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Through the first seven spring practices, or three weeks since the start of spring practice on March 3, there does not appear to be any separation between sophomores Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade and junior college transfer Chad Kelly. 

Whether you talk to head coach Hugh Freeze, or one of the quarterback competitors, they all have one overarching goal for the position: consistency.

"We're charting every single throw, and it's really close between all three," Freeze said. "It really depends on the day. Ryan has had his great days, Kincade has done well at times, and so has Chad. We're compile it all after this week and look at it again, but it's really close."

"All of them look great," sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell said. "It's still a learning process for them. They don't have a lot of experience going live against the first-team defense and doing all the things we do every day, but they all look good and they're all making plays."

Every snap and every series, Buchanan and Kincade said, it's a challenge to stay consistent and do the little things right to separate themselves in the quarterback competition.

"I feel like I have gotten progressively better each camp from fall to spring the last couple of years," Buchanan said. "The biggest thing is you have to do it life. I can sit in meetings and know exactly where everything is supposed to be, but you have to make on-the-second decisions when you're out there."

"Every day, you have to bring it, no matter where you are," Kincade said. "Anywhere you go, it's going to be a competition. You have to bring your 'A' game every time you're on the field."

Every practice, they face a defense that boasts seven returning starter from the nation's No. 1 scoring defense. 

They're also short-handed on the offensive side of the ball with only eight healthy offensive linemen as well as injuries to sophomore wide receiver Markell Pack and senior wide receiver Cody Core, joining Treadwell and senior wide receiver Collins Moore, who were already being held out.

"We can force our defense to be in some vanilla looks and we look a lot better then," Freeze said. "When they're who they want to be, it's been quite challenging to have successful plays for sure."

Injuries and Opportunities Along the Offensive Line

The Rebels were already without a trio of offensive linemen at the start of spring practice and the injury list has only grown longer three weeks into it.

"We're struggling to just stay healthy," Freeze said. "We're losing kids to some freak injuries that have certainly made reps more difficult. That's part of the game. 

"On the offensive line, we're down to about eight guys. It's a struggle. There are a lot of good looking ones standing on the sideline. At receiver, Markell (Pack) and Cody (Core) are hurt. Laquon (Treadwell) and Collins (Moore) are already out. We're facing some adversity right now offensively."

By name, according to Freeze, junior Laremy Tunsil, senior Aaron Mooris, sophomore Daronte Bouldin, junior Robert Conyers, sophomore Christian Morris, junior Talbot Buys, sophomore Davion Johnson and redshirt freshman Sean Rawling are offensive lineman that have been ruled out for spring practice.

The eight healthy offensive lineman, Freeze also said by name, are senior Justin Bell, freshman Javon Patterson, senior Ben Still, junior Jeremy Liggins, senior Fahn Cooper, redshirt freshman Jordan Sims, sophomore Rod Taylor, junior Jacob Feeley, and redshirt freshman Tyler Putman.

"We have who we have for spring," Freeze said. "Hopefully, Markell and Cody are not out significantly long. On the offensive line, it doesn't look like we will get any of them back for spring."

Freeze praised the effort of the younger and less-experienced players, stepping up and having to go a lot of reps with the first-team and second-team offenses. Of the injured offensive linemen, Freeze said he is hopeful they will be ready for summer workouts.

Those injuries along the offensive line have also presented an opportunity for younger players, such as Patterson, an early enrollee, and Liggins, who has moved to offensive tackle.

"He's getting all the reps he wants," said Freeze of Patterson. "He's having to go with the one's some and the two's some. He's getting all the reps he wants. All of them are. I'm really pleased with him. He's going to be a really good player. I'm really excited about him."

"It's going really well," said Freeze of Liggins. "He has really good feet. He's picked it up as well as I would have hoped. There are times, just like with any offensive lineman, where you get these strange looks that you really didn't work on in individual work that may be moving a little fast for him. That's not just him. That's all of them. I really think he's a talented kid there."

QUOTABLE

Freeze, on the defense: "Defensively, I'm really, really pleased. I think we have a chance to be really good on that side of the ball. Certainly, it's going to make us better going forward having to practice against the speed and length that our defense plays with."

Freeze, on Saturday's scrimmage: "It's been a very physical spring thus far. I'm hoping that Saturday, when we get there, we will have enough healthy guys to have a quality scrimmage to see if we have made some significant improvements because we have spent an enormous amount of time on technique and individual work."

Freeze, on quarterback Chad Kelly: "I'm really pleased with everything he's done to this point. It's a process. I'm very aware that any of these young men can make a decision that's wrong. He's got very little rope to do that with, but i'm really with him to this point. He studies film. He's a competitor. He's a team guy. That's been my experience with him thus far."

Freeze, on cornerback Tony Bridges: "He's a long, athletic corner and he's physical. Him and Tee Shepard, they're both playing really well at corner right now. They're a little too aggressive sometimes, particularly when they're on an island. They're very aggressive and long."

Freeze, on wide receiver Laquon Treadwell: "We're probably going to hold him out. He goes through all the one-on-ones and routes versus air, but we haven't put him in any team situation yet."

Freeze, on linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche: "Denzel is having a really good spring. Really solid. He's fine. He's 100 percent."

Treadwell, on Kelly: "Chad is competing. He's learning and he's making plays. Every day, he's competing and that's going to help the team a lot."

Buchanan on the quarterback competition: "They're tracking each throw and each decision, and I know I have to make the most out of every single snap and every single series I go in and do the best I can."

Buchanan, on Kelly: "He has a great arm. He can spin the ball really well. He's getting used to the playbook and getting used to having to make decisions against our defense, but he's good. He's a good quarterback."

Kincade, on the quarterback room: "It's fun competing. I love competing. If he makes something good happen, I tell him. If I make something good happen, he tells me, and we tell Ryan the same. We all share with each other."

Ole Miss began spring practice Tuesday, and for the first time under head coach Hugh Freeze, the Rebels will have a starting quarterback not named Bo Wallace. With the graduation of Wallace, sophomores Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade, as well as junior college transfer Chad Kelly, will split equal reps this spring.

"We're going to be very thorough in our evaluations by charting every single drill that they do," Freeze said. "We'll look at stats from those. It's going to a very competition three-man deal. They will be in a constant rotation, and everyone will get equal reps with the 1's and the 2's. The main thing you want to see is who can handle hard coaching and who can understand what we're trying to get accomplished with what we have called and then being able to execute and take care of the ball, which is always a priority."

It's the first true quarterback competition in Oxford since the 2012 season, when Wallace beat out Barry Brunetti for the starting job. In that case, Freeze did not name Wallace his starting quarterback until two days before the Rebels' season opener against Central Arkansas, and it may a similar case this season between Buchanan, Kelly and Kincade.

"It would probably have to be so clear-cut for me to do that this spring, knowing the personalities of who I'm dealing with and the time between now and fall," said Freeze of naming a starting quarterback in the spring. "A lot of dynamics play into that. It's probably not going to be a clear-cut decision at the end of spring and will continue through summer workouts. It's time for that room to be the leaders of this team. With that, comes some responsibility, and we have them to understand that throughout summer workouts."

Changes on Defense

Freeze had already announced one position change during his National Signing Day press conference. That change was moving Jeremy Liggins to offensive tackle, although he will likely continue to play some tight end and "Wildcat" quarterback. But there are also changes on the other side of the ball.

The changes on the defensive side are familiar, but they are notable. Freeze announced that senior Mike Hilton, who has started a game at every defensive backfield position, will start the spring at one of the safety positions, as they try to find the best rotation in the defensive backfield.

"We think we he have a lot options (in the secondary)," Freeze said. "We're going to start Tony (Bridges) and Tee (Shepard) at cornerback and start Mike Hilton at one of the safety positions, knowing that he's played them all and can do that. If we think there's a better rotation, we won't hesitate to move them around"

Freeze also said that senior C.J. Johnson will get a look at Mike linebacker, a position that Freeze called their biggest question mark right now. Johnson was originally recruited as a linebacker and began his Ole Miss career at the position, and he will join senior Christian Russell and junior Temario Strong in looking to replace Deterrian Shackelford and Keith Lewis.

"We are going to see this spring," said Freeze of Johnson playing Mike linebacker. "I don't know (how he will perform), it is hard to say. I know he can run and tackle. I know he is smart and really understands the defense. It is a different role, playing there. But that's where we are going to put him and see how it goes this spring. We can always move him back down to the defensive line. We are going to see how he performs this spring."

D. Nkemdiche, Treadwell Return from Injury

The Rebels will be without a trio of offensive linemen in junior Laremy Tunsil and senior Aaron Morris, two returning starters, as well as sophomore Daronte Bouldin, but the Rebels will welcome back a talented trio of players in junior wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, senior linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche and junior cornerback Tee Shepard.

"I expect Denzel and Quon, both, to be back," Freeze said. "Denzel, right away. Quon, after spring break. He will do some things but not a lot this week. Robert Conyers will go after spring break also. The others, Daronte (Bouldin), Aaron (Morris), and Laremy, will not participate in spring practice. Tee will be full-go. Carlos Davis, we'll see where is after spring break."

With the injuries along the offensive line, it is a great opportunity for freshman offensive lineman Javon Patterson, an early enrollee, who was rated a five-star prospect and listed as the No. 1 offensive guard in the nation by 247Sports.com.

"I told him yesterday that we he will get all the reps he wants, and then some," Freeze said. "It's going be good for him. He's going to get plenty of reps. i'm really excited about him. He's exactly the type of student-athlete you want. He's a great kid, first, and he's going to be an outstanding player. Getting him enrolled early and getting an extra spring with him will be big for him. He will get plenty of reps to get looked at this spring."

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.

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."

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."

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." 

Three areas to watch as No. 8 Ole Miss travels to Arkansas in its final road game of the regular season Saturday.

Slowing the Hogs' Ground Attack

The extra week of preparation, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said, should prove beneficial to prepare for the scheme and personnel of Arkansas' run-heavy offense.

"They use unbalanced formations and shifts and motions," Wommack said. "They're not like an LSU where it's just pound you, but they have really good backs and a good line and they do some deception with it, too, and we have a great advantage to work on that stuff."

Looking at the numbers, it's no secret the Razorbacks' effectiveness in running the football and the Rebels' effectiveness in stopping the run will go a long way in determining the outcome of Saturday's game.

Arkansas averages 302.6 yards per game and 6.38 yards per carry in its five wins compared to 163.2 yards per game and 3.29 yards per carry in its five losses. 

Ole Miss has allowed just 96.1 yards per game and 2.82 yards per carry in its eight wins compared to 256.0 yards per game and 5.07 yards per carry in its two losses.

"Just looking at what has occurred, this may not be our best matchup," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "You have to play it. You have to find a plan and get your kids in the right spot. Hopefully we learn something from seeing that (kind of offense against LSU)."

Starting O-Line Back at Full Strength

With the return of left tackle Laremy Tunsil and left guard Aaron Morris from injury, Ole Miss will have the same five starting offensive linemen that helped the Rebels to a 7-0 start.

The Rebels generated a season-high 640 total yards, including a season-high 402 rushing yards, in a 48-0 win over Presbyterian, and they look to build off the performance with their full complement of offensive linemen for Saturday.

"It was better last week against Presbyterian, but that's probably not comparing apples to apples," Freeze said. "It's hard to say. In the off week and Presbyterian week, we worked quite a bit on the inside run. It's been tough to run it on these guys for other teams."

Arkansas ranks fourth in the SEC in rushing defense (126.7 yards per game) and sixth in yards per carry allowed (3.76 yards per carry). In a 17-0 win over then-No. 20 LSU, the Razorbacks held LSU to 36 yards on 32 carries.

It starts up front with defensive linemen Trey Flowers and Darius Philon. Flowers is the active SEC leader with 41.5 career tackles for loss and is tied for third with 15.0 career sacks, while Philon leads all SEC defensive tackles with 9.5 tackles for loss this season.

"They have two of the better in the conference in 86 and 91, in Trey Flowers and Darius Philon," Freeze said. "Those guys are really special. Like I said, you look at their stats and they just held LSU, one of the best rushing teams in the conference, to 36 yards."

Passing Game Sans Treadwell

Playing without wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, who suffered a season-ending leg injury against Auburn, Vince Sanders stepped up as the team's No. 1 receiver and responded with four catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-0 win over Presbyterian.

Derrick Jones, who moved back to wide receiver from cornerback, hauled in his first five career receptions for 55 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown.

"It went well," co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. "Obviously, we hate losing Laquon, but we always talk about next man up and wide receiver is one of our deepest positions, so the guys did step up, and Vince (Sanders) had a great game."

Saturday's game against Arkansas marks the first SEC game and the first road game for Ole Miss without Treadwell, and the Rebels will face a Razorback defense that allows just 22.2 points per game, including a shutout of then-No. 20 LSU this past Saturday.

In addition to the wide receivers, tight end Evan Engram also steps into a bigger role. Engram leads all SEC tight ends with 15.2 yards per catch and ranks third with 27 catches, 410 yards and two touchdowns.

"Evan (Engram) will be a critical, critical cog in the wheel for us, particularly with Laquon (Treadwell) going down," Freeze said. "We have to find ways to get him the football. He'll win one-on-ones, so he's been extremely valuable to us."

Rebels Ahead of Schedule in Year Three

It's sometimes easy to forget where the Ole Miss football program was just three short years ago, when Hugh Freeze was interviewing for the head coaching position.

The Rebels had won just two games in 2011 and had lost 14 straight Southeastern Conference games. 

Three years later, No. 8 Ole Miss is 8-2 (4-2 SEC) and remains alive in the SEC Western Division race and the College Football Playoff discussion, but that was not the original plan, and Freeze is glad the Rebels have gone off-script.

"My original plan that I had, that I actually presented in my interview, was that we would be going to a bowl game this year," Freeze said. "The goal was to be very competitive and find a way to get enough wins to go to a bowl game. That was the original plan, but we're excited it didn't work out. I'm glad I was wrong."

Many of the seniors endured that 2-10 season in 2011, and their buy-in, doing the little things and holding the team accountable, Freeze said, has been a reason the turnaround has happened as fast as it has.

With two games remaining in the regular season, Freeze said they have talked about the possibilities at their fingertips and what they can go earn by finishing strong.

"It's kind of bittersweet that it's coming to an end," senior cornerback Senquez Golson said. "But we have a chance to finish as one of the best team in Ole Miss history. I'm ready to see what happens. I came in at 2-10, and for me to maybe leave 10-2, that would say a lot about where we came from over these few years and where the program is headed."

"Let's get No. 9," Freeze said. "Senquez is a little bit ahead of his coach there. I'm thrilled in year three for us to be were we are. It's way ahead of schedule. Of course, we want to finish strong. Anything above this now certainly expedites our journey a little faster, but you have to go earn it. The only thing I can think about is playing at Arkansas on Saturday and hopefully competing at a level that gives us a chance to win it in the fourth quarter."

Starting Five Back Together

Ole Miss had its starting offensive line back for practice this week, a group that helped the Rebels to a 7-0 start with left tackle Laremy Tunsil, left guard Aaron Morris, center Ben Still, right guard Justin Bell and right tackle Fahn Cooper.

Still missed the LSU game and played through injury against Auburn, while Tunsil missed the Auburn and Presbyterian games and Morris missed the Presbyterian game.

"It will be interesting to see him go back out and play after three weeks off," said offensive line coach Matt Luke of Tunsil. "He's anxious to get back out there, but he's practiced and tested out well. He's done everything. I look for him to be 100 percent, or close to it."

"He can't play receiver," said Bell, when asked if Tunsil had any limitations in practice. "If anything, that's probably his only limitation."

Behind the starting five, Robert Conyers gives Ole Miss options at center and tackle, having started the last three games at both spots, while Rod Taylor has gained valuable experience and earned his first career start against Presbyterian.

Luke said Morris and Bell will start, as they did through the first seven games, but he looks for Taylor to play as many snaps as both of them, giving Ole Miss a three-man rotation at the two guard positions.

"He's really come on, said Luke of Taylor. "Getting in there and playing, sometimes a light bulb goes off. The more you play, the better off you are. He's played really well the last two weeks against Auburn and Presbyterian. He graded out the highest of all the linemen, so I'm really proud of him and the development he has showed."

Landsharks Brace for Hogs Ground Attack

Arkansas is one of just two teams in the nation with two running backs to rush for 800-plus yards, boasting two of the Southeastern Conference's top five rushers. Junior Jonathan Williams ranks fourth averaging 93.2 yards per game, while sophomore Alex Collins ranks fifth averaging 88.6 yards per game.

Williams and Collins have benefited from running behind a massive offensive line averaging 328.4 pounds per player, larger than any NFL starting offensive line.

"We don't really look at size," sophomore defensive end Fadol Brown said. "I mean, you can look at guys like Issac Gross, who's been holding his own since his freshman year, and C.J. Johnson. I guess athleticism and movement makes up for some of the size."

Arkansas ranks fourth in the SEC averaging 232.9 yards per game and ranks third averaging 5.45 yards per carry, but they have had significantly more success in non-conference play than conference play. 

The Razorbacks average 151.8 yards per game and 4.00 yards per carry through five conference games compared to 354.5 yards per game and 7.13 yards per carry in non-conference game.

"It's the best run game we've seen all year long," Brown said. "Every game, they come with it. They just try to power you off the hole, pound you constantly and run the same plays over and over to try to get you out of the gap."

In its eight wins, Ole Miss allowed just 96.1 rushing yards per game and a 2.82 yards per carry average. In its two losses to LSU and Auburn, Ole Miss allowed 256.0 rushing yards per game and 5.07 yards per carry average.

Arkansas, like LSU and Auburn, emphasizes the run, so Brown and the Ole Miss defense expects their success to go a long way in determining the outcome of Saturday's game.

"This game is going to be on us and nobody else, just like the LSU game was on us," Brown said. "We have to be physical up front and dominate the line of scrimmage. If we don't do that, then we don't have a chance."

No. 10 Ole Miss was without several starters and regular contributors against Presbyterian, and many others were limited. 

But given an extra week of rest, head coach Hugh Freeze said he expects everyone, with the exception of the players out with season-ending injuries, to be ready to go when Ole Miss travels to Arkansas on Nov. 22.

"The plan this week was same as last week," Freeze said. "We had in our mind a two-week plan to hopefully have everyone. Those who were held out of things last week are being held out this week, but they're doing more stuff. They're running and getting lifts in. I'm going to hold them out of practice this week and be back Sunday, hopefully."

Junior running back I'Tavius Mathers and junior safety Trae Elston, who both missed the Presbyterian game while dealing with concussions, returned to practice this week. Senior linebacker Keith Lewis is going through the concussion protocol this week after suffering one against Presbyterian.

The starting left side of the offensive line, sophomore offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and junior offensive guard Aaron Morris, were held out of the Presbyterian game and the portions of practice open to the media Tuesday and Wednesday, but they are also expected back against Arkansas.

Focus on Fundamentals

In addition to getting healthy, one of the focuses this week was working on the fundamentals, as Ole Miss focused on individual work more than in previous weeks.

On the offensive side of the ball, co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner said, they worked on inside run, the passing game, blocking by receivers and different things they felt like they needed to improve.

"Especially late in the season, you sort of subconsciously feel like if we don't know it by now we're not going to know it, but you need to hit it every day," Werner said. "When you get an open week and you don't have to worry about a game plan, you can work it hard.

On the defensive side of the ball, it was much the same, in addition to getting ahead on preparation for a road game at Arkansas. 

The extra week, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said, should be a big benefit because of the Razorbacks' shifts and unbalanced formations, to go along with its talented players in the backfield and along the offensive line.

"The goal is to get everybody healthy from all the nicks and everything that's happened with colds and all that stuff," Wommack said. "Cody (Prewitt) missed a day with the flu and whatever you've got with viruses and so forth. Just get them back healthy, and we want to improve fundamentally, which we have done the last couple of days. Obviously, we are also getting ahead on the game plan versus Arkansas."

Young Players in Review

The coordinators on both sides of the ball were pleased with what they saw from some of their younger players in extended action against Presbyterian.

Sophomore running back Mark Dodson and redshirt freshman Jordan Wilkins may have played their way into more significant roles going forward this season, but they were not alone in making an impression on Werner and the offensive staff.

"Derrick Jones caught five balls and that was huge with him moving over from the defensive side," Werner said. "He's gone back and forth, but he caught some nice balls, including for a touchdown. 

"The quarterbacks graded out very well. They didn't make many mistakes. The balls were placed where they were supposed to be, and they made good decisions. I was really pleased with them. "

On the other side of the ball, Wommack has been pleased with the corner's mentality freshman cornerback Kendarius Webster has showed, noting his confidence and maturity in addition to his talent.

"He's a freshman and he still makes mistakes at times," Wommack said. "The game experience is so valuable. He's a very talented young man and he continues to get better and better. He's going to make some mistakes as a freshman, but I'm really pleased with them."

Wommack also mentioned freshman safeties C.J. Moore and C.J. Hampton as players who grew from game experience against Presbyterian. Among the freshmen who are redshirting this season, Wommack said defensive linemen Breeland Speaks and Victor Evans have stood out to the offensive coaches in practice.

"They've sat in the meetings and gone through practice and getting as many reps as the ones do, that's valuable stuff right there," said Wommack of the younger players. "I really like that class and I am excited about the future."

Games of Interest for Ole Miss This Weekend

No. 1 Mississippi State at No. 5 Alabama, 2:30 p.m. CT, CBS

No. 9 Auburn at No. 15 Georgia, 6:15 p.m. CT, ESPN

To win the SEC West and advance to the Southeastern Conference Championship, Ole Miss has to win on the road at Arkansas and at home against Mississippi State and get help. Alabama and Georgia have to defeat Mississippi State and Auburn, respectively, and then Auburn has to defeat Alabama on Nov. 29. 

That would create a three-way tie among Alabama, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, and Ole Miss would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over each team. Both games also hold importance in the College Football Playoff rankings.

No. 8 Ohio State at No. 25 Minnesota, 11 a.m. CT, ABC

No. 4 TCU at Kansas, 2 p.m. CT, Fox Sports 1

No. 3 Florida State at Miami (FL), 7 p.m. CT, ABC

No. 6 Arizona State at Oregon State, 9:45 p.m. CT, ESPN

Other than No. 5 Alabama, which hosts No. 1 Mississippi State, the other five teams ranked ahead of No. 10 Ole Miss are all on the road this week. For Ohio State and Florida State, Minnesota and Miami (FL) likely pose their toughest challenges before their respective conference championship games.

No. 2 Oregon and No. 7 Baylor, like No. 10 Ole Miss, are off this week.

Quotable

"I'm not going to sit there and watch every play and be worried about it because at the end of the day, all we can control is our team. I'm excited to get some rest." - Senior quarterback Bo Wallace, on the open date Saturday

Not only will Saturday's matchup between No. 4 Auburn and No. 7 Ole Miss feature the first-ever meeting of top-10 team in Oxford, but it will feature half of the top four of the College Football Playoff Top 25 rankings with Auburn at No. 3 and Ole Miss at No. 4.

Auburn and Ole Miss are the top two one-loss teams in the rankings, followed by Oregon at No. 5 and Alabama at No. 6, giving the Southeastern Conference Western Division four of the top six teams. There are still four games remaining among the four teams, starting with Saturday's matchup.

"My first reaction was that we will always be the answer to one of those AFLAC trivia questions," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "We'll be answer for one of them when the duck comes across the TV screen. That was really what I thought.

"I have great respect for the selection committee, and we are honored to be in the discussions at this point, but it's way too early. It's good for our fans. It gave them a little boost and hopefully will get them to bring some more energy into the stadium Saturday. There's a lot of ball left and the only one (ranking) that really matters is on Dec. 7 when that final one comes out."

Rebels Ready for Balanced Auburn Attack

Ole Miss leads the nation in scoring defense (10.5 ppg allowed) and has given up a nation-low eight touchdowns. Ole Miss also leads the SEC and ranks fourth nationally, giving up just 4.35 yards per play. 

Auburn ranks third in the SEC and 15th nationally in scoring offense (39.3 ppg) and ranks second in the SEC and 10th nationally, averaging 6.91 yards per play.

Something has to give.

For Auburn, it starts with the league's top rushing attack 281.0 ypg), led by league's second-leading rusher in running back Cameron Artis Payne (118.7 ypg) and seventh-leading rusher in quarterback Nick Marshall (83.0 ypg).

Marshall's improvement as a passer and a talented group of receivers, led by JUCO transfer D'haquille Williams (34 catches, 527 yards, five TDs), have made the Tigers more balanced this season.

"The minute you commit too many to controlling him, they have guys who make you pay and pay with explosive plays," said Freeze of Marshall. "Gus (Malzahn) has always done a great job of disguising his looks, motions and shifts. 

"He does a great job with a lot of eye candy and things that can get your eyes in bad positions and cause you to make mistakes that give them explosive plays. Our goal will remain to be steady and discipline and hopefully not give up too many explosive plays."

Optimism on Injury Front

The injury situation continues to improve, as it appears offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, safety Cody Prewitt and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche will all return to action against Auburn, having practiced Tuesday and Wednesday.

"Every one them is going to give it a go," Freeze said. "With the stretch of games we have gone through without a break, it takes a toll on you both physically and mentally, some more than others. They did get some dings the other night (against LSU) that will probably keep them for being 100 percent, but they are going to give it a go for sure."

Center Ben Still was also listed day-to-day by Freeze on Monday, and his status remains uncertain, having worked individually Tuesday and Wednesday. The plan, Freeze said, is for him to practice with the team Thursday and see how he handles it.

"One day will tell us if he's ready to handle what we're going to face Saturday," Freeze said. "It will be nice to have him for sure because we had three possession the other night where it really hurt us in that game because of the injuries. It would be nice to have him thrown in there and let Robert move around and help us. We'll see how he does tomorrow."

Safety Chief Brown, who was thought to be out for the year, dressed out but did not play against LSU. With Prewitt dinged up, Brown has received significant practice reps at free safety.

"I expect to see him play some Saturday," Freeze said. "We'll see how he responds. It's a long season, but my guess would be we're going to need him before it's over."

AUDIO: Week 10 SEC football coaches teleconference (Freeze starts at 1:03:00 mark, Malzahn starts at 1:47:25 mark)

How the playoff committee to its first ranking decision, writes George Schroeder of USA TODAY Sports

What They're Saying: Midseason Honors

At the halfway point of the regular season, Ole Miss is 6-0 for the first time since 1962, when it went 10-0 and earned a share of the national title. It's No. 3 ranking in the national polls is its highest since being No. 1 in the 1964 preseason poll. 

With its success through the first six games, Ole Miss featured prominently in outlets' midseason honors and predictions for the rest of the season.

From CBS Sports: Dennis Dodd names Cody Prewitt the defensive player of the year, and Jerry Hinnen names Senquez Golson the most surprising player. Dodd, Hinnen and Jerry Palm all predict Ole Miss will win the national title, among other mentions.

From CBS Sports: Robert Nkemdiche, Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt were all named to the outlet's midseason All-America team.

From ESPN.com: Gene Wojciechowski ranks Ole Miss No. 2 in his top 10 and seeds Ole Miss No. 2 in his four-team playoff, among other mentions in his awards for the first half of the season.

From ESPN.com: Chris Low forecasts the winner of the Egg Bowl will play for the SEC Championship, and Ole Miss will be included in the four-team playoff.

From ESPN.com: Laremy Tunsil and Senquez Golson were named to the outlet's midseason All-America team. 

From ESPN.com: Evan Engram, Laremy Tunsil, Robert Nkemdiche, Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt were named to the outlet's midseason All-SEC team

From ESPN.com: Todd McShay names Hugh Freeze coach of the year and Cody Prewitt a prospect on the rise in midseason awards handed out by himself and Mel Kiper Jr. (Insider)

I'll go with Freeze, but I couldn't argue with Mullen, either. Freeze and his staff have done a great job of developing a lot of young key contributors, and they've also worked with QB  Bo Wallace to get him to play within the scheme and limit mistakes, which has been critical to the team's success so far. The Rebels are 6-0 for the first time since 1962, including consecutive wins over Alabama and at Texas A&M.

The entire Ole Miss defense (aka the "Landsharks") has been sensational. But Prewitt is the senior captain who shows up every week. He's not exceptional in any area, with just average straight-line speed at 6-1 and 220 pounds, and he's likely a midround NFL draft pick. But he's a very good all-around football player whose best quality is his football smarts. He came up big Saturday with a 75-yard pick-six. 

From ESPN.com: Brock Huard ranks Bo Wallace No. 6 among his top 10 quarterbacks in the nation. On a scale from 1-10, he rates him as a 9 on college production and rates him a 7 on NFL skills. (Insider)

The state of Mississippi is the belle of the ball at the midway point, and it's no surprise that QB play and defense are the signature staples of both teams' success. Hugh Freeze and Dan Mullen place a premium on QB run, decision-making and controlling tempo from the QB spot, and while Bo is not the physically imposing athlete of his in-state counterpart Dak, his ability to limit mistakes and play his best in the second half and fourth quarter in particular (six TDs/six INTs in first halves, nine TDs/0 INTs in second halves) is why the Rebels are unblemished.

In fact, Wallace's fourth-quarter efficiency (269.2) is tops in the country. Freeze told me in Week 2 that his defense was title-worthy, and if Bo and the Ole Miss offense could stay healthy up front, they could compete for the ultimate prize. So far, so good in Oxford.

From NFL.com: Daniel Jeremiah names Laremy Tunsil the best offensive line in the nation, and Gil Brands predicts head coach Hugh Freeze will win coach of they year and Ole Miss will will the national title.

From NFL.com: Bryan Fischer predicts Ole Miss will win the SEC West.

From Sports Illustrated: Brian Hamilton predicts Hugh Freeze will win coach of the year, and Andy Staples predicts both Ole Miss and Mississippi State will make the four-team playoff.

From Sports Illustrated: Robert Nkemdiche and Cody Prewitt were named to the outlet's first team All-America team, and Senquez Golson was named to the outlet's second team.

From Sporting News: Matt Hayes ranks Senquez Golson No. 10 in his re-ranking of the top 25 players in the nation.

From Sporting News: Laremy Tunsil and Senquez Golson were named to the outlet's midseason All-America team.

Phil Steele also released his All-America and All-SEC teams, with Ole Miss featuring prominently on both team. Laremy Tunsil, Robert Nkemdiche and Senquez Golson were named to the first team All-America team, and Cody Prewitt was named to the second team. Tunsil, Nkemdiche, Golson and Prewitt were joined by Evan Engram on the first team All-SEC team, while Bo Wallace, Laquon Treadwell and Tony Conner were named to the second team.

Striking The Right Balance Offensively

Ole Miss has been held under 100 yards rushing in each of its last meetings with Alabama, a 33-14 loss in 2012 and a 25-0 loss in 2013. Running the ball effectively and finding a balance is one area, the coaches and players have said, that would go a long way on Saturday.

"Top to bottom, they're a great team, arguably the best team in the country," offensive line coach Matt Luke said. "We have to play really, really well to win. We have to protect the football. When a break comes our way, we have to score. We have to be efficient in the red zone. 

"We have to try to eliminate negative plays, stay on schedule and stay out of third-and-longs. We have to do the little things it takes to win close games and win close games in the fourth quarter."

Behind senior quarterback Bo Wallace, the Rebels rank third in the SEC and 13th nationally in passing offense (335.5 ypg), but they rank 11th in the SEC in rushing offense, averaging 160.8 yards per game. Alabama, meanwhile, leads the league in rush defense, giving up just 62.0 yards per game

Ole Miss has found more consistency on the ground in recent games, rushing for 214 yards on 35 carries against Louisiana-Lafayette and 178 yards on 42 carries against Memphis, but Alabama undoubtedly will provide the toughest test yet.

"They're just pretty good," Luke said. "They're big and fast. They have a lot of good players. They have a very good scheme. They mix it up quite a bit. They're a very, very good team, and we're going to have to play very, very well to run the ball.

"You don't want to be one-dimensional against any team," sophomore offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil said. "You want to run the ball, pass the ball, mix it up."

Replacing Alford on Defense, Special Teams


Without sophomore Anthony Alford, who decided to leave the Ole Miss football program and pursue a professional baseball career, players are thrust into bigger roles on defense and special teams.

Alford, who transferred to Ole Miss in January 2011, played in all four games this season as a backup to junior Trae Elston at Rover safety and punt returner. He registered six tackles and two punt returns for eight years.

"We had a great talk last night and this morning about what was best for him and his wife and his future," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "I hate it for our team and for him because I love having good kids a part of us but he really felt like it was best."

In Alford's place, sophomore David Kamara and freshman C.J. Moore, who have both played primarily on special teams, stepped into the backup Rover safety spot in practice Tuesday. 

Freeze said they didn't have to shuffle a lot, but should they need to shuffle players going forward, senior cornerback Cliff Coleman and junior cornerback Mike Hilton both have previous experience at safety. On a semi-related note, sophomore Derrick Jones, who started the year at cornerback and then moved to wide receiver, practiced at cornerback Tuesday, providing extra depth there

"I know they're both athletic kids," said Freeze of Kamara and Moore. "They haven't been in the battles but really neither had Anthony. This was really his freshman year to be a defensive player. He has more experience than them from being in the early games, but we'll get them ready and I think they will do well."

On special teams, freshman wide receiver Markell Pack has been the primary punt return option, returning seven punts for 38 yards. Freeze also mentioned redshirt freshman Eugene Brazley stepping in as a punt return option.

Luke Breaks Down the Offensive Line

The center and right tackle position battles have been two of the biggest story lines of fall camp, but as the Rebels prepped for their second preseason scrimmage Wednesday night, they are closer to solidifying the depth chart along the offensive line.

"It's starting to shape up," offensive line coach Matt Luke said. "Right now, there's still a pretty good battle going on at center with Ben (Still) and (Robert) Conyers, and then Conyers being able to move out and play tackle gives us some flexibility there. Rod Taylor has come on, understanding with more reps he gets. He's very talented. The more reps he gets, the better he's going to get there (at guard). Craig Frigo has been impressive. He can give us some depth there (at guard). 

"The issue we have right now is tackle, trying to figure out the mixing and matching when we're subbing. In early games, you want to be able to play some guys, especially with our tempo, so the challenge right now is to figure out the best rotation."

The discussion along the offensive line starts with sophomore Laremy Tunsil, a freshman All-American, who will anchor the line at left tackle and has made a jump from his freshman to sophomore season.

"He's much more confident," Luke said. "I know it's hard to believe with a guy of that ability, but his ability level has really risen. I have been very impressed with him as a leader and his knowledge of the game. He's gotten a lot stronger. He's kept his weight right where it needs to be, in the 305-pound range. He's moving really well. I have seen the biggest improvement in his run-blocking, trying to finish people. He took the challenge to get stronger and finish in the run game."

Inside, juniors Aaron Morris and Justin Bell have been constants at left and right guard, respectively, with Taylor and Frigo the primary backups there. Morris, who missed all of the 2013 season and was limited in spring drills with an ACL injury, has showed no ill effects during fall camp.

"I have been impressed with him," Luke said. "He has a little tendinitis from coming back from the knee injury, but he's gone every rep of every single thing. He hasn't come out. I'm hoping he will continue to get in football shape as we go through this second big scrimmage of preseason."

There has been shuffling on the line with redshirt freshman Daronte Bouldin moving outside to tackle and leaving Taylor inside at guard. Bouldin is battling fellow redshirt freshman Davion Johnson for the fourth tackle spot behind Tunsil, junior Fahn Cooper, who appears to have solidified the starting right tackle spot, and Conyers.

"He's doing well," said Luke of the move for Bouldin. "I have been very pleased. We tried Rod out there a little bit, but with a young guy, it's better to leave him at one spot. Maybe as the season progresses, we can play some more tackle. Daronte has been in the offense longer and knows the offense. He's done well out there on the edge. He's been a pleasant surprise at tackle because I had him slotted as a guard in my mind."

Overall, Luke said, they're a couple of guys away from being where they want to be depth-wise, but they are comfortable with six to eight players in the offensive line. One area he looks for marked improvement this season is the run game.

"Our line is built to get better in the run game," Luke said. "We're bigger and more physical. Fahn gives us some punch there at right tackle because he's a big, physical guy. The run game will be good. We'll be physical. We still have to continue to try to block No. 5 (Robert Nkemdiche). That's hard for anybody, but when he gets into those 1-on-1 match ups, we have to step up and protect and we have struggled to do that against him."


Ole Miss Ranked No. 18 in SI Preseason Poll

Sports Illustrated unveiled its preseason top 25 Wednesday, including its four playoff-bound selections in No. 1 Florida State, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 4 Ohio State. In addition to Ole Miss at No. 18, other Southeastern Conference teams included in the top 25 were No. 7 Auburn, No. 11 South Carolina, No. 12 Georgia, No. 14 LSU, No. 20 Texas A&M and No. 22 Missouri.

Ole Miss had one of the SEC's best attacks at times last season, averaging 6.0 yards per play and a league-leading 78.3 plays per game, but execution was often a problem. The Rebels ended the year next to last in the conference in red zone efficiency (73.9%). That inability to finish kept Ole Miss from contending in the SEC West last season. Senior Bo Wallace holds the keys to coach Hugh Freeze's up-tempo offense. Sophomore receiver Laquon Treadwell and sophomore tight end Evan Engram should give Wallace plenty to work with through the air, while tailbacks I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton, who combined for almost 1,100 rushing yards last year, will man the backfield.

For a complete scouting report on Ole Miss from Sports Illustrated, click here.

QUOTABLE

Hugh Freeze, on the status of Tee Shepard: "We are getting different opinions, but it doesn't look good. It is a rare injury that he could try to push through and get fixed after the season. However, there is the chance that scar tissue could form and affect him long term. We certainly think he has a career in football and we want to do everything we can to preserve that career. The final decision has not been made; we are waiting on one final opinion from one of the top doctors that deals with this injury every day, but right not it doesn't look promising."

Freeze, on Shepard's eligibility if he doesn't play this season: "He would have two (years) to (play) two (years). He's three (years) to (play) three (years) right now, but there's hopefully a basis for an appeal to get a year back. You can't do that until after his eligibility is done.

Freeze on Issac Gross: "He's fine. He was back yesterday at practice. He seemed to be his old self. He had a little neck strain, but he looked good yesterday at practice."

Freeze, on the offensive line: "We're pretty close to solidifying our depth chart. We worked a lot of combinations. We moved Daronte (Bouldin) to right tackle. We decided we're going to leave Rod (Taylor) inside. Davion (Johnson), Fahn (Cooper), Laremy (Tunsil) and Robert (Conyers) are getting work at tackle. Robert is going between center and tackle. There are going to be some guys who have to play two spots, but we're pretty close."

Jaylen Walton, on the running backs: "This is the most talented group because of depth. We're all young, all around the same class. I played against Mark (Dodson), I'Tavius (Mathers) and Jordan (Wilkins). All of them are going to be good backs."

Walton, on Akeem Judd: "Out of all the running backs, Akeem is the bruiser. He's the hard-nosed runner out of all of us. He's coming along, learning all the plays and all the assignment. He's picking it up pretty well."

Vince Sanders, on missing spring drills: "It was very frustrating. Any time you miss you wish you were out there with your guys practicing. It was frustrating, but I know I had to stay positive because I was looking forward to camp."

Sanders, on being overlooked: "I understand you can't get too caught up in the media. I have been here for a long time now and my name has never been up there because we had other guys. I don't let that get to me too much."

Matt Luke, on Sean Rawlings: "He's doing well. He's been doing some center and tackle. He has a similar body type to Conyers. As he grows, he will be in line with that. He's done well. He's picked up the offense. We would love to be able to redshirt him and Jordan Sims, if I can, but I don't know if I will be able to or not. We'll see how it goes."

Luke, on Craig Frigo: "He's exactly what you're looking for in terms of his demeanor in football. He's a tough guy. I asked him to play some tackle early on and he did that, but I see him contributing at guard, with him and Rod being able to sub for Aaron and Justin."


 

The Week That Was: Ole Miss Football

Ole Miss continues its preparations for the the 2014 season with the second full week of fall camp starting Monday. Here's a look back at the first full week of fall camp with some observations and takeaways, as well as some linked stories of interest for Ole Miss fans. We will look to do something similar each week on the blog throughout football season.

1. Southeastern Conference coaches talked anonymously about conference foes for the 2014 season, and they had a lot of praise for Ole Miss

"They are probably the second-best team in the West, maybe better," said one anonymous SEC coach.

2. NFL.com's Bucky Brooks compiled a list of the top 25 college football teams with the most NFL talent, and headlined by the sophomore trio of Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss came in at No. 13.

"With the Rebels poised to dominate the NFL draft the next few years, it's time to view Ole Miss as a viable contender in the SEC West," wrote Brooks of Ole Miss.

3. ESPN.com's Travis Haney compiled a list of the top 50 breakout players for the 2014 season, and Nkemdiche came in at No. 10, and if the first week of fall camp is any indication, he's primed for a breakout season. 

"In our gap schemes we can't back block because of him, and that causes us to have to change some things," said Freeze of Nkemdiche. "When you're installing you want to be able to just run your stuff and teach it, but it looks so bad you get frustrated. He's a handful."

4. Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack called Anthony Alford one of the best two or three athletes on the team. He's pushing junior Trae Elston at Rover safety, he's in the mix as a punt returner, and he's taking snaps as a Wildcat quarterback. He looks the part and he's going to play a significant role this season.

"I love him in a lot of ways," said Freeze of Alford. "He took some snaps (at quarterback) yesterday too. He looked explosive. He looked good at punt return this morning. Defensively, he's getting better and better."

5. With the injury to sophomore Tee Shepard - who had an MRI on Saturday and we will learn more from Freeze on Monday - it will be interesting to see where senior Cliff Coleman and junior Mike Hilton gets reps. Both versatile defensive backs can play cornerback, Huskie and free safety.

6. On a related note, with the injury to Shepard, freshman Kendarius Webster may play a bigger role at cornerback. He shed his non-contact green jersey for the first Saturday and made a couple of nice plays, including an interception of sophomore quarterback Ryan Buchanan.

7. Going back to spring practice, the coaches have raved about freshman defensive end Marquis Haynes. He's run with the first-team defense in place of sophomore Fadol Brown, who's been sidelined with an injury. Look for him to contribute as a rush end opposite junior defensive end C.J. Johnson, if not in a larger role this season.

"He's getting some different looks over there with the tight end and different things that he's not used to, so he makes some mistakes," said Freeze of Haynes. "But one thing I know about him is he makes them 100 miles an hour. We can live with that. We're pleased with where he is and we expect him to get better each day."

8. While the defense dominated on Saturday, senior quarterback Bo Wallace showed off his stronger arm, rolling left and completing a back-shoulder pass to Treadwell for a touchdown, and later throwing another touchdown to sophomore tight end Evan Engram in a red-zone drill.

9. On the offensive line, it appears to be six players competing for five spots, with Tunsil at left tackle, junior Aaron Morris at left guard and junior Justin Bell at right guard the constants throughout fall camp. Concerning the center and right tackle position battles, Freeze said it would probably be another week before deciding on the first-teamers.

"We've been going back and forth this week," Freeze said Saturday. "It will probably be another week before we say, 'This is who we're going with in the first group.' Fahn (Cooper) has been going with the first group (at right tackle) until today I think we made a switch back to look at Robert (Conyers) there and Ben (Still) at center."

10. If you're looking for a walk-on to contribute, junior Craig Frigo, a 6-foot-1, 301-pound offensive lineman from Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, is a prime candidate. He has consistently worked with the second-team offense and has also showed some versatility, moving around from left tackle, to right tackle, to left guard, even taking some snaps at center.

11. With six running backs also competing for playing time, it's hard to notice any separation, but it appears that sophomore Mark Dodson and redshirt freshman Jordan Wilkins have taken a lot of first-team reps and have shown out thus far in fall camp.

12. Without much fanfare, junior Quintavius Burdette moved from cornerback to slot receiver during the spring and entered fall camp as a backup behind sophomore Quincy Adeboyejo. The two-sport athlete, who also competes on the Ole Miss track & field team, has gotten his share of first-team reps with Adeboyejo and sophomore tight end Evan Engram, who has also lined up in the slot.

13. In special teams work, freshman Gary Wunderlich, the No. 1 kicker prospect coming out of high school, has split reps with redshirt freshman Will Gleeson at punter and redshirt freshman Andy Pappanastos and senior Andrew Fletcher at kicker. Wunderlich has the strongest leg of the group but he must improve his consistency.

14. When asked after practice Thursday, Freeze said Gleeson was in the lead at punter. The Melbourne, Australia, native gives the team some options to do some out-of-the-box stuff, such as the rugby-style punting from his Australian football background. Following in the footsteps of his older brother, Tim, who plays for Rutgers, the younger Gleeson has played the American game for about two years.

"I basically had to forget all my instilled knowledge of kicking Australian football on the run low and hard, and basically kick it high and as long as possible in two steps with hang time," Gleeson said.

15. We're 18 days away from the season opener against Boise State, but here's an interesting profile of first-year Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin and his stamp on the program after the departure of long-time Broncos coach Chris Petersen for Washington. Prior to his arrival at Boise State, Harsin was the head coach at Arkansas State (2013), where he followed Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn (2012), who followed Freeze (2011).

Building Depth and Staying Healthy

The immediate goals for fall practice, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said, are developing more depth, particularly at key positions, and staying healthy.

"Staying healthy is a quandary in my mind because you need to be fast and physical but you have to stay healthy," Freeze said. "Now, we really feel like we have a team that can be good. Hopefully we can go from good to great. 

"The line that you worry about, particularly with us still having some depth issues, is how do you get done what you need to do and develop depth and create a competitive, juiced practice and still stay as healthy as you can. We have to create some more depth."

On a related note, Freeze also said everyone is academically eligible, and aside from junior defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton possibly being held out of some drills on day one, everyone is also healthy entering fall camp. 

Part of that good news included the clearance of sophomore Tee Shepard, a consensus four-star recruit out of junior college. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder brings an added dimension to a talented cornerback group, led by senior Senquez Golson, sophomore Derrick Jones and junior Mike Hilton.

"I expect Tee to come in and hopefully be a lockdown corner that we may have been missing," Freeze said. "He has the size, strength and speed, and he's physical. I love his demeanor. The guy smiles all the time. He's excited to be here. I like our depth at corner, and that's the first time I can say that. We have some good possibilities there."

"On defense, it's going to take turnovers," said Jones of getting to the next level as a team. "That is the big emphasis we have going into this camp, getting more turnovers, and getting the ball to the offense. We can be one of the top defenses in the country. We have the players and we have great coaches. We have to go out there and play like we know we can play."

One of those key positions as far depth is offensive line, where it starts with sophomore Laremy Tunsil, a freshman All-American, who will anchor the line at left tackle.

"Being a sophomore and being considered that, it's a blessing," said Tunsil of consideration as one of the nation's top offensive tackles. "Last year, I learned about adversity. When the game is not going your way, to try to think about the positive things."

To continue to build depth on the offensive line, Freeze said, sophomore Robert Conyers will work at offensive tackle and center, and freshman Rod Taylor will work at offensive guard and offensive tackle.

"We have to be careful with our offensive line," Freeze said. "We're OK inside depth-wise. On the edges, we're very, very thin. We have a special one in Laremy, and we hope he has a healthy and outstanding year, and we hope Fahn Cooper is exactly what we thought he would be. We have to start getting depth ready behind those guys."

"They showed out this summer," Tunsil said. "They did a pretty good job this summer. They're going to kill it this fall camp."


Passing Game Ready To Take Next Step

Senior quarterback Bo Wallace, the Southeastern Conference's leading returner in total offense, passing yards and passing touchdown, received the podium treatment at Ole Miss Media Days, and he appeared as healthy and confident as ever.

"I feel as good as I have ever felt, except that first year coming in," Wallace said. "I feel 100 percent. I feel a lot of zip on the ball, and I can push it down the field more. I'm anxious to go out there and start."

"He actually hurt my hand a couple of times playing catch," said sophomore wide receiver Treadwell, smiling and laughing. "But yeah, his arm has gotten very strong. He's making great decisions now. Last year, it was like, 'C'mon, Bo, throw the ball.' Now, he's zipping it and throwing it wherever he wants to put it, in any position."

Treadwell, the 2013 SEC Freshman of the Year, moves outside to his natural position, where he looks to stretch the field and make more explosive plays in the offense.

"I worked on it last year, but this year I feel like I had to work on it more because I know that's what we're going to do with a healthy Bo and me moving to the outside," said Treadwell of stretching the field. "Quincy (Adeboyejo) is going to help that a lot because he's mismatch, also, because his route are so crisp that a lot of people can't guard him 1-on-1. He's showed that since day one."

"That's his natural position," said Freeze of the sophomore. "He's a physical blocker, which helps us on the edge. We'll continue to move him around but he will primarily an outside guy. Outside guys typically have the chance to make more explosive plays. He's excited to do that."

With his move outside, fellow sophomore Quincy Adeboyejo, Treadwell said, is poised for a breakout year in the slot.

"Quincy (Adeboyejo) is going to help that a lot because he's a mismatch, also because his route are so crisp that a lot of people can't guard him 1-on-1. He's showed that since day one."

With Moncrief now a member of the Indianapolis Colts, Treadwell has not only moved outside, but he's also taken on a bigger leadership role among the wide receivers and the team in general.

"I stay around my teammates as much as possible because they are going to humble you," Treadwell said. "You can't read your press clippings. I try to keep working hard and leading the team."


Position Changes, Position Battles

After having worked at tight end during spring practice, Channing Ward is switching back to defense, Freeze said. Among the three "athletes" on the roster, freshman D.K. Buford will start at Huskie, freshman D.J. Moore will start at Rover or Huskie, and sophomore Jeremy Liggins will start at tight end.

"Jeremy is one of my favorite kids, even though he ripped my heart out at one point in the recruiting process," Freeze said. "He's such an athletic big guy. He is starting at tight end, but that doesn't mean that's where he will end up. He could play a lot of things. People like that certainly help your football team. We could move him around if we have some depth issues."

The backup quarterback battle continues, and it's in much the same place as it was when Freeze talked to the media at SEC Media Days, with redshirt freshman Ryan Buchanan ahead as a pocket passer and redshirt freshman DeVante Kincade ahead running the entire offense. 

In addition, Liggins and sophomore safety Anthony Alford, Freeze said, may also factor in helping fill Barry Brunetti's role from last season.

Freeze said he's most anxious to see the kickers because he's hasn't seen them all summer, as the Rebels look to replace Tyler Campbell and Andrew Ritter, who both graduated following their senior year last seasons.

"(Will) Gleeson has the edge right now, as far as the punting duties," Freeze said. "The kicking duties are wide open. I expect Andy (Pappanastos) and Gary (Wunderlich) to have a great competition for that. (Andrew) Fletcher, too. Nathan Noble will likely handle kickoff duties."

ESPN.com unveiled their rankings of the top 100 players in college football for the 2014 season. The players are also rated on a scale of 0-10 based on their expected contributions. The SEC leads all conferences with 30 players, and Ole Miss is second in the league with four players on the list.

Robert Nkemdiche: T-35th, 7.56

Rated the nation's No. 1 overall recruit in the 2013 class, Nkemdiche started 10 games, moving around from end to tackle to even running back last fall. He will stay at tackle this year and should improve on the two sacks and eight tackles for loss he registered in 2013.

Laquon Treadwell: T-39th, 7.50

His teammates believe he's better than Amari Cooper, and they're not far off. Treadwell finished third in the SEC with 72 receptions as a freshman, and he is expected to have an even bigger role as he moves outside to replace Donte Moncrief.

Laremy Tunsil: T-66th, 6.94

A likely future first-round NFL draft pick, Tunsil will anchor Ole Miss' line at left tackle. He started nine games there last season and allowed just one sack. Tunsil was the best prospect of the Rebels' historic 2013 recruiting haul last fall, and he should be even better in 2014.

Cody Prewitt: T-86th, 6.69

From underrated to All-American, Prewitt led the SEC and tied for seventh nationally with six interceptions last season. He also defended 13 passes and had 4.5 tackles for loss. Prewitt is a ball hawk but is physical enough to play in the box and stop the run.

On a related note, Bo Wallace was among ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach's 10 players outside the top 100 who might become household names before season's end.

In a league that doesn't bring back many experienced quarterbacks, Wallace might be the most explosive player returning under center. Last season, he threw for 3,346 yards with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also ran for 355 yards with six scores.

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said Wallace's arm strength dipped dramatically as the season went on, which was the result of shoulder surgery the previous offseason. Freeze said Wallace has added 15 pounds and is in better shape after going through the offseason strength and conditioning program, which he wasn't able to do before the 2013 campaign.

ESPN.com's SEC bloggers unveiled their rankings of the top 25 players in college football for the 2014 season. The criteria for each player include talent, stats and importance to his respective team. Ole Miss is tied with Alabama for the most players with four players on the list.

Cody Prewitt: 12th

After becoming the first Rebels safety in 40 years to be named a first-team All-American, Prewitt will accomplish something truly historic if he's able to go back-to-back. He clearly has the skill set to do it after leading the SEC and ranking seventh nationally with six interceptions in 2013. Prewitt possesses not only the ball skills that produced all those picks but also a hard-hitting style that makes him one of the SEC's top all-around defensive backs.

Laremy Tunsil: 15th

It's unusual for a true freshman offensive tackle to start in the SEC. And it's highly irregular for him to dominate. That is what Tunsil did for a good portion of last season, surrendering just one sack all fall while making nine starts. As if his second-team All-SEC designation in 2013 didn't make this clear, Tunsil is a special talent -- and his rise will only continue now that he has a full season under his belt. 

Robert Nkemdiche: 18th

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said Nkemdiche is a tackle all the way for the Rebels, although he's certainly athletic enough to play outside in certain situations. He plans to play at 285 pounds this season after playing closer to 300 as a freshman. He's also healthy after racking up eight tackles for loss last season and eager to prove that he can be as dominant as any interior defensive lineman in this league and maybe the country. 

Laquon Treadwell: 20th

All Treadwell did as a freshman was lead Ole Miss with 72 catches and earn SEC Freshman of the Year honors from the coaches. He's added 15 pounds of muscle this offseason, and at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, will be even tougher to defend with his physicality, sure hands and run-after-the-catch ability. With Donte Moncrief leaving early for the NFL, Treadwell is moving from slot receiver to the Rebels' outside receiver spot and will get plenty of chances for big plays. 

Ole Miss football players will report to campus on Friday for the start of 2014 fall camp. 

Friday will also feature Media Day activities beginning with head coach Hugh Freeze's press conference at 2 p.m, which will be streamed live on OleMissSports.com's RebelVision, followed by interviews with assistant coaches and requested players.

The roster has been updated to include newcomer bios, jersey numbers and updated positions, heights and weights. 

Among them are sophomore defensive back Tee Shepard, wearing No. 2, and a trio of athletes in freshmen D.K. Buford and C.J. Moore, wearing Nos. 35 and 26, and sophomore Jeremy Liggins, wearing No. 15.

Here are four things to watch as the Rebels meet the press on Friday and open fall camp on Saturday:

Finding Best Five On Offensive Line

The Rebels have to replace three starters from last year who graduated -- left guard Jared Duke, center Evan Swindall and right tackle Pierce Burton. Laremy Tunsil, a freshman All-American and one of the first two Ole Miss freshmen to be named All-SEC, anchors the line at left tackle.

Junior Aaron Morris, Freeze said at SEC Media Days, should be ready to go day one, having missed most of last season after suffering a torn ACL in the season opener against Vanderbilt. He will return at left guard, where he started all 13 games in 2012.

Junior Justin Bell started every game last season, with six at left guard and seven at right guard, where he is listed as the starter entering fall camp. Junior Ben Still and sophomore Robert Conyers are listed as the starter at center and right tackle, respectively, entering fall camp. 

Redshirt freshman Daronte Bouldin, who got a lot of reps in spring practice, is another player to watch, as are newcomers Fahn Cooper, a second team NJCAA All-America selection, and Rod Taylor, an Under Armour All-America selection, whom Freeze raved about at SEC Media Days.

Second Time Around For Talented Sophomores

Last year's freshman class, headlined by four freshman All-Americans, are now sophomores, and they will have a huge role in defining how successful Ole Miss will be this season. The Rebels will also look for the fruits of the labor from another year in the offseason program with Paul Jackson.

For Robert Nkemdiche and Derrick Jones, it's the first full camp at their new positions, having moved to defensive tackle and cornerback, respectively, during their freshman seasons. For Laquon Treadwell and Quincy Adeboyejo, it's continuing in their transition to outside receiver and slot receiver, respectively. 

Backup Quarterback Battle To Continue

In addition to watching senior Bo Wallace, as it relates to his confidence and arm strength in fall camp, the battle behind him has continued into fall camp between redshirt freshmen Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade. Since the start of fall camp last season, this has been a story line and it will undoubtedly continue, whether they continue to split snaps or one separates from the other. 

On a related note, it will be interesting to see where junior college transfer Jeremy Liggins, listed as an athlete, will work during fall camp and how he might contribute this season. ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach wrote that he will start fall camp working as a tight end, but he may end up contributing at any number of positions, including quarterback.

Making Special Teams Special

The Rebels return 15 starters on offense and defense, but they have to replace both their kicker and punter on special teams. Senior Andrew Fletcher and redshirt freshman Will Gleeson are listed as the starters at placekicker and punter, respectively. The wildcard in the group is incoming freshman Gary Wunderlich, the nation's No. 1 kicker prospect, who has the potential to handle both duties.

There are a lot of options in the return game, with junior running back Jaylen Walton listed as the starter at kick returner and junior cornerback Carlos Davis listed as the starter at punt returner. A trio of sophomores in safety Anthony Alford, cornerback Kailo Moore and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo also figure in the mix.

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said on day one that his expectations were to make the program relevant in the Southeastern Conference Western Division.

With a full allotment of 85 scholarship players and more depth of both sides of the ball, Freeze said, Ole Miss should be just that and competitive in every single game this season.

"Obviously I can't control the health of players, injuries, turnovers, how your quarterback plays," Freeze said. "All of those factors will kind of determining the ending result of wins and losses. But there's no question in my mind we're a better football team today than we were in year one and year two and we should be very competitive."

The players also feel those expectations coming off back-to-back bowl wins in each of the last two seasons, as the Rebels enter year three of the Hugh Freeze Era.

"The basketball team has been able to do it," senior quarterback Bo Wallace said. "The baseball team has been able to do it. Our fans are hungry for our football team to go to Atlanta. We feel those expectations and we're working hard every day."

In addition to upperclassmen such as Wallace and senior safety Cody Prewitt, a first team All-American last season, last year's freshman class will have a huge role in defining how successful Ole Miss will be this season.

"I certainly hope that another year in the offseason program with Paul Jackson and being a college student-athlete, that the grind of what we ask them to go through is more common to them so that they are better equipped and better prepared to go through the grind of the season that we're going to ask them to go through," Freeze said.

"The guys last year, their biggest setback was the mental side of the game," Prewitt said. "They are extremely athletic. They wouldn't be here if they weren't. Last year, they made a lot of mistakes. The biggest difference I saw in the spring was a lot of those mistakes weren't there anymore. They really progressed mentally. That's what's going to make that class special and help the team."

Freeze Excited For Season Opener In Georgia Dome

Ole Miss will open the 2014 season against Boise State in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game on Thursday, Aug. 28. The game, which will start the 2014 college football season, will kick off at 7 p.m. CT and be televised by ESPN.

"We get to open college football," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "All eyes will be on you on that Thursday night against a very good Boise program.

"So we're excited and hopefully embrace that opportunity and the magnitude it will have on expanding our brand nationally. You certainly know that could help. Hopefully we get a chance to embrace that opportunity and make the most of it."

Another Chip On Wallace's Shoulder

Dating back to his high school days at Giles County in Pulaski, Tennessee, senior quarterback Bo Wallace has always played with a chip on his shoulder.

Add another chip on Wallace's shoulder, as the three-year starter and the SEC's leading returner in total offense, passing yards and passing touchdowns was voted third team All-SEC by league media, behind Auburn's Nick Marshall and Mississippi State's Dak Prescott.

"I have always had a chip on my shoulder," Wallace said. "I have always felt like I could play at this level. This is a familiar position for me. In high school, people were saying, 'You can't play in college.' In junior college, people were saying, 'You can't play in the SEC.' I have been able to put up numbers. I'm familiar with this place and I enjoy it."

Backup Quarterback Battle Continues

Behind Wallace, the battle for the backup quarterback position continues between redshirt freshmen Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade. Head coach Hugh Freeze has been pleased with both options, and if the season started today, it would depend upon the situation.

"They both bring a little different skill set to us," Freeze said. "The good thing is they both have used their redshirt year, so I'm not afraid to throw them in for a series here or a series there to see exactly what they do."

"The big thing with DeVante is he has all the talent in the world," Wallace said. "He needs to not create as many negative plays. Ryan knows the offense and his arm has gotten a lot stronger this offseason. It's going to be a really good battle in the offseason."

Freeze also mentioned junior college transfer Jeremy Liggins and Southern Miss transfer Anthony Alford, who figures in the mix at safety, as wildcards who could possibly add to the quarterback position. Freeze had particular high praise for Liggins, who might end up contributing at any number of positions.

"He's done absolutely phenomenal work," Freeze said. "I couldn't be happier with Jeremy Liggins. He looks like a million bucks. He's running around. He's down to about 280 pounds. I don't know where I'm going to play him, but he's going to help us."

Prewitt Looks To Improve On All-American Junior Season

A first team All-American this past season, senior safety Cody Prewitt was one of three Rebels voted first team All-SEC by league media, along with sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and sophomore offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil.

Prewitt led the SEC and tied for seventh nationally with six interceptions. He also ranked second on the team with 71 tackles and first with 13 passes defended. Entering his senior season, he remains focused on all-around improvements and not to get complacent. 

"I missed a couple of balls I shouldn't have missed last year," Prewitt said. "I missed a couple of tackles I should have made last year. I made a couple of mental mistakes I shouldn't have made last year. It's the little things you can do to improve."

At 6-foot-2, 217 pounds, Prewitt has been labeled a physical player and a big hitter, and while he didn't shy away from that reputation, it's more about making plays and making a difference on the defensive side of the ball.

"I like to hit people," Prewitt said. "My style is to be aggressive. Whatever I can do to be aggressive. Anything I can do to start shift momentum for my team. Whether that's a big hit or an interception, if I can get my team pumped up, focussed and back into the game, that's what I want to do."

ESPN.com's SEC bloggers wrapped up their annual position rankings, where they rank the position units and rank the top players at the various positions. Below are the highlights for Ole Miss and links to all of the unit rankings.

Quarterbacks: 3rd

Bo Wallace enters his senior season ranked second in school history in total offense (7,085 yards) and passing yards (6,340). It's always nice to have that kind of experience, and Wallace should also be healthier after playing through shoulder pain each of the last two seasons. It's a three-man race for the backup job. DeVante Kincade is an exceptional athlete, Ryan Buchanan is more of a pocket passer. Both are redshirt freshmen. Don't forget about 6-foot-3, 296-pound sophomore Jeremy Liggins, who originally signed with LSU before going to junior college. Liggins could be a beast in short-yardage situations. 

Bo Wallace: 3rd

The dean of SEC quarterbacks, Wallace seems to finally be healthy after battling shoulder issues each of the past two seasons. If he stays healthy, he could easily shoot up to the top of these rankings. He needs to cut down on his 27 interceptions over the past two seasons, but he's also accounted for 54 touchdowns during that span. 

Running backs: 10th

Wide receivers and tight ends: 5th

Offensive coordinators love it when they can stretch the field both vertically and horizontally. Laquon Treadwell, who as a true freshman trailed only Jordan Matthews for the most receptions in the SEC last season, is the type of home-run threat to keep safeties on their heels. Evan Engram, who made a positive impression as a rookie himself before succumbing to injury, gives Ole Miss a one-two punch by demanding coverage in the middle of the field because he's simply too athletic a tight end to be covered by most linebackers in the league. 

Laquon Treadwell: 2nd

Everyone had the feeling he'd be special in his first year at Ole Miss, but it came as a surprise just how ready he was to compete in the SEC. Playing slot, he was one of the best receivers in the league, finishing second only to Jordan Matthews in receptions (72). As a result, coaches voted him SEC Freshman of the Year. At 6-foot-2 and 224 pounds, he has the frame to challenge smaller defensive backs. But it's his hands and ability to create space that make him special. With Donte Moncrief now gone, he'll transition to the outside and continue to be a favorite of quarterback Bo Wallace.

Evan Engram: 3rd

Injuries clouded an otherwise eye-opening rookie campaign. He started last season on a tear with 20 catches and four touchdowns through seven games and then missed the final five games of the regular season. If he has a clean bill of health, he's the type of hybrid receiver-tight end who can flourish in Hugh Freeze's offense and complement Laquon Treadwell on the outside. 

Offensive line: 9th

Laremy Tunsil: 3rd

The Rebels' 2013 recruiting class was full of five-star prospects, but none played better than Tunsil last season. He appeared in 12 games, making nine starts at left tackle. He allowed just one sack all year. He was a second team All-SEC selection, a member of the SEC All-Freshman team, and the coaches expect him to only get better as a sophomore. 

Defensive line: 4th

As Hugh Freeze moves into his third season on the job, the hope in Oxford is that the Rebels can make some noise in the West race. They have the depth, talent and experience in the defensive line to make a move. Sophomore tackle Robert Nkemdiche is the most talented of the bunch and primed for a huge season, but there's also depth inside. If C.J. Johnson stays healthy at end, defensive line should be the Rebels' strongest position in 2014. 

Robert Nkemdiche: 3rd

The consensus No. 1 high school prospect in the country last year, Nkemdiche started the season at end and then moved inside to tackle. He finished third on the team with eight tackles for loss despite missing two games with a strained hamstring. At 6-4 and 277 pounds, Nkemdiche is big enough and explosive enough to be a dynamic playmaker no matter where he lines up. 

Issac Gross: 8th

Size isn't everything at tackle. The 250-pound Gross proved that last season. He consistently went up against bigger guards and centers on the offensive line and used his quickness to lead the Rebels with 3.5 sacks and was second on the team with nice tackles for loss. Gross started four games at nose tackle last season. 

C.J. Johnson: 8th

The 6-2, 237-pound Johnson was on his way to an All-SEC season a year ago until an ankle injury sidelined him for the season. He had four tackles for loss in his first four games and, as a sophomore in 2012, led the team with 6.5 sacks. The biggest hurdle for Johnson has been avoiding injuries. But if he stays healthy, he'll make a ton of big plays for the Rebels this season. 

Linebackers: 8th

Serderius Bryant: 6th

He might not have the prototypical size for an SEC linebacker, but the 5-9, 218-pound Bryant emerged last season as one of the league's top big-play performers on defense. He led Ole Miss with 12.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. His speed is what sets him apart. 

Secondary: 1st

Talent and experience. Both are worth their weight in gold, and Ole Miss has loads of each. We're probably not giving anything away when we say that both Cody Prewitt and Tony Conner will make the list of the league's top 10 safeties later today. Prewitt led the league in interceptions last season, and Conner, a former four-star recruit, has barely scratched the surface on what he can do. Trae Elston and Senquez Golson, meanwhile, are potential impact players, along with Mike Hilton and Derrick Jones. If C.J. Hampton lives up to the hype, he could be a true freshman to keep an eye on. 

Cody Prewitt: 1st

On a defense loaded with former blue-chip recruits, it was Prewitt, a three-star safety from the tiny town of Bay Springs, Mississippi, who stood out the most last season. The 6-foot-2 junior showed the complete package as he led the SEC with six interceptions and became a near unanimous first team All-America selection. Now a senior, he's the clear face of a secondary that could be the best in the conference. 

Tony Conner: 3rd

Talk about fulfilling on promise. Conner, a four-star safety prospect coming out of high school, was an immediate impact player for Ole Miss, playing in all 12 games and earning Freshman All-America honors for his 66 tackles, one interception and seven passes defended. 

Special teams: 13th

Jaylen Walton: 8th

Another guy competing for a 2014 starting running back job, the diminutive Walton was impressive as a return man last season. In addition to his 523 rushing yards as a backfield mate for Jeff Scott and I'Tavius Mathers, he contributed 25 kickoff returns for 515 yards, good for a team-best average of 20.6 ypr. 

Rebels Excited But Not Satisfied

Ole Miss is bowl eligible for the second straight year under head coach Hugh Freeze after a 34-24 win over Arkansas this past Saturday. The Rebels are also 6-3 for the first time since 2009, when the started 8-3 before finishing with a 9-4 record. As excited as they are about being bowl eligible and the 6-3 start, the coaches and players are not satisfied.

"I like that the expectation level has risen," offensive line coach Matt Luke said. "They're not just satisfied with getting six wins but trying to build this program to where we all want it to be.

"It's a sense of accomplishment," sophomore offensive lineman Justin Bell said. "It shows that we're better than we were last year. We're not where we want to be but we're far from where we used to be."

Ole Miss continues with its fifth of six straight home games, as the Rebels (6-3, 3-3 SEC) step out of Southeastern Conference play on Saturday for its first ever meeting with the Troy Trojans (5-5, 3-3 Sun Belt). 

"I don't think it a challenge of focus," Luke said. "We have to focus on us and getting better. That's the main thing. We want to finish going up, and to do that, each game has to be improvement. And there are certainly a lot of areas of improvement from the Arkansas game, and that's a good thing. Our goal is to focus on us, get better and finish these three games playing our best football."

"Our mindset is so much on nine wins that we know we have to be prepared to play and reach that goal," junior quarterback Bo Wallace said.

Wallace, Passing Game In Focus


After a stat correction from Saturday's game against Arkansas, Wallace is now credited with a career-best 416 passing yards and 428 total yards, which both rank No. 2 in school history, to go along with three touchdowns. He also ranks top 25 nationally in total offense (283.2 ypg) and passing (264.8 ypg).

He moved into fifth place in school history in career total offense yards (5,942), passing Jevan Snead and Archie Manning this past Saturday, and sixth place in career passing yards (5,386), fourth in passing touchdowns (36) and second in 300-yard passing games (7). 

"It was a goal of mine to do that," said Wallace, of his place in the record books. "It's surprised some people that it's happened so early, but I'm a confident. I think I'm the best when I walk out there, whether I am or not. 

"I just got to keep improving. There are so many things I can still get better at. Last offseason, I didn't really get a chance to get better physically. This year, I'm really excited about the offseason to do that."

Led by Wallace, the Rebels finished with a season-high 428 passing yards and eclipsed 500 yards for the third straight game and the fourth time this year. They had two receivers with over 100 receiving yards for the first time since 2003. 

Ole Miss has four receivers with over 200 receiving yards for the year, not including freshman tight end Evan Engram who is out for the year with an ankle injury. 

"We're really fortunate to have all of those guys," Luke said. "Coach Heard does a great job. Those guys play hard and are very unselfish. There are times e have asked them to block on the perimeter, and they have done that. It's good to see those guys step up and make plays."

Freshman wide receiver Laquon Treadwell has a team-high 49 catches for 424 yards and three touchdown, followed by junior wide receiver Donte Moncrief with 41 catches for a team-high 647 yards and team-high five touchdowns. 

Senior Ja-Mes Logan has 35 catches for 496 yards and three touchdown, and junior wide receiver Vince Sanders has 10 catches for 204 yards and a touchdown, to go along with a team-leading 20.4 yards per catch.

"I'm not looking at who I'm throwing to," Wallace said. "We have great receivers everywhere. When I make a read, I don't care who it is." 

"As receivers, we feel like we're the group of this team that gets everybody going," Sanders said. "When we make a play, the offense flows. When don't make plays, the offense struggles. As a group, we feel like the group goes through us."

Treadwell Among Nation's Best, Tunsil Honored



Treadwell, who caught a game-high passes for 39 yards and a touchdown against Arkansas, now has a team-high 49 catches for 424 yards. His 5.4 catches per game leads SEC freshmen and ranks third among freshmen nationally. It also ranks fifth in the SEC and 56th nationally.

"You look at him and he looks like an NFL receiver right now," Wallace said. "He's done a great job. He can get so much better. He probably has the best hands on the team, him and Donte, probably. He'll work on his route-running and mature. His body will get better. You guys are going to have a lot of fun watching him."

Another freshman, Laremy Tunsil, was honored as SEC offensive lineman of the week, as he helped Ole Miss to the second-most passing yards in school history and the third straight game of 500-plus total offense yards.

Tunsil has played in every game and started six at left tackle, and he is one of two true freshmen in the nation to be his team's full-time starting left tackle.

"Not when he's a five-star who comes in, looks the way does and works the way he does," said Wallace, of a lack of trust with a freshman left tackle. "I trust him as much as everyone else up there."

"The proof is in the pudding," Bell said. "You see his footwork. He's a natural-born athlete. I was amazing especially comparing my freshman year to how he is now. It's great and it only gets better from here. He does everything pretty well. There's always room for improvement. He does everything pretty well. He hits his landmark, shoots his hands, and most importantly, he keeps his feet moving."

Bowl Projections For Now Bowl-Eligible Rebels

After Saturday's game against Troy (11 a.m., ESPNU), Ole Miss plays its sixth of six straight games at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and finishes the seven-game home slate with with a primetime showdown against No. 9 Missouri on Nov. 23 (6:45 p.m., ESPN). The Rebels wrap up the regular season on Thanksgiving night against intrastate rival Mississippi State (6:30 p.m., ESPN).

In this week's bowl projections, ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach and Brad Edwards and CBSSports.com's Jerry Palm all have the Rebels in the Music City Bowl, while SI.com's Stewart Mandel has them in the Gator Bowl.


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