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It seemed like it was just yesterday that the Ole Miss football team continued through the motions of fall camp, and we all were just ready for the season to finally begin. Fast forward with a little Talladega up-tempo offense and we find ourselves at the halfway point of the Rebels' 2015 regular season. Where has the time gone? Let's take a look at where Ole Miss has been, where they are now, and where they could be heading down the road.

First Half Review

Coming into the season, there was plenty of hype surrounding the program. The Landshark defense that led the nation in points allowed per game last year returned the majority of its unit despite losing All-Americans Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt. On the other side of the ball, quarterback Bo Wallace graduated but the Rebels returned nine offensive starters. The biggest question mark coming into the season was who would replace the three-year signal caller.

While there were three quarterbacks competing for the starting job throughout the spring and fall, head coach Hugh Freeze was hoping one would emerge and separate himself from the other two. All three quarterbacks saw action in the first two weeks, and the separation occurred in game two versus Fresno State. Junior quarterback Chad Kelly led the high-powered Ole Miss offense on seven straight touchdown drives in the Rebels' 73-21 victory. The job was his, and it could not have come at a better time as the Rebels prepared to head to Tuscaloosa to face the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Becoming the first team in SEC history to score 73+ points in consecutive games was an incredible achievement, but many people still wondered if the Rebels were for real. Heading into the third week of the season, even the fourth-year head coach was looking for the answer.

"If you ask me if we are ready for SEC play, I really don't know," said Freeze. "I think we have a confident football team right now that believes we can win. I believe we can win."

It turned out that the Rebels were in fact ready for SEC play. Ole Miss took the field with energy and ready to prove that the win over the Tide in Oxford last season was not a fluke. The special teams unit set the pace on the opening kickoff, forcing a fumble to give the offense perfect field position and put the game's first points on the board. It was one of five turnovers Ole Miss forced throughout the night, leading to 24 points. The Rebels led the entire game and limited the noise from the capacity crowd of 101,821 at Bryant-Denny Stadium; when the dust settled, it was Ole Miss who emerged victorious once again over Alabama, 43-37.

Powder blue helmets and all, the Rebels wore the same uniform combination from the last time they beat the Tide in Tuscaloosa (1988). The victory also marked the first time Ole Miss defeated Alabama in back-to-back seasons. Country music superstar Eric Church even realized the significance of the victory, and wanting to take part in the celebration, led the locker room in the Hotty Toddy chant after the game. The win was a big deal. It proved that the Rebels belonged among the nation's elite. Ole Miss became the talk of the college football world and rose to No. 3 in the AP poll. Senior Trae Elston even represented Ole Miss on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

While the victory was a monumental win, it was also just one game, like all of the rest throughout the season. The Rebels had to get ready for Vanderbilt and focus on the task at hand. The Commodores proved to be a feisty bunch, and the Rebels did not put together one of their best performances of the season. Nonetheless, Ole Miss protected Hollingsworth Field for a 27-16 win.

Sitting at 5-0 and No. 3 in the country, the Rebels had a big target on their backs and were getting everyone's best shot. Vanderbilt did it the week before, so it would be no surprise that Florida would do the same, especially under the lights of The Swamp. A perfect storm was brewing down in Gainesville. One week prior, Jim McElwain's Florida team rallied from 13 points down in the fourth quarter to shock Tennessee and keep the Gators' perfect season alive. The win seemed to have given Florida some new-found confidence, and that proved to be the case when UF and Ole Miss took the field. Florida came out firing on all cylinders; the offense converted on third downs to march down the field, while the defense kept the high-octane Ole Miss offense in-check and forced four turnovers. The result was a 38-10 win for Florida, handing the Rebels their first loss of the season.

The setback proved the difficulty of not only going undefeated throughout the season, but it also brought out the grind of playing in the SEC, especially away from home. The Rebels returned to their winning ways with a 52-3 thumping of New Mexico State Saturday afternoon as part of the Homecoming festivities. The offense racked up a season-high 665 yards, while the Landshark defense allowed a season-low 239 total yards.

Where We Stand

After taking a look at the first half of the season, let's bring things up to the present time. Ole Miss is 5-1 on the 2015 campaign, winning five of its first six games for the second time since 2003 and also in back-to-back seasons. The Rebels are 2-1 in SEC play with wins over No. 2 Alabama and Vanderbilt to go along with the loss to No. 23 Florida in The Swamp. Although the College Football Playoff rankings won't come out for another three weeks, Ole Miss is No. 12 in the Amway coaches poll No. 13 in the AP poll.

Last season, the Landshark defense led the nation in surrendering the fewest points per game. While the Landsharks still have their fins up in 2015, it has been the offense that has shined brighter. Coach Freeze has developed the Rebel offense into a well-oiled machine in his four seasons in Oxford. Averaging 46.8 points per game, Ole Miss has scored 281 points this year, which already surpasses point totals in five seasons this century. That's a pretty impressive statistic considering we still have at least half of the season remaining.

Kelly leads the potent offense, and the junior quarterback stands atop the SEC in multiple categories: passing yards (1,862), yards per completion (15.39), total offense (331.08 per game) and TD passes (14). A few of those categories rank among the top 10 in the country. He's thrown for over 300 yards in four of the six games, which already ties Bo Wallace and two-time Super Bowl champion/MVP Eli Manning for the most in one season. Again, this is at the HALFWAY point of the season. Finally, Kelly's past has been talked about ever since he arrived on campus and he has tried to put that behind him to become the best person he can be on and off the field. It has shown; the young man has matured and become a leader of the Ole Miss football team.

The wide receiving corps might be one of the best in the country, led by junior Laquon Treadwell, who has bounced back from that terrible injury he suffered versus Auburn last year. Treadwell has 35 catches, nearly double that of Quincy Adeboyejo who is second on the team with 18 catches, five of those resulting in touchdowns. Adeboyejo and senior Cody Core have been deep threats for Kelly, as Core averages over 20 yards per catch to be among the SEC leaders in that category. Don't forget about Markell Pack, Damore'ea Stringfellow and Evan Engram either; that trio has combined for 38 receptions. Needless to say, Kelly has options out in space.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Nkemdiche brothers lead the way in tackles. Senior Denzel Nkemdiche's 38 tackles are a team high and Robert Nkemdiche has tallied a Rebel best 5.5 tackles for loss. The younger of the siblings put together his own highlight reel in the big win over No. 2 Alabama, earning SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors. Robert is a do-it-all athlete that provides an impact whenever he's on the field. Need any more proof? He blocked a field goal and has found the end zone three times on offense thus far. Also on the line is sophomore Marquis Haynes, who has recorded 11.0 sacks in his short time at Ole Miss, already becoming a top-10 career sack leader for the program. In the secondary, Elston has four interceptions, including two pick sixes.

Teams deal with injuries every year. It's part of the physicality of football. Unfortunately, the injury bug has hit the Rebels hard this season. Starting defensive lineman Issac Gross was lost for the season, while 2014 All-SEC honorees Tony Conner and C.J. Johnson required surgery and expect to miss at least four weeks with their respective injuries. On Saturday, a total of seven starters did not play versus New Mexico State.

Speaking of starters not playing, All-American offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil has not seen the field once this season, sitting out due to an NCAA investigation of improper benefits. Earlier this week, the NCAA finally announced its decision, suspending Tunsil for seven games, which means the junior will be able to return when Ole Miss hosts Texas A&M, Oct. 24. A fan favorite throughout his time at Ole Miss, Rebel Nation will be sure to give the big man a warm welcome when he emerges from the tunnel and steps onto Hollingsworth Field.

Looking Ahead

Fear not Rebel Nation; losses happen in college football. Yes they're disappointing, but the probability of going undefeated in a season is incredibly slim. Look at last season. A whopping zero teams ended the campaign unbeaten. The team that hoisted the national championship trophy lost by 14 points at home, in primetime, and to a team that finished the season with a 7-6 record. Florida is currently ranked No. 8 with a record of 6-0, and The Swamp has been known as one of the nation's most difficult places to play for opposing teams.

Memphis, unbeaten and ranked No. 22 in the coaches poll, awaits the Rebels. The Tigers have had two weeks to prepare for Ole Miss, and the Memphis faithful has been anxious for this nationally televised game (11 a.m., ABC). When the Tigers held on for a narrow victory over Cincinnati, Sept. 24, Memphis fans could be heard chanting "we want Ole Miss" throughout Liberty Bowl Stadium. The non-conference affair has plenty of implications. Memphis looks to remain unbeaten and in line for a New Year's Six bowl game, while Ole Miss hopes to improve to 6-1 and grab some momentum heading into the SEC West gauntlet.

The trip to Memphis will be the Rebels' third road game against a nationally ranked team. The schedule doesn't get any easier as the season progresses. Texas A&M, Arkansas and LSU will come to Oxford to face the Rebels. Ole Miss also has to hit the road for a matchup against Auburn on Halloween as well as face Mississippi State in Starkville for the season-ending Egg Bowl.

Yes, Ole Miss has a blemish on its schedule. However, the loss was against an SEC East opponent. Doing some football math, going 1-1 against their two cross-divisional opponents plus a victory over an SEC West foe (Alabama) equals the Rebels controlling their destiny to the SEC Championship game. Ole Miss' remaining five conference games are all against teams from the West, giving the Rebels control. It won't be an easy task due to the stiff competition in the division, but if Ole Miss takes care of business in each of those contests, we will be hearing "Hotty Toddy" echoing throughout the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Along with the vision of an SEC crown, the bigger picture is the Rebels' quest of making the College Football Playoff, which is still a possibility. Once again, it requires Ole Miss taking care of business and that starts on the road this weekend against Memphis. The sky is the limit for the 2015 Ole Miss football team. Coach Freeze and the Rebels know they have to focus on the weekly task at hand, taking one game at a time in order to get there. In this week's press conference, he mentioned the message to his team. "Do your assignment and your job to the best of your ability with great enthusiasm on that given play, and we'll see at the end of four quarters if that was good enough." The Rebels need to continue living up to their season motto and #TakeAStand.

The second half of the season is upon us. I'm sure the time will fly by, so buckle up and enjoy the ride. We'll see what happens down the stretch. Hotty Toddy!

If his legacy remained in doubt, senior quarterback Bo Wallace cemented it Saturday night in his final home game.

Playing with a sprained ankle he suffered last week against Arkansas, Wallace helped lead his team to a 31-17 win over No. 4 Mississippi State, his second win over a top-five opponent this season, becoming the first quarterback to accomplish the feat since Archie Manning in 1969.

"He couldn't practice any this week," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "I told everyone you would have to chain him down to not play in this game. You would have to really chain him down. 

"For all the stuff he gets talked about, I hope this would cement his place in Ole Miss history as a quarterback who came and helped restore pride and returned us to relevancy. He won two Egg Bowls and at least two bowl wins, taking us to a third. I hope this cements his memory here by everyone in a positive light because he deserves that."

The school's all-time leader in total offense, Wallace completed 13-of-30 passes for 296 yards and added a touchdown run, rebounding from a four-turnover game in a 17-10 overtime loss to Mississippi State in Starkville last season.

"I have been thinking about this game since last year," Wallace said. "Every single day, I have thought about this game. It pushed me this offseason to work harder than I ever had. The crazy thing is, looking back, I'm kind of thankful for that game because it made me have a better season this season. That game drove me every single day."

Tightly taped up and given pain medicine to deal with the ankle injury, Freeze said Wallace never complained as he prepared this week and then played Saturday night.

"There was a little more motivation there," Freeze said. "He has wanted a shot at them again for a long time, 365 or whatever number of days it's been, and he prepared like it. Even though he was unhealthy, he spent a lot of time in the film room and made sure he felt good about the things we were going to call. He was locked in."

Despite the injury, Wallace was sacked only once, a credit to his much-maligned offensive line that helped pave the way for a 532 yards of total offense. He was also helped by career efforts from sophomore tight end Evan Engram and junior running back Jaylen Walton.

"Hats off to the O-line because I couldn't move back there and they kept guys off of me," Wallace said. "I told them the whole game, 'Keep doing what you're doing. You guys are playing great.' If it weren't for them playing as well as they did, I don't think I would have had a shot."

"It was unbelievable," said Engram of Wallace. "He's definitely one of the toughest players I have played with in my whole career. A lot of guys could have easily just milked the injury and sat on the sideline and not do anything, but that wasn't going to happen with him."

Stepping into a program that had won just two games in 2011 and had lost 14 straight Southeastern Conference games, Wallace has helped lead Ole Miss to national relevance, capped by his second Egg Bowl win and the program's first nine-win regular season since Eli Manning in 2003.

"I had to win this game," Wallace said. "I knew it. I talked to Quon (Laquon Treadwell) about it. I talked to a lot of guys about it. I had to win this game for what I want to be remembered for."

Ahead of the first-ever visit of ESPN's College GameDay and one of the biggest weekends in school history, here's an exhaustive link roundup of stories from local and national media regarding the SEC West showdown between No. 1 Alabama and No. 11 Ole Miss:

Alabama vs. Ole Miss, 1969: The night college football went prime time, writes Lars Anderson for AL.com

Katy Perry for GameDay? Katy Perry for GameDay, writes Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion-Ledger

Two top-15 games make for the biggest weekend ever for Mississippi football, writes Mike Herndon of AL.com

New York Giants' Eli Manning likes Ole Miss' chance against Alabama, writes Dan Graziano of ESPN.com

Mississippi's Moment: The Newly Relevant Rebels and Bulldogs Take Center Stage in the SEC West, writes Matt Hinton of Grantland

Mississippi becomes epicenter of college football, writes David Brandt of the Associated Press

Good Guys Finish 1st: The Hugh Freeze Story, writes Lars Anderson for Bleacher Report

Big week in Mississippi a milestone for coaches Freeze, Mullen, writes Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports

Alabama's got 'chinstrap in and locked and loaded' for Ole Miss' 296-pound running QB, writes Michael Casagrande of AL.com

Alabama QB Sims has Ole Miss' respect, writes Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion-Ledger

This is the Rebels' best chance, writes Parrish Alford of the Daily Journal

Alabama's top-ranked run defense poised for different sort of challenge vs. Ole Miss, writes Andrew Gribble of AL.com

At Ole Miss, evolving perception both outward and inward, writes Dan Wolken of USA Today

Bo Wallace eager for another shot at Bama, writes Greg Ostendorf of ESPN.com

Hugh Freeze preps for Lane Kiffin curveball, says 1-on-1 battles could determine Alabama-Ole Miss, writes Michael Casagrande of AL.com

Alabama defense to be tested by Ole Miss tempo, Laquon Treadwell, writes Alex Scarborough of AL.com

How Lane Kiffin improved Bama's offense, writes Mackenzie Kraemer of ESPN.com

Ole Miss can make a statement vs. Bama, writes Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com

Blake Sims (then a RB) had a memorable night in Alabama's last Ole Miss trip, writes Michael Casagrande of AL.com

Alabama-Ole Miss: Kiffin has turned Tide into nearly unstoppable force, writes Coy Wire of Fox Sports

Game-changers: Cooper, Treadwell major keys in Ole Miss-Alabama matchup, writes Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion-Ledger

Amari Cooper 'banged up' after Florida win, not listening to Heisman talk, writes Michael Casagrande of AL.com

No. 11 Mississippi prepares for Alabama offense, writes David Brandt of the Associated Press

History on schedule for Mississippi, writes Chris Low of ESPN.com

Ole Miss and its Landsharks a legit threat to Alabama's run as the SEC's best defense, writes Kevin Scarbinsky of AL.com

Ole Miss confident it can compete with Alabama, writes Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion-Ledger

Alabama faces biggest test yet in Ole Miss, writes Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com

Wild, wild SEC West set for historic day, writes John Zenor and David Brandt of the Associated Press

Epic, writes Chuck Rounsaville of The Ole Miss Spirit/Scout.com

In case you missed it, 3 Things You Should Know About Gameday, The Memphis episode of The Season: Ole Miss Football and Get Your Grove On - Get Up. It's GameDay

Wallace Earns Game MVP Honors

Game MVP Bo Wallace and head coach Hugh Freeze meet with members of the media after Ole Miss' 25-17 win over Georgia Tech in the Franklin American Mortgage Company Music City Bowl.

In the regular season finale at Mississippi State, junior quarterback Bo Wallace was 26-of-40 for 182 yards with three interceptions and a lost fumble. A month later, Wallace responded to that adversity in a huge way, as he helped lead Ole Miss to a 25-17 win over Georgia Tech in the Franklin American Mortgage Company Music City Bowl and the program's first eight-win season since 2009.

"I have said that there's no way we would be sitting here with 15 wins, including two bowl victories, in two years had Bo not been here with us," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "I knew from watching him prepare that the way we ended the season didn't set well him, nor did it for me. I liked the way he prepared and I'm proud that he was able to have the game he had today."

"Going into this game, I knew I needed to have a good one," Wallace said. "But at the same time, sometimes I try to make too many plays. All day, I was thinking, don't try to make too many plays; just make the plays that are there, and that's what I did today in getting the ball to those receivers. They can run after the catch and make the stats look pretty."

The Pulaski, Tenn., native threw one touchdown and ran for two more on the way game MVP honors. Wallace finished the game 22-of-32 for 256 yards, as well as a career-high 86 yards rushing on 13 carries. He also set the Ole Miss single-season records for completions and total yards, which were both previously held by Eli Manning.

"I wanted to get the win first," Wallace said of the game MVP honors. "I knew that if I had a good game, we would probably win the game. Like I said, I tried not to press too much out there. I knew the plays would come if I made the plays that were there."

Junior wide receiver Donte Moncrief led the Ole Miss receiving corps with six catches for 113 yards and a touchdown, his fifth game with 100 or more receiving yards this season. Wallace also credited his senior-laden offensive line, with four senior starters in offensive tackles Emmanuel McCray and Pierce Burton, offensive guard Jared Duke and center Evan Swindall. 

The unit allowed just two sacks and helped Ole Miss outgain Georgia Tech, 221-151, on the ground. The Yellow Jackets entered the game ranked in the top 10 nationally in both rushing offense and rushing defense, and the 221 rushing yards were the second-most allowed they allowed this season.

"That was their best day as far as getting set to get the tempo going and rolling," Wallace said. "I felt really comfortable back there. That was probably as comfortable as I have been all season. We had a lot of seniors up there. They all did a great job, and I'm glad they get to leave on a good note."

Book Of Manning Premieres In Oxford

Family and football. Fathers and sons. A scrapbook of memories, which come alive on the screen through home video, game footage and candid, personal interviews with members of the Manning family and those whose lives they touched.

It was a special night in Oxford, as the ESPN Films documentary, The Book of Manning, premiered Friday at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts on the Ole Miss campus. The event also raised $100,000 to benefit the Friends of Children's Hospital, which supports the Blair E. Batson Hospital for children.

"I'm really honored to be here and flattered that Ole Miss wanted to make an event out of this," Archie said of the premiere. "I'm excited that the benefactor will be Batson Children's Hospital in Jackson, which is part of the University Medical Center. It's going to raise a lot of money for them and help the sick children of Mississippi get well and get home.

"We are really flattered and indebted for the turnout that we had. We're always glad to be on campus and be around the Ole Miss family, so it's a great night for us."

Earlier in the day, Ole Miss Director of Athletics, Ross Bjork, announced the "building phase" of the Forward Together Campaign, and later at the film's premiere, it was also announced that Ole Miss Athletics will name the newly renovated Indoor Practice Facility the Olivia and Archie Manning Athletics Performance Center.

"Unbelievable," Archie said of the facilities. "The meeting room, the dining facility, the dressing room, the weight room. I saw SEC Commissioner Mike Slive and said we have got it going here. What we have here is Alabama-type stuff, and what they have been able to accomplish is the paramount thing in our conference right now. We have some great facilities."

MY TAKE ON THE FILM: The Book of Manning is a special tribute to a special family, which follows the Mannings through both their prosperity and adversity, from Archie's father, Elisha, to Archie, to Archie's three sons, Cooper, Peyton and Eli. 

It strikes a balance between their respective personal and professional lives, and their relationships, as the most powerful moments of the film are interviews with them talking about one another. And, other than video of Eli's verbal commitment to Ole Miss, what drew the most reaction was home video of football games in the Manning backyard. 

All of the games and moments you expect are in the film, such as Eli's commitment mentioned above, with context and supported by photos, videos and interviews. And each of their respective stories, all their own, is given careful attention, both individually and as part of the Manning family.

In the end, the story comes full circle and leaves you with a satisfied feeling of completeness, with Eli winning a January bowl game at Ole Miss more than 30 years after his father, Archie, did just the same.

The film premieres on Tuesday, Sept. 24, at 7 p.m. CT on ESPN.


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Recent Comments

    Hunter Comstock said:

    Strange things happen to Ole Miss football teams in games played on Halloween. I don't know if I can bear to watch this one or not.

    in post Rebels Dominate In Prime-Time Spotlight

    Hunter Comstock said:

    Boy, I surely hope the Rebels don't have anymore nail biters like the Bama game. My nerves won't take it.

    in post Rebels Pass First Test in Search of Playoff Berth

    Joe Snaidauf said:

    Rebs stay healthy, they can win it all!!!

    in post Eleven Rebels Garner Phil Steele Preseason Honors

    Jamie laverty said:

    Bulmer I love you and ole Miss

    in post Fast Runner From Down Under

    Rhonda said:

    Coach Freeze is a genuine coach and our players and fans adore him!!

    in post Vote Freeze For Coach Of The Year

    Gary Vaughn said:

    It's great to be a Rebel fan. Coach Freeze
    Has brought back the excitement
    Competitiveness we all so desire. The
    fan base and even our doubters are
    Paying attention. Even the whole country
    Sport tLk shows ect. Are taking notice.
    After we upset Alabama this weekend
    38-27 we will bolt to a top 12 or better
    Ranking. Go Rebels

    in post Vote Freeze For Coach Of The Year

    Tom said:

    I am not and never have been an Ole Miss fan. I am however a Coach Freeze fan. I like what he represents in today's world of big time sports and what he stands for in leading young men of today into a more responsible role. He is everything that Ole Miss has never had. I am on his band wagon winning or losing.

    in post Vote Freeze For Coach Of The Year

    Cory Wilson said:

    How can I get my hands on one of these?

    in post 2013 Fall Sports Player Posters