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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.

Wommack, Rebels Prep for Prescott

Battling injury, junior quarterback Dak Prescott came off the bench and helped rally Mississippi State to a come-from-behind 17-10 win in last year's Egg Bowl. He led a drive that ended with the game-tying field goal at 10-10 and then he ran for what proved to the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

This season, he has helped Mississippi State to a 10-1 record and a No. 4 ranking in the latest College Football Playoff poll. He leads the SEC and ranks fifth nationally in points responsible for, accounting for 36 total touchdowns and 216 points.

"They're a very good football team," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "Dak Prescott makes them better than very good."

The SEC's leader in total offense averaging 327.7 yards per game, Prescott ranks third in passing (246.7 ypg) and sixth in rushing (81.0 ypg). His 23 passing touchdowns and 12 rushing touchdowns also lead the league.

With more experience and better health, Prescott has improved as a passer, upping his completion percentage (58.4 to 61.4) and his yards per attempt (7.3 to 8.8) from last year.

"I think the injury (last season) and the experience," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "That's the two biggest things. He got beat up in that Texas A&M game last year. You can tell he's an extremely tough kid. He fought through an ankle injury in that Arkansas game. He just keeps pushing through it. And he's throwing the ball much better. He knows where he's going with it."

"He is a major part of their program," graduate student linebacker Deterrian Shackelford said. "It starts with him. It starts with the way he gets his guys to play. He can throw well, and he can also run the ball. That's always a big thing when you're faced with a quarterback that has a run threat also."

Prescott also combines with junior running back Josh Robinson for a powerful one-two bunch in the Mississippi State backfield. Robinson ranks third in the SEC in rushing yards (98.6 ypgs) in rushing touchdowns (11).

"I watched our game last year and some games from last year when he was playing," said Wommack of Robinson. "He has a low center of gravity. I thought we tackled him last year, but you better gang tackle him. There is one play that comes to mind against Kentucky where he broke eight tackles, spun this way and that way. It's a mindset with him. You can tell that he's determined to make positive yardage every time he touches the ball."

Alabama has had the most success defending Prescott this season, holding him to 56.3 percent passing for 290 yards with two touchdowns and a season-worst three interceptions in a 25-20 win for the Crimson Tide. Alabama also contained him on the ground, limited him to just 82 yards on 22 carries, a 3.73 yards per carry average.

"Whether he had a bad day or Alabama had a good day or maybe a little of both, that was a real big thing," Wommack said. "They didn't let him be effective running for the most part - every once in a while he got a play in that game. I thought they rattled him a little bit. He threw three interceptions and had a lot of pressure just with their basic stuff, what they do at Alabama."

Wallace 'Ready to Go'

As head coach Hugh Freeze said Monday, senior quarterback Bo Wallace is expected to play Saturday at home against Mississippi State.

 "He's been limited some, but you would have to chain him down to keep him from going in this game," said Freeze on the Southeastern Conference coaches' teleconference Wednesday. "He's getting better every do, so I anticipate him being ready to go."

Head coach Hugh Freeze called the Egg Bowl the most prized possession of this university's football program, and getting the Egg Bowl back should be enough motivation for his team entering Saturday's game against Mississippi State. 

An Independence, Mississippi, native, Freeze said he and his team have a clear understanding of how much this rivalry means to so many.

"I know this one is pretty intense and sometimes in my opinion it crosses the line to what is good and all of that," Freeze said. "I want to beat them as bad as they want to beat us, particularly two days out of the year -- this Saturday and then National Signing Day. Those are the two days I feel that way."

The rivalry means a lot of graduate student linebacker Deterrian Shackelford, the most senior member of the team, who will be a part of his sixth Egg Bowl, playing in his third after missing the others due to injuries.

"Although it's a rivalry, you don't want to make it such a big deal that the players can't play," Shackelford said. "You want everybody even-keeled and ready to prepare throughout the week. Saturday is just a result of what you've done throughout the week."

It also means a lot to senior wide receiver Vince Sanders, not only because it's Senior Day for him and his fellow seniors, but also because he's one of 53 Mississippi natives on the team.

"It's the most important game of the year, especially with them being 10-1," Sanders said. "They're going to come in, after seeing our performance last week, and feel like it's going to be an easy win. All of our guys know the importance of this game. All the hard work we put in during the spring and summer, we work toward this game."

The Rebels met as a team on Sunday, the day after the 30-0 loss to Arkansas, and they about the game in Fayetteville and then put in the trash and moved on Mississippi State. 

The team watched a video with some clips from last year's game, a 17-10 overtime loss, and several players spoke up about the upcoming game, including junior defensive end C.J. Johnson, senior safety Cody Prewitt and injured sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell.

"We've had time to meet and talk and discuss," Shackelford said. "I like the way this team is feeling going into this game. Of course, this is a game that doesn't take a lot of motivation to get up for."

Finishing Strong in Year Three

After starting the season 7-0 and rising as high as No. 3 in the polls, Ole Miss now sits at 8-3, losers of three straight Southeastern Conference games and relegated to a spoiler role against rival Mississippi State, which remains in SEC West and College Football Playoff contention.

"We worked hard all year to be in the playoff, so it's disappointing to us that we're not there," Sanders said. "Teams in front of us had the same opportunities we had and they made the best of them. We came up short a couple of games. You have to take your hats off to them because they did what they had to do. Overall, we're disappointed, but we're not going to let not being in the playoff affect how we're going to perform on Saturday."

Speaking to the media after the loss to Arkansas, Freeze said he told his team that he didn't like the way they finished year two -- losing its last two regular season games to Missouri and Mississippi State -- and he didn't like the way they played Saturday. 

On Monday, Freeze said they have to evaluate why the disappointments down the stretch have happened, whether it's depth or the energy you have to expend to compete in the SEC, but he's confident not only in the big picture, but also in getting his team ready to play Saturday.

"The big picture is I still think we're ahead of schedule," Freeze said. "We're disappointed but ahead of schedule. We have a lot to play for with pride on the line and eight or nine wins in the regular season." 

Wallace, Tunsil Expected to Play

Senior quarterback Bo Wallace suffered a sprained ankle against Arkansas, which caused him to miss two series, but he came back to play through the third quarter but sat for much of the fourth quarter.

Wallace has missed not a start during his three-year career, and he is not expected to miss his final regular season game, Saturday at home against Mississippi State.

"It would take a lot more than that to keep him out of this game," Freeze said. "He's hungry and wants to play in this game in a bad way. He's going to try to go no matter what. He's gotten better each day. Hopefully he'll be close to 100 percent."

Redshirt freshman quarterbacks Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade, Freeze said, are getting more reps in practice in case they have to play. 

Speaking generally about injuries, Freeze said all of the players who made the trip to Fayetteville are expected give it a go against Mississippi State, including sophomore offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil.

"He looked really good for the first half but didn't play much after the shoulder popped out again," Freeze said. "He looked really solid in the first half. We'll give him a lot of treatment this week. We'll get him ready to go Saturday." 


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It's that busy time of the year with the Ole Miss football, volleyball, men's and women's basketball teams all in action. Here are some thoughts and opinions on the week that was in Ole Miss sports:

- A slow start (17-0 first-quarter deficit), a stalled running game (33 carries for 37 yards) and six turnovers (two in the red zone) all had a hand in a 30-0 loss at Arkansas, ending the Rebels' SEC West title hopes. There's not much else to say.

"I told our kids in locker room," Freeze said, '"I don't like the way we finished year two and I don't like the way we played tonight.'

- It's clear Ole Miss misses Laquon Treadwell, not just his production, but also his leadership and playmaking abilities. Playing without the sophomore star for the first time in SEC play, Ole Miss was shut out for the first time this season. The Rebels managed just three plays of 20 or more yards, and their active leading receiver, Vince Sanders, was held without a catch in the contest.

- Give the defense credit for keeping as close as they did for as long as they did. Facing a short field for much of the game, the Ole Miss defense allowed just one touchdown in five trips to the red zone for Arkansas. The Razorbacks started on average from their own 43-yard line and they had scoring drives of 52, 24, 49, 41, 0 and 0 yards, respectively.

- Ole Miss also found itself on the wrong side of history, as Arkansas became the first unranked team to ever shut out two ranked opponents in back-to-back games.

- With Arkansas becoming bowl eligible, an entire division will advance to the postseason for the first time in Southeastern Conference history. What's more impressive, the SEC West is a combined a 38-3 against non-SEC West opponents, including a combined 28-0 against non-conference opponents.

- For the second straight season, both SEC divisions will be determined on the final weekend. Alabama and Missouri each control their destiny, while Georgia needs an Arkansas win over Missouri, and Mississippi State needs a win over Ole Miss and an Auburn win over Alabama. Ole Miss, like Arkansas and Auburn, will play a spoiler role, looking to eliminate Mississippi State from SEC West title contention.

"If you can't get up for that one, you probably don't need to be playing," linebacker Deterrian Shackelford said. "It's everything, it's the Egg Bowl. And for the seniors, it's Senior Day. If I have to motivate people for next week, they probably shouldn't be playing."

- Ole Miss volleyball's Nakeyta Clair set the school single-season kills record in the rally scoring era, putting down nine kills in a four-set loss to No. 6 Florida this past Friday. The Rebels bounced back with a five-set win over Alabama on Sunday, the second match in a four-match homestand to close out the regular season. Ole Miss will host Texas A&M on Friday for Senior Day, where the Rebels will honor the senior trio Marie-Pierre Bakima, Cara Fisher and Rachael Weathersby.

- Father, Rick, and Middle Tennessee State got the best of son, Matt, and Ole Miss, in the first-ever meeting between father and son head coach in NCAA Division I women's basketball history. The result was not what Matt and the Rebels wanted, but the matchup provided a tough test for a young team learning every game and created some buzz and excitement surrounding the program.

- Here's a nice story on Rick and Matt Insell from Will Borthick from the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Check it out.

- The Ole Miss men's basketball team rebounded nicely from a heartbreaking overtime loss to Charleston Southern, rattling off three straight wins over Troy, Southern and Northern Arizona, going into this weekend's game in Niceville, Florida. The Rebels will face Creighton and then either Cincinnati or Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Jays, which return one starter from last year's 27-8 team, is off to a 4-0 start, including a win over No. 18 Oklahoma.

- Head coach Andy Kennedy said he has been surprised by how much he has learned a lot about his team, one that includes five newcomers, and he spoke very honestly about what he has learned through four games: "We're not as tough physically as I would have hoped," said Kennedy after an 80-74 win over Northern Arizona. "We make excuses. I didn't know this group would do that. I know some of it is a defense mechanism. I get that. I have done this a long time. Sometimes, that's the easy way out. It's the default mode. I get it, but we have to get tougher. We have to play to our abilities. I don't think we have played to our ability yet."

Rebels Unable to Overcome Slow Start

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Arkansas jumped out to a 17-0 in the first quarter and took advantage of six Ole Miss turnovers on the way to a 30-0 shutout win Saturday in Fayetteville.

"I was concerned all week, for whatever reason, that we weren't totally locked in," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "That showed at the beginning of the game. That's my fault. I have to make sure our kids are ready. It was a weird week for whatever reason. It's disappointing that we didn't start better."

Two of the Ole Miss turnovers came inside Arkansas' 20-yard line, as the Rebels were looking to get back in the game. Down 17-0 late in the first half, quarterback Bo Wallace had Ole Miss driving to the Arkansas 13-yard line before being intercepted in the end zone. 

Arkansas dealt a final decisive blow to the Rebels, as safety Rohan Gaines intercepted Wallace in the end zone and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown, extending the Razorbacks' lead to 27-0 with 3:38 left in the third quarter.

"You can't turn it over the number of times we did and expect to win for sure," Freeze said. "I kept hoping we could get something good to happen and cut it to a score or two. Our defense would have played well enough to give us a chance, but we never did."

Playing with an ankle injury for much of the game, Wallace was 16-of-31 for 235 yards, accounting for 218 of the team's 316 total yards and breaking Eli Manning's school record for career total yards, but he turned the ball over four times with two interceptions and two lost fumbles. 

"He was hurting, but he was adamant he wanted to play," Freeze said. "He's had such a good career for us, and I felt like he was our best chance to get back in the game. He took us down the field a couple of times, and then we had the turnovers, which resulted in zero points, so we couldn't make a game of it."

The Rebels entered Saturday in contention for the SEC Western Division title, needing to win out and an Auburn win over Alabama, which made the loss, their third straight in league play, all the more disappointing.

"Our kids played hard until the end," Freeze said. "We didn't come out sharp for sure. We did some things that you can't do being an elite team. We have been a good team this year, but we haven't been elite at times. That's where we want to get to."

"It's tough, knowing what was in our grasp," tight end Evan Engram said. "That's what we thought about all week. That was our fuel. That was what we were working toward. For this to happen, it's tough. We had everything in our grasp. We were going to try to win out, play our best football, and see where it put us in the West and the Playoff. That's all pretty much out of the window."

After a 7-0 start and rising as high as No. 3 in the polls, Ole Miss now sits at 8-3, looking to finish the regular season on a high note, improving its bowl standing and playing spoiler to rival Mississippi State in the process.

"If you can't get up for that one, you probably don't need to be playing," linebacker Deterrian Shackelford said. "It's everything, it's the Egg Bowl. And for the seniors, it's Senior Day. If I have to motivate people for next week, they probably shouldn't be playing."

Extra Emphasis on Special Teams Play

Extra Emphasis on Special Teams Play

Through the years, special teams play has provided a winning edge in the Ole Miss-LSU rivalry, and and you don't have to go all the way back to Billy Cannon's 1959 Halloween run.

In a run that reminded fans of Cannon, Odell Beckham Jr. sparked a 41-35 comeback win for LSU with a game-tying 89-yard punt return for a touchdown in the teams' last meeting in Baton Rouge.

Andrew Ritter split the uprights on a 41-yard field goal with two seconds left on the clock to lift Ole Miss to a 27-24 win in last year's meeting in Oxford.

"When you watch all the highlights of the games of the past, there always seems to be a special teams play in there," special teams coordinator Tom Allen said. "We all know about the famous punt returns that have occurred down there. I was pretty emotional and passionate when I addressed our guys on Tuesday in our special teams meeting. I believe it's going to be the difference.

"Our 'it' that Coach Freeze challenges us with is to provide the winning edge, and that's what we need to do. We have done that in several games this year, and we need to do it again in this kind of environment."

The Rebels have a trio of freshmen in key spots on special teams, with Will Gleeson handling the punting duties, Gary Wunderlich handling placekicking and kickoff duties and Markell Pack returning punts. 

Gleeson ranks among the nation's leaders in punting (45.5 ypg) and net punting (44.0), while Wunderlich is 3-of-4 on field goals with a long of 46 against Alabama. Pack has had some shaky moments and continues to learn through game experience, but Allen remains confident in him.

"As I have said before, returning punts is the most difficult thing we ask anybody on our team to do," Allen said. "Being a young guy doing that is hard, but he's smooth catching the ball. He's the most natural one we have. Now, it's a matter of making good decisions under fire."


Defense Preps for Powerful Ground Game

The LSU offense is led by a three-headed powerful rushing attack that ranks sixth in the SEC (220.9 ypg). Freshman Leonard Fournette leads the way with 544 yards and seven touchdowns, followed by seniors Kenny Hilliard (353 yards, 6 TDs) and Terrence Magee (344 yards, 3 TDs).

Over their last two games, the Tigers have rushed for 195 yards on 50 carries in a 30-27 win at Florida and rushed for 303 yards on 51 carries in a 41-3 win over Kentucky, but they face their stiffest test of the season in Ole Miss, which boats the nation's sixth-best rush defense (97.1 ypg).

"The last two weeks they turned back into what they want to be, which is running the ball downhill," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "They have the big backs who are always falling forward, very good football players, with play-action off of it. The quarterbacks, especially (Anthony) Jennings, have gotten more comfortable in their offense."

Wommack said they faced a similar test earlier this season in Alabama. The Rebels held the Crimson Tide to 17 points and 396 yards of total offense (168 rushing, 228 passing), both well below their season averages of 39.6 points per game and 514.6 yards per game.

"Alabama, to me, is very similar," Wommack said. "Their lines are similar, and their backs are similar. Their receivers, in some ways, are similar. The one outstanding receiver at Alabama (Amari Cooper) is probably better than any one person at LSU, but as a group LSU's receivers are younger. The quarterbacks are very similar."

The more traditional, smash mouth offense, Allen said, plays to the strengths of their physical, downhill players, such as linebackers Serderius Bryant and Deterrian Shackelford.

"We're not a big linebacker corps, by any means, but we're tough kids," linebackers coach Tom Allen said. "That's what you've got to have against these guys. We're big enough and we tackle well enough that we feel comfortable against their scheme.

"I don't feel like we have a group of guys that can't adjust. We're probably better suited for this than we are some of the wide-open spread looks that we see."


Still Remains Questionable for LSU

Center Ben Still (sprained MCL) did not practice Wednesday remains questionable for Saturday's game against LSU.

"He is coming, just don't know exactly how he'll be Saturday," Freeze said. "The good thing is he knows everything. He doesn't have to get reps. If he can go, he certainly will."

If Still is unable to play, Robert Conyers will take over at center, having played almost all of the second half against Tennessee. He would be backed up Craig Frigo at center, with Daronte Bouldin and Davion Johnson also figuring in the tackle rotation.

"It lessens our depth at other places, but he had a really good game against Tennessee," said Freeze of Conyers. "He's very athletic. He's maybe not as strong or has as much mass as Ben for certain blocks, but he did really well and his snaps have been good."


Wearing the lighter blue helmets for the first time since 1994 to honor the late Chucky Mullins, the Ole Miss defense also honored his memory with perhaps the most dominant defensive performance of the Hugh Freeze Era.

"Chucky would have been proud of the helmets, the baby blues, and particularly how the defense played," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. "I know Chucky would have loved that. We will continue to honor him because of his character traits, his selflessness and his attitude about life and the university."

Against a Memphis offense that averaged nearly 45 points and 500 yards per game, the Rebels held the Tigers to only a field goal and 104 total yards, the fewest by an opponent since Mississippi State in 2008, as they defeated the Tigers by a score of 24-3.

"I'm extremely proud of our defense," Freeze said. "I don't know if we have had a better effort than that in our two and a half years here. They were really phenomenal. That was a team that putting up some really good numbers."

"We were dominating up front," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "The linebackers played well and the secondary was in the right position most of the night. You don't get many of those, but we did a lot of good things."

The Ole Miss defense created some big plays, an interception by junior safety Trae Elston and a sack and a sack-strip by freshman defensive end Marquis Haynes that helped lead to the Rebels' second touchdown drive, making it a two-score game in their favor at 17-7. 

The Rebels also finished with a season-high 12 tackles for loss and four sacks, as they limited the Tigers to just 1.7 yards per play.

"We were flying around, doing our job, being in the right place and making the plays we're supposed to make," junior linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche said. "Playing as one defense. This is probably the most emotional we have played since we have been here. That's us now. That's who we are. We have seen what we can do. We have seen how our defense is coming together."


One of the biggest question marks entering the game was the rush defense, which Ole Miss answered emphatically, holding Memphis to negative-four rushing yards on 17 carries.

"We were fitting our gaps, flying to the ball," senior safety Cody Prewitt said. "We had a lot of energy and we were running to the ball and hitting as much as we could. That's what gave us so much success against the run."

Prewitt said the only thing he could remember they did wrong on defense was a 42-yard pass late in the first quarter. Despite that long gain to the Ole Miss 7-yard line, the defense responded with three straight tackles for loss and held Memphis to a field goal.

The defensive effort was especially important given that the Ole Miss offense was held to seven points through three quarters and also committed four turnovers.

"We're a team," Prewitt said. "There's going to be some games where the offense is going to win the game. There are going to be some games where the defense carries the load. That's how a team goes. It goes back and forth. I'm just really proud of the way the defense played. We never blinked."


NFL.com CFB 24/7 has counted down the 14 college football players to watch -- and some other college football topics -- in varying categories in 2014. Below are the highlights for Ole Miss and the link to the complete 14 for '14 series.

Most versatile players: Robert Nkemdiche (7)

Particulars: 6-4, 277, sophomore 

Buzz: Did anyone else in the country see time on both the defensive line and at running back last year? Show of hands? Nkemdiche can make the claim, although he just got five totes in the backfield, for 32 yards. Short-yardage rushing aside, it's at defensive tackle where Nkemdiche is expected to dominate for the Rebels as a sophomore this fall. He played some end last year, as well, but tackle appears to be his home after making eight tackles for loss among 34 stops last year. But we won't be surprised if he gets a few more third-and-1 carries this fall.

Fastest players: Kailo Moore (5)

Another two-sport star in college, Moore mostly contributed last season on special teams as a freshman. He's off to a good start in 2014 on the track and has times comparable with TCU's Kolby Listenbee and Georgia Tech's Broderick Snoddy in the 100- and 200-meter dashes.

Toughest players: Serderius Bryant (4)

Particulars: 5-9, 215, junior

Buzz: Rebels free safety Cody Prewitt receives more acclaim for his big hits -- he almost eviscerated Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews in last season's opener -- but Bryant deserves the honor. He's a 5-9 linebacker (and the 5-9 is his listed height, with emphasis on "listed") who starts in the SEC. Bryant's nickname is "Bird," which he picked up in high school in the Orlando area for the way he flew around the field making tackles and big hits. Yes, despite his size, a guy nicknamed "Bird" really lays the wood. You have to be tough to be a 5-9 linebacker in the SEC who makes big hits.

Most physical players: Cody Prewitt (5)

Particulars: 6-2, 212, senior 

Buzz: He led the SEC in interceptions last season with six, but don't let that fool you: Prewitt is a hitter first, and a coverage ace second. He's like an extra linebacker when it comes to run support, and patrols the middle of the field with a nasty streak on passing downs. Recall star Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews vomiting on national TV last year in the first game of the season after taking a brutal hit -- it was Prewitt on the giving end.

Players with best intangibles: Deterrian Shackelford (6)

Particulars: 6-1, 215, senior 

Buzz: There are few stories of perseverance in college football to match that of Shackelford, who missed two straight years of football while recovering from multiple surgeries on a devastating knee injury. He returned last year to make 44 tackles -- 7.5 for losses. While not the team's best defender, he's the Rebels' emotional leader and the only two-time winner of Ole Miss' Chucky Mullins Award for courage. Shackelford's injury plight got him a rare sixth year of eligibility granted by the NCAA, and he'll wear Mullins' No. 38 jersey this fall.

Smallest players: Jaylen Walton

Particulars: 5-8, 166, Junior

Buzz: Coach Hugh Freeze clearly likes his running backs small and quick, and that's exactly what Walton brings to the SEC in college football's most physical conference. He made seven starts in the Rebels' backfield last year, picking up 523 yards and six touchdowns. With 29 catches for 322 yards, he was also one of the SEC's most prolific receivers at the running back position. And if that wasn't enough for the two-year letterman from Memphis, he also returned 25 kickoffs for another 515 yards.

Heaviest players: Aaron Morris

Particulars: 6-5, 355, junior 

Buzz: What could have been a dominant year for Morris last season never even got started, as a torn ACL put him on the sideline in the Rebels' first game. He had been a full-time starter at guard in 2012, and even saw six starts as a freshman in 2011. Morris isn't just a big body -- he's a player -- and provides a physical presence to an offense known more for finesse than power. A healthy Morris in 2014 would be a major boost to the Ole Miss offensive front.

Top recruiters: Chris Kiffin

Remember when the Rebels seemed to come out of nowhere in 2013 and land a recruiting class ranked in the top 10 that included the best player in the country? Kiffin was the chief reason why Laremy Tunsil and Robert Nkemdiche are in Oxford, and he's been the man behind the recruiting efforts of the program that has turned heads recently. Recruiting and the last name Kiffin always seem to go together and it will be interesting to see how Chris will fare going against brother Lane head-to-head.

Biggest hitters: Cody Prewitt (3)

Particulars: 6-2, 212, senior.

Buzz: He is from Bay Springs, Miss. If you're like us, you hear "Bay Springs" and you picture a calm, peaceful place. Well, that's not the way Prewitt plays football; instead, he flies around, making big plays and huge hits. His nicely executed form tackle on Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews in last season's opener is a perfect example. (Warning: Do not run a Google search on that hit unless you are comfortable with watching a guy throw up on the field.) But Prewitt, who should vie for All-America honors this fall, is more than a big hitter; he had six interceptions and seven pass breakups to go along with 71 tackles last season. Still, while he is good in coverage, his best trait is his hitting ability.


Graduate student linebacker Deterrian Shackelford will wear Chucky Mullins' No. 38 jersey for the second time in his Ole Miss career, but for the first time in Saturday's Grove Bowl, he wore it during a game. 

The first non-senior to win the award in 2011, Shackelford also became the first-two recipient of the Chucky Mullins Courage Award.

"It's a blessing," Shackelford said. "It's the first time something like that has happened at this university, so I'm honored and blessed that the coaching staff and the people who had a part in this selection process picked me to represent Chucky Mullins with that honor.

"My junior year, I didn't think I had a possibility of winning either, so both of them caught me off guard. I'm overwhelmed. I never imagine going to a university and having this much of an impact, especially having as much of an impact as I have had not being on the field. Growing up, you always think your impact is going to be making sacks and touchdowns, but to see that in a different view, I have certainly been blessed to be in that situation."

Shackelford was awarded a sixth year of eligibility after he missed the entire 2011 and 2012 season due to knee injuries. Despite his absence on the field, he remained a team leader on and off the field. He played both linebacker and defensive end last year and found a home at middle linebacker this spring.

Raised expectations were a common theme throughout the spring coming off an 8-5 season and a Music City Bowl victory, which he and his teammates have embraced entering the summer leading up to the season opener against Boise State on Aug. 28 in Atlanta.

"I don't feel like it was an unrealistic expectation," Shackelford said. "It was all realistic. The things that we can do this year are no dream. There's no, 'Maybe, we can do it; maybe we can't.' 

"We know we have the pieces to the puzzle and we can do it. The time is now. We feel a sense of urgency. We put ourselves in a great position. We have a lot of veterans coming back. We can do a lot of big things, but we have to stay humble and we have to keep working. In spite of all the hype and all of that, we have to stay humble and continue to work. We can go far."

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