 64-58 loss on the road in Lexington. The Rebels led for 25:59 of the game, before a 6-0 run over the final 2:22 sealed the win for the Wildcats. Despite the loss, head coach Matt Insell and his team proved they're going to be a tough out for opponents this season.

- With the turn of the calendar, the start of the spring sports draw nearer, and something is whether three-time All-American and reigning SEC Player of the Year Nik Scholtz elects to return for his senior season in men's tennis. The Caledon, South Africa, native played in various Futures tournament this past summer and fall. With Scholtz, the Rebels would return six of their top seven player from last season, in addition to talented newcomers Gustav Hansson of Sweden and Zvonimir Babic of Croatia. 

A couple of dates to watch, as far as a possible return for Scholtz, are Jan. 7, when Ole Miss opens the 2015 season in the Florida Gulf Coast Invitational, Jan. 21, when Ole Miss classes begins, and Jan. 24, when Ole Miss begins play in the ITA Kickoff Weekend.

VIDEO: Ole Miss-TCU Motivational

Freeze, Patterson See Programs Rise

Head coach Hugh Freeze has spoken often about the journey, and he called the program's appearance in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, the first of the "New Year's Six" bowls, a validation of their success earlier this season and how far they have come over the last three seasons.

"To be here in year three of our journey, I think, is validation for us," Freeze said. "You guys again that follow me know that I'm a big-picture guy, and I don't make too much of one win or too much of one loss. I don't think I can afford to do that where we are. I just stay on the big picture.

"And again, for us, in three years to have gone to three consecutive bowl games, and this year being a New Year's Six Bowl, I think, is validation enough that we're on the right track and we were very, very competitive."

Freeze's counterpart, TCU head coach Gary Patterson, has been on a similar but longer journey.

Patterson has led the Horned Frogs to eight 10-win seasons during his 14-year tenure that has spanned three conference affiliations, most recently the Big 12 Conference, where they have competed since the 2012 season. 

"I have a little bit different philosophy than a lot of people, being at TCU and being outside the circle for many years," Patterson said. "For all the things that had to happen, to just get into a Rose Bowl, where it had to be written in the bylaws that the Pac-10 team had to play for the National Championship. You had to be the highest ranked team, you had to go undefeated, all the things you had to do to get yourself in that point.

"And still I was sitting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Friday night before playing the ball game, knowing if Boise State won, we were going to go undefeated, and we wouldn't play. We would be playing in the Las Vegas Bowl, which would have been fine. For us, we always take a standpoint of understanding. We're very appreciative of the way we get treated, what we're trying to get accomplished and the way our kids should play."

For Patterson and TCU, this is their third BCS-type bowl appearance, but their first as a member of the Big 12, having having appeared in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl and won the 2011 Rose Bowl as a BCS buster and member of the Mountain West Conference.

"This is where you want to be," Patterson said. "It gives you an opportunity to be greater access to get a chance to go play for a National Championship. And so to be honest with you, we probably had a couple teams back in '08 and '10 that probably were better than this team in some ways. They weren't thought of as such, and playing in this league would have probably made a difference."

Friends since they first talked in 2011, shortly after Freeze was named head coach at Arkansas State, their mutual admiration and respect was on display in the joint head coaches press conference, as they interjected and answer each other's questions, trading compliments for one another.

"Let me answer that for him, they're really good," interjected Patterson, referring to the Ole Miss defense. "He's just being nice to me. They played against a guy at Alabama who's really good. He's just being nice. They're really good."

"I should have answered his for him, that tempo offense, I don't know why I voted for tempo," replied Freeze, referring to the TCU offense. "I should have cried out against that stuff, man."

Patterson said both programs have an opportunity to use the matchup, one of only four matchups featuring two top-10 teams, as a springboard going forward to become the programs they want to become.

"I think as a university, as a program, I don't think we've touched the iceberg," Patterson said. "We've only recruited to the Big 12 for two years. So for us to be able to go forward and recruit and do things as we go forward, as we move down the road, I think, is going to be pivotal in how we do things. But I think we're going to just keep getting better players."

"I couldn't be more pleased," Freeze said. "I think I've said it this year. I think we're ahead of schedule and I think our kids will compete. But win or lose, I think validation has been made this year that we're on the right track."

Veteran Defenders Key Turnaround for Rebels

The hallmark of the turnaround of the Ole Miss football program has been the Landshark defense, one that leads the nation in scoring defense and fewest touchdowns allowed, and it starts with the core group of veterans who have seen it all during their college careers.

From a 2-10 season in 2011, to the program's first nine-win regular season since 2003, the unit has steadily improved, from the league's statistically worst defense in 2011, giving up 32.1 ppg, to the ninth-best defense in 2012 (27.6 ppg), to the seventh-best defense in 2013 (23.7 ppg), to the best defense in the league and the nation (13.8 ppg) entering their matchup with No. 6 TCU in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Wednesday.

"When I look back, at the last few years, since I was a freshman, it's almost been a little overwhelming," senior safety Cody Prewitt said. "Ole Miss was a dream of mine, and to see and to feel like I was a part of Ole Miss becoming what it is now and what it's going to be in the future has been a huge blessing for me. It's going to be one of those things that sticks with me for the rest of my life.

"I think I speak for all the seniors when I say that this means so much to us because we did come from so far down. I think it was 2-10 my freshman season, but at the same time I never lost faith in Ole Miss, I never lost faith in the program. It just made me want to work that much harder and when this new coaching staff came in, it rejuvenated us."

Four-year members of this year's senior class, such as Prewitt, have helped lead Ole Miss to three straight bowl games, the program's highest national ranking since 1972 and the program's highest final regular-season ranking since 1963, defeating No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Mississippi State in the process.

"People kept talking about Ole Miss as almost being there, almost there, that they almost won this game or almost won that game, and we got to the point where we want to get there," Prewitt said. "We want to be in the national run consistently. We want to create one of those elite programs like Alabama or Auburn.

"We don't want to be one of those teams when they see us on the schedule that they write us off, and that was the main thing for the seniors. We wanted lead a team that was not going to be a pushover anymore. We wanted to be an elite program in the nation."

And then there are those players like junior defensive end C.J. Johnson, also a member of the 2011 signing class, who will be playing his final college game with many of his close friends and teammates. He knows that game is important going into the 2015 season, but he's not ready to turn the page on 2014.

"It's emotional, man," Johnson said. "It's going to be as emotional for me like it is for them. Our class has been through so much. That 2-10 year took a lot out of all of us. Being around those guys, it's going to be really emotional for me. I don't really like talking about it. I'm not ready for it to happen. I'm definitely going to miss those guys."

A win over TCU would give the Rebels their first 10-win season since 2003 and perhaps their first top-five final ranking since 1962, when they finished No. 3 in the nation, but that has not been the core focus for the core group of veterans throughout bowl preparations.

"I feel like this program, me, Cody, Senquez (Golson), a lot of the seniors, we talked to each other before the season started and we told each other that it's not only about this year, but it's about the longevity of this program," graduate student linebacker Deterrian Shackelford said. "We want to come back one day and say we had an instrumental part in building something that was strong."

Horned Frogs Learn Lessons from Baylor Loss

Sixth-ranked TCU allowed 61 points in a 61-58 loss to then-No. 3 Baylor on Oct. 11, the Horned Frogs' lone blemish in an 11-1 season. 

Despite that outing, TCU ranks second in tackles for loss (8.4/game), second in interceptions (1.92/game), second in turnover margin (plus-18) and turnovers gained (36), fourth in opponents' third-down conversions (28.4 percent) and 17th in scoring defense (20.3 ppg).

"We learned to finish," said TCU senior cornerback Kevin White of what they learned from the loss to Baylor. "It's something we didn't do in that game. We had a lead, and we didn't finish the game. From that point on, we had to finish out every game, no matter what, whether we were up by 20 or down by 20. We had to finish."

The Horned Frogs see a similar challenge in No. 9 Ole Miss, despite the differences in scheme and injuries to three starters in junior offensive guard Aaron Morris, senior wide receiver Vince Sanders and sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell.

"As I watch them, I would compare them to a pro team," TCU defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas said. "They do a lot of shifts and motions and whatnot, which forces you to be on top of your game in terms of where your eyes are."

"Looking at the tape, they have a lot of weapons," TCU junior safety Chris Hackett said. "Looking at Bo Wallace, he's a great quarterback. Playing in the SEC, they have a lot of competition week in and week out. They don't just have the one superstar player on their team. They're a good team as a whole."

On average, TCU opponents have run 74.1 offensive plays per game this season, including Baylor, which racked up 782 yards of total offense on 109 offensive plays, while Ole Miss has averaged 70.0 offensive plays per game, running more than 80 plays just once this season.

"It's not like we're going to change our scheme around just because Baylor did so well," Ole Miss co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. "That's something they do every week, and they do a good job with it. There are things they do that we do also. So obviously, that's stuff we'd put in and maybe emphasize more than we usually do. We're going to run our offense, do what we do best and go fast and let these guys play and make plays."

Rest, Treatment Beneficial to O-Line

Ole Miss used the same starting five offensive linemen for each of the first seven games, all wins, before mixing and matching combinations against LSU, Auburn and Presbyterian, and then returning to full strength against Arkansas and Mississippi State.

Even then, sophomore offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil battled a right shoulder injury, while junior center Ben Still continued to push through a knee injury.

With some time off between the regular-season finale against Mississippi State and the start of bowl practices, the duo and the entire offensive line are in much better shape entering their matchup with No. 6 TCU.

"I'm getting old, man," Tunsil said. "Everything was hurting. Mainly, it was just my right shoulder, having a torn labrum, but I feel better since I have healed up and had some treatment."

"It's been good because I injured my knee against Tennessee, and it never really got back all the way, so it was a good time for some time off to get it back," Still said.

The Rebels, however, will be without junior offensive guard Aaron Morris, who underwent surgery to repair his torn ACL. In his place, junior Justin Bell will move from right guard to left guard, and freshman Rod Taylor will make his second career start, at right guard.

"He's caught on a whole lot," said Still of Taylor. "You don't have to say much to him. From day one to now, he's improved exponentially. It's great. You used to have to tell him everything. Now, we can trust him."

"He plays with passion and helps us out tremendously," said Bell of Taylor. "It makes it a more enjoyable experience, getting a young guy in there and knowing he's going to play 60 minutes, give it everything he has."

Engram Emerges as Leader of Receiving Corps

When No. 9 Ole Miss faces No. 6 TCU in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Wednesday, the Rebels will be without each of their top two receivers in sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell (leg, ankle) and senior wide receiver Vince Sanders (ACL).

In their place, sophomore tight end Evan Engram has emerged as a favorite target for senior quarterback Bo Wallace, hauling in five passes for a career-high 176 receiving yards, the fourth-most in a game in a game in Ole Miss history, in a win over then-No. 4 Mississippi State.

"Hopefully he will play the way he did against Mississippi State and we expect that, because he's so explosive and a guy that's a mismatch," Wallace said. "So we know we're down some guys, but we have guys that are going to step up and fill the void."

An All-America second team and consensus All-SEC first team selection, Engram leads all SEC tight ends with 651 receiving yards and 17.6 yards per catch. He is also tied for the national lead with 11 plays of 20-plus yards and six plays of 30-plus yards this season.

"He's not a tight end," TCU senior linebacker Tank Carder said. "He's a receiver. Those guys moving in and out of formations, get a lot of one-on-ones, and I compare him to probably a Jimmy Graham because of the way those guys use him. Sometimes he's outside, sometimes he's inside. He's very fast to me, when I watch him. He blocks very well. So he's a tight end mixed with a receiver, but he's amazing. He's probably one of the best tight ends I've faced this year and probably last year also."

Known more as a receiver, Engram said one of the biggest things he learned from getting hurt last season was dropping his feet when called on to block, adding that he feels a lot more confident and comfortable against defensive end and linebackers this season.

"That's the thing with this offense," Engram said. "It can be either one. They can throw me in there to be physical at the line of scrimmage and throw up a block and try to open up a run and then split me out wide and run a post down the field. This offense is very versatile. There's a lot of positions a lot of people can play."

Engram has had some of his biggest games on the biggest stage and against the best competition. In addition to a career game in the win over Mississippi State, Engram caught three passes for 71 yards against then-No. 1 Alabama and eight passes for 118 yards and a touchdown against then-No. 3 Auburn.

"It's the pressure," Engram said. "It's a different atmosphere. I'm just trying to help my team win, stepping up when my name is called. In the big games, they need everybody and everything clicking, and I'm part of that, so I have to show up and do my job. In the big games, that's when it's most important."

As sophomores, Engram and the historic 2013 signing class have grown into larger roles and helped Ole Miss to its first nine-win regular season since 2003 and its highest final regular-season ranking since 1963.

"Last year, all the freshmen were quiet and didn't know what was going on," Engram said. "As we started getting our feet wet in the SEC and playing in the big games in front of big crowds, we started getting more comfortable and definitely getting more experience."

When they signed on National Signing Day 2013, the Rebels were coming off a 7-6 season, capped by a win over Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl. From there, they have raised the program to national relevance, and with a win over the Horned Frogs, they move that much closer to their ultimate goal.

"When we all signed here, we wanted to help try to bring a national championship here," Engram said. "Last year, we had some injuries and we had a promising season, but some of those injuries hurt. This year, maybe if one or two plays went differently, we would possible have one loss and possibly looking at a playoff berth. 

"We're gradually getting to our goal. Coming in here and being a class that's turn the program is a huge privilege, but it takes a lot of work and dedication. We're so dedicated to helping turn things around. We're getting closer and closer."

The Next Step in the Journey

From a 2-10 season, when many players from this year's senior class were freshmen, to perhaps the program's seventh 10-win season in program history, Ole Miss has climbed the ladder to national relevance, and a matchup with No. 6 TCU in the first "New Year's Six" bowl game is the next rung on the ladder.

"We went from Birmingham, to Nashville, and now we're in the Peach Bowl," senior linebacker Serderius Bryant said. "It's rising. We're taking ladders. Instead of taking a step up, we're taking elevators and we're taking floors up."

"This is the first year of the Playoffs and we're really privileged to be here," sophomore tight end Evan Engram said. "It's going to be a fun feeling to have all eyes on us with everyone waking up to spend New Year's Eve watching us ball."

Ole Miss started the season 7-0 and rose as high as No. 3 in the polls, debuting at No.4 in the first College Football Playoff top 25 rankings, before finishing the season 9-3 and ranked No. 9 in the final College Football Playoff rankings.

After a 7-0 start, the Rebels lost three straight Southeastern Conference games, three of four games overall, before closing out the regular season with a 31-17 win over then-No. 4 Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.

"We thought we could have done better, personally, and I know a lot of the other guys feel that way too," sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche said. "We have to take every game, one game at a time. Sometimes during this past season, we started looking ahead and we started overlooking some games, and it caught up with us."

"We looked ahead against Arkansas, worried about Mississippi State," sophomore offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil said. "That's a big lesson learned. You can't overlook any team, not even the weakest team. You can't overlook a team. You see what Arkansas did to us."

A win over TCU, players have said throughout bowl preparations, would give the program confidence and momentum heading into the 2015 season.

"It's a big game for our program, so we want to get this 'W,'" Nkemdiche said. "This game is going to help set us up for next year and give us big things to look forward to."

"For our program that is on the rise, we feel like that's a big step for our program," junior cornerback Mike Hilton said. "This New Year's Six Bowl is going to be a good one. It could take our program to the next level."

Rebels Arrive in Atlanta to Begin Bowl Prep

The Ole Miss football team arrived in Atlanta on Christmas Day, holding their first team meeting and enjoying Christmas dinner together ahead of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Dec. 31.  

"It's been fun," sophomore tight end Evan Engram said. "There were a lot of warm welcomes. It's a great staff here. We had a great dinner last night and I got to spend some time in the game room with my teammates."

Academically, the football team posted their highest GPA in recorded history, and everyone is eligible to play in the bowl game.

"From where we were when I got here, to where we are now, I could not be more pleased with the progress that has been made there," head coach Freeze said. "A lot of credit goes to Derek Cowherd and his staff. Everyone is eligible, so that's a good thing and we're progressing nicely there."

Other than the season-ending injuries, which include junior offensive guard Aaron Morris, who underwent surgery to repair his torn ACL, Freeze said they're healthy going into the bowl practices in Atlanta.

"As far as the ones we have here, we're healthy," Freeze said. "We have a couple of issues with flu-like symptoms, which is always the case this time of year. One of my prayer requests this morning was that we would stay away from the sickness stuff."

As part of their first day in Atlanta, the players also received their bowl gifts, which included an Apple TV, a Fossil watch, a $300 Visa gift card, a Chick-fil-A gift card and a Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl football they can get signed and keep for themselves.

The team will enjoy a joint team welcome party with the TCU football team at the College Football Hall of Fame and later tour the museum. Other team activities this week include a team party at Andretti Indoor Karting and Games and a hospital visit to Scottish Rite Hospital.

"Because of the off time, it's almost like you're starting over again," Freeze said. "You're never quite sure what that means for each individual on the team. Playing an opponent of the quality of TCU in one of the "New Year's Six" bowls helps hold their attention. We'll see how practices goes."

"The hardest part is staying focused on the task at hand, which is the football game," Engram said. "We have a lot of events planned out for us this week. We get to hang out and we have a decent amount of free time. That's the main part, staying focused on on the task at hand, which is getting a 'W' in the Georgia Dome next Wednesday."

Wallace Looks to Make More History

Senior quarterback Bo Wallace, like his head coach, stepped into a program that had won just two games in 2011 and had lost 14 straight games. 

Three years later, Wallace helped lead the ninth-ranked Rebels to their first nine-win regular season since 2003 and a berth in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, one of the "New Year's Six Bowls."

"I was just trying to come in and play and compete," Wallace said. "I came here because it was probably my best chance to play. For us to kind of turn it around, it's special."

Already the school's all-time leader in total offense and the first quarterback to defeat two top-five teams since Archie Manning in 1969, Wallace has a chance to make some more history with a win over No. 6 TCU in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Dec. 31 in Atlanta's Georgia Dome.

With a win, which would be his 25th as the team's starting quarterback, Wallace would pass Eli Manning as the winningest quarterback in modern Ole Miss history, and he would also become the first Ole Miss quarterback in school history to start and win three bowl games.

"I'm really kind of looking forward to practice and all that just because I know I'm not going to get to do it much longer," Wallace said. "I'm just taking advantage of every day. We're excited about going to Atlanta, to be going to a New Year's Six bowl and have a chance to get 10 wins and elevate this program to another level." 

Wallace said he's planning to train and pursue a potential professional career after the bowl game. Asked about his legacy, when his Ole Miss career is over, Wallace said it's not for him to decide but getting that milestone win is important to him.

"I don't know," Wallace said. "I really don't care. I mean, I do care, but everybody's going to have a different opinion. It is what it is."

TCU's Boykin Draws Manziel Comparisons

The Ole Miss defense has faced the likes of Alabama's Blake Sims, Auburn's Nick Marshall and Mississippi State's Dak Prescott, and now the nation's top scoring defense prepares for another unique challenge in TCU's Trevone Boykin, who finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

The Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and an AP second team All-American selection, Boykin leads the league and ranks third nationally in total offense (363.0).  He is also on pace to become just the third quarterback since 2009 to average over 300 yards passing (309.5) and 50 yards rushing (53.5), joining a pair of Heisman Trophy winners Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel. 

"You can be in the right spot and have everything covered, and there's a 20-yard gain because of the ability of Trevone Boykin," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "It makes them difficult to defend. Schematically, it isn't something you are just wowed by, but they have really good players. And then they have a dual threat quarterback that's very difficult to contain, and they do it at tempo." 

Ole Miss coaches and players alike have compared Boykin to Manziel, who led Texas A&M to wins over Ole Miss in 2012 and 2013. Senior cornerback Senquez Golson, a unanimous first team All-American selection, said this will probably be the most athletes they have played on one side of the ball this season.

"He's a very good athlete, and he improved his throwing as the season progressed," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "They take a lot of shots deep, so I can see a lot of similarities. Their passing game is very similar to Texas A&M as well. All of those guys came from the same background."

"Johnny would sit in the pocket a little bit more," junior defensive end C.J. Johnson said. "Trevone Boykin, he likes to get out of the pocket a little bit. And they do a lot more with him in the run game than A&M did with Johnny. They use a lot of empty personnel, so the way they run the football is kind of the same, but the way they use him in the offense is a little bit different."

Boykin has completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 3,714 yards with 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions, and he's also a threat on the ground with 642 yards rushing and eight touchdowns.

"Going into this game, you have to have really good pocket awareness," Johnson said. "It all comes down to the fundamentals of football. Spread offenses, they like to get you out in space and make you tackle. We're a good tackling defense. We don't give up many yards after the catch. We don't give up many big plays. We rush the quarterback. We stop the run. It's going to be a good challenge for us with all the stuff they present on offense. If everybody stays locked in on defense and we do what we have to do, I think we'll be fine."

Johnson to Return, Golson '50-50' on Baseball

When asked about underclassmen who requested an evaluation from the NFL's College Advisory Committee, head coach Hugh Freeze said junior defensive end C.J. Johnson may have but he's confident he will return for his senior season. Johnson said the same earlier in the week.

"Not really," said Johnson, when asked if he had thought about submitting paperwork to the NFL. "I'm planning to be back."

Senior cornerback Senquez Golson, once an eight round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox, and now consensus and unanimous first team All-American, said he remains undecided on whether to play baseball for Ole Miss in the spring or focus 100 percent on preparing for the NFL Draft.

"I haven't really decided, probably going to decide more after the bowl game," Golson said. "I still don't know. It's definitely 50-50 right now."

A finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which goes to the national defensive player of the year, Golson leads the SEC and ranks second nationally with nine interceptions and has been a key cog in the nation's top-ranked scoring defense.

"With my success this season, football is definitely more attractive now," Golson said. "Three or four months ago, I was definitely going to play baseball, but it's a different situation now. I'm not sure exactly how it will play out, but I'm still thinking about it."

Good News on Injury Front

Head coach Freeze had good news to report on the status of Tee Shepard (toe), Denzel Nkemdiche (ankle) and Laqon Treadwell (leg, ankle), who all suffered season-ending injuries earlier in the season.

"Tee (Shepard) started running this week," Freeze said. "The injured area remains tender, but started his running, so when he gets back after Christmas, we will really pick up his rehab. Denzel (Nkemdiche) and Laquon (Treadwell) are off the scooters. Laquon is on one crutch, and Denzel is in just a boot. They're much more active, so things are progressing nicely. 

"We definitely expect Tee and Denzel to be back with us in the spring. Laquon is going to be right at that time, so we expect him to be in some of spring practice."

Recapping Monday's Media Opportunities

Ole Miss Details Stadium Expansion Plans

Ole Miss unveiled the master plan for Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, which includes two phases of renovation and expansion. Scheduled for completion by the start of the 2016 season, the expansion will bring the seating capacity to 64,038, which will make Vaught-Hemingway Stadium the largest stadium in the state of Mississippi.

The first phase will be a renovation and expansion of the south end zone, with the addition of 30 luxury suites and 770 club level seats, for the start of the 2015 season. 

This phase will see a slight reduction in capacity, to around 59,000, which will be accommodated by reducing the visiting teams' allotments from 7,000 to 5,000.

The second phase will be a renovation and expansion of the north end zone that will include the completion of the stadium seating bowl, the installation of a new video board (104 feet wide by 49 feet tall) in the north end zone and the addition of 30-by-50 video boards in the north end zone.

Between the two phases, Ole Miss will be able to accommodate 5,500 more Rebels, once the stadium reaches full capacity. Bjork also announced the student section will increase from 8,200 seats to just over 10,000 seats and will move to the north end zone.

The master plan also includes flexibility for future expansion, whether that is a north end zone that mirrors the south end zone, or even a new press box box and upper deck on the west side. Speaking to that flexibility, Bjork said a possible future expansion on the west side could bring capacity to more than 70,000.

Two beneficial links from the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation: Changes (with seating charts for 2015 and 2016) and How does this affect me?

More on the Overall Master Plan

Including the renovation and expansion of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Ole Miss all have invested $175.75 million in total projects related to the Forward Together campaign, which has now reached $125 million in total cash and pledges.

As far as other notable projects, Athletics Director Ross Bjork the parking garage (not included in the $175.75 million) is scheduled to open in January, and the Pavilion at Ole Miss remains on schedule to open in December 2016.

Here's a breakdown with costs and timeline outlining the renovations included in the $175.75 million:

- Olivia & Archie Manning Athletics Performance Center

- Cost: $11.25 million

- Start date: March 2013

- Completion date: April 2014

- Pavilion at Ole Miss

- Cost: $95 million

- Start date: June 2014

- Completion date: December 2015

- Vaught-Hemingway Stadium West Skyboxes

- Cost: $4.8 million

- Start date: January 2015

- Completion date: August 2015

- Vaught-Hemingway Stadium South Endzone

- Cost: $15 million

- Start date: January 2015

- Completion date: August 2015

- Football Practice Field

- Cost: $2.5 million

- Start date: February 2015

- Completion date: September 2015

- Vaught-Hemingway Stadium North Endzone

- Cost: $33 million

- Start date: December 2015

- Completion date: August 2016

- FedEx Academic Support Center & Starnes Athletic Training Center

- Cost: $3 million

- Start date: December 2015

- Completion date: August 2016

- Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Lighting and Audio System

- Cost: $2.2 million

- Start date: December 2015

- Completion date: August 2016

- Track & Field Complex

- Cost: $4 million

- Start date: Summer 2015

- Completion date: Fall 2016

- Gillom Sports Center

- Cost: $5 million

- Start date: February 2016

- Completion date: December 2016

Morris to Miss Peach Bowl

Ole Miss junior offensive guard Aaron Morris re-tore his ACL and will not play in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, head coach Hugh Freeze announced Monday.

Morris suffered the same injury in the 2013 season opener against Vanderbilt and missed the remainder of the season. Freeze said Morris re-injured the ligament before the Mississippi State game, and he will have surgery Tuesday.

"He just wanted to finish and see how it went," Freeze said. "It wasn't a complete tear. There was just a little looseness in it and there was a partial tear. We made the decision with he and his mom to go ahead and get it fixed again."

Freeze said the anticipated recovery time is a bit longer with a second tear, but he's hopeful Morris will be back for the 2015 season.

"These things tend to be iffy," Freeze said. "It's kind of hard to say, but I sure hope so for his sake and for our team."

Without Morris, junior Justin Bell will move from right guard to left guard, and freshman Rod Taylor will get his second career start, at right guard.

"He improves every week," said Freeze of Taylor. "He loves to practice and loves to play. I'm really pleased with his practice. He's going to be a good one.

Allen to Take USF Defensive Coordinator Job

Linebackers coach Tom Allen has been hired as the defensive coordinator at South Florida, head coach Hugh Freeze confirmed Monday. Allen has been with Freeze since they were together at Lambuth in 2008. 

This is only the second coaching staff change under Freeze and the first since co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Wesley McGriff left for the New Orleans Saints after the 2012 season.

"You hate to lose people, but we rejoice with him that he's getting an opportunity to advance his career," Freeze said. "We're thrilled for him. (South Florida head coach) Willie (Taggart) is a friend of mine, and I'm happy those two will be joining together."

Freeze said he doesn't anticipate any other staff movements. As part of the new contract for Freeze, the salary pool for the Ole Miss football will increase by at least 25 percent, which will make Ole Miss in competitive in filling the position.

"That was the only thing I asked for," Freeze said. "Let's up that so we will remain competitive in this conference in that regard because I really like continuity. Unless a guy gets an opportunity, like a Tom Allen, where you get to run your own defense or offense. 

"You have to understand those moves. I took those chances, and I want others to get the same opportunity. I don't want to lose someone just because it's a lateral move and we're not competitive."

As far as timeline, Freeze said they will probably wait until after the first of the year, sometime leading up to the start of the next recruiting period on Jan. 15.

"There are great people out there," Freeze said. "There are great people in this building who have worked for me before. There will be no shortage of people wanting this job, so we'll have great candidates."

Strong Early Ticket Sales for Ole Miss

The Peach Bowl has sold out in 17 consecutive season, second only to the Rose Bowl in terms of consecutive sellouts, and Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl President and CEO Gary Stokan expects an 18th straight sellout for this year's game between Ole Miss and TCU.

Athletics Director Ross Bjork said the school has sold around 17,000 tickets for the game, and he expects to have many more Ole Miss fans in attendance. The school sold its initial allotment and addition tickets for each of the last two bowl games in the BBVA Compass Bowl in 2012 and the Music City Bowl in 2013.

Observations from the Best Seat in the House -- Dec. 14

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With final exam week on the Ole Miss campus, there was not much game action, but there's still plenty to talk about, as Ole Miss finalized salary increases for head football coach Hugh Freeze and his staff, and the football team moved one week closer to the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Wednesday, Dec. 31. Here are some thoughts and opinions on the week that was:

- Freeze's new $4.3 million base salary is tied for third among Southeastern Conference head coaches and tied for seventh nationally. It increases to $5 million if the Rebels advance to the SEC Championship Game, which would be tied for second among SEC coaches and tied for tied fourth nationally.

- Also, as part of the same release, Ole Miss announced it will unveil plans, including visuals and timelines, for the expansion of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Monday, so stayed tuned for those.

- The first-ever two-time winner of the Chucky Mullins Courage Award, Deterrian Shackelford was honored for his community service and off-the-field contributions, winning the Wuerffel Trophy and being elected the AFCA Good Works Team Captain.

- The Ole Miss Alumni Association will hold its bowl bash on Tuesday, Dec. 30 at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta. More details here. As we get closer to Dec. 31, be sure to visit and bookmark Ole Miss Bowl Central and Chick-fil-A Bowl Central and stay tuned to @OleMissFB and @CFAPeachBowl for all things Chick-fil-A Bowl related.

- There might be a few more video between now and Dec. 31, but here are two videos to check out from Ole Miss Sports Productions: The 2014 season highlight video and the official team Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl preview video. Great work, as always.

- The Ole Miss men's basketball team moved to 6-3 on the season, suffering its third home loss in five such games this season. The Rebels led by as many as 17, and as many as 16 in the second half, but they were unable to overcome a second-half rally from Western Kentucky in an 81-74 loss Saturday.

"It's unacceptable, quite frankly," head coach Andy Kennedy said. "It's unacceptable for me, it's unacceptable for our team. I've tried and tried and tried to infuse pride. It's hard to infuse that, I have learned. We have really tried everything we could to get them to understand the importance of protecting home floor because it's so difficult to win on the road." 

- As many others noted, preseason All-SEC first team selection Jarvis Summers was held to single-digit scoring for the fourth straight game against WKU. In each of the Rebels' three losses this season, he has scored just eight points.

"Basically, just got to do what I've got to do," Summers said. "I can't make no excuses. I have to get in some rhythm. It's frustrating. I can't pout. I can't cry about it. I have to continue to put the work in." 

- On the positive side, Stefan Moody led the Rebels in scoring for the fourth straight game, which has included 26 points against Cincinnati, 22 against Oregon, and most recently, 25 against WKU. He's averaging 21.3 points and has gone 14-of-27 from 3-point range during the four-game stretch.

- The Ole Miss women's basketball team rebounded from back-to-back losses with perhaps its most complete performance of the season, cruising to an 88-48 win over South Alabama on Sunday. With the win, the Rebels have a chance to go 10-3 for its best non-conference record since the 2011-12 season.

- In the win over South Alabama, five players scored in double figures and the Rebels shot a season-best 53.2 percent from the field. Defensively, Ole Miss forced 31 turnovers and held South Alabama to 29.5 percent shooting, including just four made field goals and 14 points in the second half.

- Not Ole Miss related, but if you haven't already, you should check out this Marcus Mariota Heisman tribute video from the University of Oregon Athletic Video Department. Great stuff. Mariota won the award, receiving 90.9 percent of the possible points in voting, the second-highest percentage ever. 

- On an Ole Miss-related note, the Rebels will face Heisman Trophy fourth-place finisher, TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Ole Miss has already faced and defeated the third-place (Alabama's Amari Cooper) and eight-place (Mississippi State's Dak Prescott) finishers for the award.

- Ole Miss will have at least two representatives in the NFL Playoffs, as Brandon Bolden's New England Patriots and Donte Moncrief's Indianpolis Colts clinched division titles Sunday. Check out this story on Moncrief from Stephen Holder on the Indianapolis Star.

Observations from the Best Seat in the House -- Dec. 7

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In the early part of the week, Athletics Director Ross Bjork and head football coach Hugh Freeze reached an agreement on a new contract. In the late part of the week, the Rebels learned their postseason bowl destination. Here are some thoughts and opinions on the week that was:

- Bjork and Freeze broke the news of a new contract via Twitter early Tuesday. The terms of the new contract will be released as they are finalized and are expected in the coming days.

- For the second straight season, No. 9 Ole Miss will end its season in the same city in which it began it, having defeated Boise State in Atlanta in its season opener and now returning to Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Dec. 31 against No. 6 TCU.

"It's an exciting time in college athletics, and we are thrilled to be one of the teams selected in the first 'New Year's Six' bowls," Freeze said. "We are honored to accept this great invitation and take on an outstanding TCU team. Atlanta is a place that is very dear to our program, and it's important to us that we represent our great university."

- When the regular season was said and done, Ole Miss had defeated the only two teams to be ranked No. 1 in the CFB Playoff Rankings (Alabama and Mississippi State) and three 10-win teams (Alabama, Boise State, Mississippi State), all of whom are also playing in "New Year's Six Bowls." Check out this infographic recapping the Rebels' 2014 season.

- TCU was ranked No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings last week, only to fall to No. 6 behind No. 3 Florida State, No. 4 Ohio State and No. 5 Baylor in the final rankings. Despite his team's exclusion from the national semifinals, TCU head coach Gary Patterson doesn't expect a letdown. 

"I don't think it will linger at all," Patterson said. "Ole Miss has been ranked as high as third in the national standings. So, for us, we know we're playing a very good football team. We want to prove that we were a team that should have been in the playoffs, and the Peach Bowl and playing Ole Miss is exactly the game we should be in." 

- Freeze has become the only coach in school history to guide Ole Miss to bowl berths in each of his first three seasons.

- Ole Miss will put its 23-12 bowl record (.657 winning percentage), the second-best in the nation, and a six-game bowl win streak, tied with Florida State for the longest in the nation, on the line against TCU.

- The matchup presents the No. 1 scoring defense (Ole Miss) against the nation's No. 2 scoring offense (TCU), which as both coaches noted on the media teleconference is kind of ironic, given Freeze's background as offensive coach and Patterson's background as a defensive coach.

"He's the defensive guru that I have wanted to learn from," said Freeze of Patterson.

- As Chase Parham of RebelGrove/Rivals.com noted on Twitter, Bo Wallace has a chance to the be the first Ole Miss quarterback in school history to start and win three bowl games, having earned MVP honors in bowl wins over Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech the last two years.

- The Rebels' return to Atlanta is another homecoming of sorts for nine players from the Atlanta area, headlined by Evan Engram, one of the nation's best tight ends, Mike Hilton, the Rebels' leading tackler and Robert Nkmediche, a Lombardi Award semifinalist.

- Ole Miss has traveled well for bowl games in recent years, and within hours, discounted Ole Miss student tickets for the Chick-fil-A Bowl sold out. More ticket info here

"We were really excited to find out about the announcement of both TCU and Ole Miss because both teams are renowned for their passionate fan bases, and so we believe we'll be in for our 18th straight sellout with both fan bases flocking to Atlanta to support two of the top-10 teams in the country," said Gary Stokan, Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl president and CEO.

- Be sure to visit and bookmark Ole Miss Bowl Central and Chick-fil-A Bowl Central and stay tuned to @OleMissFB and @CFAPeachBowl for all things Chick-fil-A Bowl related.

- Men's basketball head coach Andy Kennedy notched perhaps the best non-conference win of his nine-year tenure, as Ole Miss defeated Oregon 79-73 in Eugene on Sunday afternoon. Stefan Moody led the Rebels with 22 points, including this first-half buzzer beater.

- Through eight games, Ole Miss has three quality non-conference wins, all away from home (vs. Creighton, vs. Cincinnati, at Oregon), while both of its losses came at home against Charleston Southern and TCU.

- Similar to Kennedy who sent a message to his team a couple of weeks ago, women's basketball head coach Matt Insell said his team has to get their effort back right and their toughness has to get better, having lost back-to-back games for the first time this season.

"We have to go back to the drawing board this week and figure out some things," Insell said. "I'm going to break down film and figure out what we can fix as a basketball team and why we're not playing as well as we played over Thanksgiving break and how we can start getting back to playing better before we head into SEC play."

- It's final exam week on the Ole Miss campus, so check out this creative hype video from Ole Miss Sports Productions.

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    Tiffany J. Moore said:

    This is amazing with what he have done so far! Hope that he'll achieve more in the future!

    in post Evan Engram Hauls in Midseason Accolades

    Fiftyyears fan said:

    How can you have five straight top 25 recruiting classes and look as bad as Ole Miss has this year. Easy lack of coaching fundamentals. Look at Mason at Vandy, nothing but 2 and 3 star recruits out of high school and he developers players that want to win. Hugh freeze has 3, 4 & 5 recruits and he expects them to win because of what they were in High School. Mr. Freeze you have not been teaching the fundamentals of football or winning in life. Mr. Freeze you have quit on your players because you have some false expectations of what they are instead of what you can develop in them. Either do your job or quit. Oh yea, please quit running your smoke and mirrors offense, everyone has figured it out. Run a physical offense that can open up holes for your running backs and then your pass attack want require 12 are 14 four and five star receivers. Mr. Freeze you have problems and you need to know that you are not smarter than the rest of the coaches in the SEC.

    in post Rebels Unable to Send Senior Class Out on a High Note

    Karen Holden said:

    Not every pass can be caught. Too low, too short whatever. Not every Kelly pass is perfect. Records were broken by receivers also. But they sre not going to catch every ball thrown. The loss to Auburn was not one players fault. You win or lose as a team.

    in post Late Mistake Spoils Chad Kelly's Historic Performance

    Trent browning said:

    Hey I was just wandering if these are the only 2 olemiss players signing. If there are more signing please respond to me ASAP. Also wondering if neil everett will sign any autographs. Thank you very much

    in post Heisman House Tour Heads to Oxford for Ole Miss-Georgia

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    in post Madden 17 Ratings for Former Rebels

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