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Golson, Prewitt Compete at NFL Combine

The defensive backs, including former Ole Miss players Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt, participated in on-field workouts at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine on Monday in Indianapolis. Looking ahead, Ole Miss will hold its annual pro day on March 5 (closed to the public), and the 2015 NFL Draft will be held from April 30-May 2.

Golson and Prewitt went through measurements, medicals and interviews, as well as the bench press portion of workouts Sunday, before going through on-field workouts Monday. Golson showed out and improved his draft stock in the on-field workouts, drawing praise for his ball skills and other tools from NFL Media draft expert Mike Mayock, among others.

"This guy is so fun to watch," said Mayock on NFL Network's coverage of the combine. "Baseball player. He was drafted in the eighth round by Boston. He's a small corner who had 10 picks. He tracks a ball in the air like the center fielder he was. He's 5-foot-8 and 1/2 inches, 176 (pounds), short arms, but he tracks the ball as well as any corner I have seen in the last five years."

Golson ran an official 4.46 40-yard dash, tied for 10th among all defensive backs, and posted a 6.81 time in the three-cone drill, tied for ninth among all defensive backs. He also showed off his ball skills in the gauntlet drill, reportedly recording no drops in two attempts in the drill. His NFL.com draft profile compares him to Brent Grimes of the Miami Dolphins.

"He's a kid I really like," Mayock said. "He ran a 4.5. He might be short at 5-foot-8 and 1/2. I keep talking about his baseball skills and how they translate to tracking the ball. He had 10 interceptions this year. A lot of teams are going to knock him his size. He's a quick-footed corner with tremendous ball skills. When has vision on the quarterback, the ball is his."

Here's more on Golson:

Prewitt ran an official 4.60 40-yard dash, and he was rated a top performer in the broad jump and 60-yard shuttle workouts. His 125-inch mark in the broad jump was tied for third among safeties and tied for 10th among all defensive backs. His 11.44 time in the 60-yard shuttle was fourth among safeties and 12th among all defensive backs.

Prewitt was also among a list of 12 players who impressed in combine interviews. His NFL.com draft profile compares him to Phillip Thomas of the Washington Redskins.

"This is a hard evaluation," Mayock said. "He looks really good. He's 6-foot-2, 208 (pounds). He played a lot of good football, 41 starts in the SEC. He had 12 career interceptions and over 200 career tackles. All the numbers and production are there. Evaluating him on tape, I don't think he tackles as well as he should given his height, weight and speed."

In his latest top 10 ranking of prospects at every position, ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranked Prewitt as his No. 6 safety on the board. Prewitt was also among the players who just missed the first-round cut in the latest NFL Draft Big Board from NFLDraftScout.com senior analyst Rob Rang.

In the latest prospect rankings from CBS Sports, Prewitt is the No. 1 free safety and No. 61 overall prospect, a projected second-round pick, while Golson is the No. 13 cornerback and No. 104 overall prospect, a projected third-round or fourth-round pick.

Here are the complete NFL Scouting Combine results for Golson and Prewitt:

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Ole Miss and Cal will play a home-and-home football series in 2017 and 2019, the schools and ESPN announced Thursday. It marks the Rebels' first matchup with a Pac-12 school in football and will be only the program's second visit to the Golden State, having traveled to Fresno State in 2011.

With the addition of Cal, Ole Miss now has matchups against other Power Five schools in seven of the next 11 years:

2016 vs. Florida State in Orlando

2017 at Cal

2019 vs. Cal

2022 at Georgia Tech

2023 vs. Georgia Tech

2024 at Wake Forest

2025 vs. Wake Forest

The neutral-site matchup against Florida State marks the first time the Rebels will play a power-five conference team in the regular season since a home-and-home with Texas in 2012 and 2013.

Ole Miss continues to work toward finding matchups for the 2018, 2020 and 2021 season, which would satisfy a new Southeastern Conference strength-of-schedule component that requires all schools to play an ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12 opponent on an annual basis, a component that goes into effect in 2016.

Here's a rundown of other scheduling news:

Ole Miss announced the dates for the Rebels' nonconference opponents for 2016:

Sept. 5 vs. Florida State in Orlando

Sept. 10 vs. Wofford

Oct. 1 vs. Memphis

Nov. 5 vs. Georgia Southern

Ole Miss also announced the movement of nonconference matchups of a road game at Memphis, from 2017 to 2019, and a home game against Tulane, from 2017 to 2019, and the addition of nonconference matchups, all home games, against Tennessee-Martin (2017), Southeastern Louisiana (2019) and Tulane (2025).

The road game at Memphis in 2019 marks the fourth game of a four-year contract to renew the football series, a series resumed with a home game in 2014 and will continue with a road game in 2015 and another home game in 2016.

For more, check out Ole Miss Future Football Schedules.

National Signing Day has come and gone, the Mike Smith Era began in earnest, and the men's basketball team has run its winning streak to five games, its longest win streak since the 2012-13, when the Rebels won the SEC Tournament Championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Here are some thoughts and opinions on the week that was:

- Head coach Hugh Freeze and his staff won some and lost some on National Signing Day, as they put together a 22-member class, ranked as high as No. 15 in the nation (247Sports.com), and as low as No. 21 in the nation (RIvals.com). The class included 18 players rated a four-star prospect or higher by at least one recruiting service, the most in program history, including offensive lineman Javon Patterson and wide receiver DaMarkus Lodge, the seventh and eighth five-star prospect signed under Freeze

"You lose some battles when you are battling for some of the nation's best," Freeze said. "Every school does. We had a few of those, but we also won many, many battles for kids who really wanted to be at Ole Miss and this program representing this great university. I'm excited to get to work with them."

- Among the battles won were the last three players signed in Lodge, who announced his college decision live on ESPNU, choosing the Rebels over Texas and Texas A&M, defensive lineman Austrian Robinson, who chose them over Maryland, and wide receiver Van Jefferson, the son of 13-year NFL veteran Shawn Jefferson, who chose them over Georgia, Michigan and Oklahoma, as well as linebacker Shawn Curtis, who flipped his commitment from Pittsburgh.

- Speaking to some of the recruiting battles lost, Freeze said he and his staff will revisit the entire recruiting process, including allowing commitments to take other visits, gong through every kid on their board and talking about the outcome, the good and the bad, why it did not their way in the end, and could they have done anything different. On a related note, looking ahead to 2016, Freeze said of addressing needs on the offensive line, defensive line and linebacker with mid-year signees, whether it's JUCO or high school players.

- One of the more underrated aspects of the 2015 signing class are the five mid-year enrollees, a group that includes the top junior college quarterback (Chad Kelly), defensive lineman (D.J. Jones) and cornerback (Tony Bridges). All three players, as well as junior college linebacker Terry Caldwell and early enrollee Javon Patterson are expected to feature prominently in spring practice and push for playing time come the fall.

- In case you missed it, here's a National Signing Day link roundup of videos and stories related to the signing class as a whole and videos and stories related to individual signees.

- The men's basketball team extended its winning streak to five games, defeating Texas A&M 69-59 Wednesday night, its third top-50 RPI win of the season, and then going on the road and defeating Auburn 86-79, moving to 3-2 in SEC road games this season. With the wins, the Rebels remain in a three-way tie for second place in the SEC standings and moved up to No. 37 in the latest RPI rankings released by the NCAA.

- The story against Texas A&M was a locked-in defensive effort, holding the Aggies' two leading scorers, Jalen Jones and Danuel House, to a combined 14 points on 5-of-19 shooting, and two key 3-point plays by LaDarius White and M.J. Rhett to push the lead to 59-50 with 6:26 left.

- LaDarius White led the way with 20 points, making big play after big play, but it was a team effort throughout the lineup, as five Rebels finished in double figures in the win over Auburn. The nation's top free-throw shooting team, the Rebels closed out the game from the line, going 10-of-12 in the final 1:28 to finish 28-of-38 for the game.

"Ole Miss is really comfortable with their nine players," Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. "That's what makes them a really good and a contender is that they don't drop off at all when they go to their bench."

- Watching the Ole Miss-Auburn game on television, you could sense the energy in Auburn Arena, whether it was the memories of the Marshall Henderson jersey-pop, or the culture change under first-year head coach Bruce Pearl. The Pavilion at Ole Miss, set to open next season, will have a similar design and capacity, so fans watching the game got a taste of what the game day atmosphere might be like next season.

- Looking ahead, the Rebels have their first of two Thursday-Saturday swings, traveling to Florida on Thursday and playing host to Arkansas on Saturday. The Gators are ranked No. 67 in the latest RPI rankings and No. 35 in the latest KenPom.com ratings, while the Razorbacks are ranked No. 25 in the RPI and No. 31 in KenPom.

- The women's basketball team, looking for its first win at Vanderbilt since Jan. 8, 1987, led for 27:00, leading by as many as 16 early in the second half, but the Rebels were unable to overcome 42 second-half points from the Commodores in a 58-54 loss on Thursday night.

- Ole Miss, now 14-9 overall and 4-6 in SEC play, has six regular season remaining, starting with a home game against No. 6 Tennessee on Thursday. Head coach Matt Insell has said his team likely needs to get to at least eight SEC wins to garner NCAA Tournament consideration, so the Rebels likely need at least a split of the final six regular season games.

- The Ole Miss softball team kicked off the Mike Smith Era with six games in four days at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Arizona, going 3-3 with wins over San Jose State, Fresno State and Western Michigan. The Rebels are on the road for five games in three days next weekend, before returning home for the Red and Blue Classic (Feb. 20-22), playing host to UT-Martin, Nebraska-Omaha, Southern Illinois and Middle Tennessee State.

- The Ole Miss baseball team opens the 2015 season next weekend with a three-game home series against William & Mary, starting with the series opener Friday at 4 p.m. The Ole Miss baseball preseason press conference is set for Monday, so stay tuned for more coverage leading up to the season opener.

- The No. 24 ranked Ole Miss women's tennis picked up a pair of road wins, defeating No. 29 Texas Tech and No. 32 Rice. The Rebels return home for each of their next three matches, starting with Tulane on Friday (2 p.m.), before opening SEC play on Friday, Feb. 27 with a road match at Kentucky.

- The No. 19 ranked Ole Miss men's tennis team was off this past weekend, returning to action Monday for its home opener against Troy, before traveling to Chicago for the ITA National Team Indoor (Feb. 13-16).

Classes started on the Ole Miss campus this past week, as the men's and women's basketball teams enter the heart of Southeastern Conference play. Some of the spring sports have started their 2015 seasons, while others are gearing up for the start of their seasons. Here are some thoughts and opinions on the week that was:

- Selection Sunday is more than a month away, but in a battle of teams on the fringe of the NCAA Tournament discussion, the Ole Miss men's basketball team downed Florida 72-71 on Saturday. Going into the matchup, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi tweeted, "The loser here is pretty much toast from an NCAA tournament perspective." 

- Through six SEC games, Ole Miss is 3-3, having played six of the top eight teams from the league, according to KenPom.com. The Rebels, themselves, are the third-highest rated team (No. 34). Looking ahead, return trips at home against Arkansas and Georgia and a road game LSU loom large for the team's NCAA Tournament chances.

"It's good for our confidence," said head coach Andy Kennedy of the win. "We're not as confident of a group as I would have hoped despite some of our early wins that show we are a good basketball team. You have to be able to stack wins at this time of the year. It was obviously a vital game for us."

- Preseason All-SEC first team selection Jarvis Summers proved clutch for the Rebels, scoring each of the team's last four points, the first two on a step-back jumper from just inside the 3-point line and the last two on a pair of free throws with 3.5 seconds left after driving into the lane.

"Coach (Kennedy) always tells me to go right," Summers said. "That's my strength. I just listened to him this game and tried to make a play." 

- In a similar situation, tied 77-77 on the road at No. 1 Kentucky, Summers settled for a contested 3-pointer, which was off the mark, and the Wildcats went on to win 89-86 in overtime. That was not the case Saturday against Florida.

"I beat myself up after that game," Summers said. "I just had to move forward. I told myself if I ever got in that situation again, I was going to keep going to the hole and be aggressive." 

- Here's a good read on Stefan Moody from Hugh Kellenberger of The Clarion-Ledger. Check it out.

- Playing its third straight opponent ranked opponent, Ole Miss came up just short, falling to Mississippi State 64-62 on a last-second shot on Thursday night. Ole Miss went 1-2 over the three-game stretch, knocking off Georgia and losing to Texas A&M and Mississippi State by a combined 11 points. The Rebels are 14-6 overall, 4-3 in SEC play, likely needing to get to at least eight SEC wins to garner NCAA Tournament consideration.

- The result was not what head coach Matt Insell and the team wanted, but a lively crowd of 3,383 provided one of the better, if not the best, atmospheres I have experienced in five-plus years around the women's basketball program. Insell has tirelessly promoted his program, including going door-to-door on Fraternity Row the night before the Mississippi State game, and it showed Thursday.

"First, I want to thank Rebel Nation," Insell said. "What a great crowd that was. I think Oxford, Mississippi and Rebel Nation just really showed up for us tonight. They showed us how much they cared about this basketball game. The crowd was into the game the entire time. I just want to thank everyone that came."

- A lot has been written and said about The Pavilion at Ole Miss. Here's an infographic comparing it to Tad Smith Coliseum. Notice the concessions in the bottom right corner that includes the addition of Raising Cane's to the menu.

- The Ole Miss baseball team held its first spring practice on Friday and its first intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday. Here's a pretty thorough preview from Kendall Rogers on the Rebels, which are ranked No. 18 in the D1Baseball.com's preseason top 25 rankings. Don't forget, Ole Miss opens the 2015 season with a three-game home series against William & Mary, starting Friday, Feb. 13 at 4 p.m C.T.

- The lowest-ranked team in its four-team regional in Gainesville, Florida, the Ole Miss men's tennis team notched two big wins over No. 13 Florida and No. 29 South Carolina. The Rebels rallied from down 3-0 to defeat the Gators 4-3 and closed out the weekend with a 4-2 win over the Gamecocks to advance to the ITA National Team Indoor Final 16.

- The men's tennis team was bolstered by the return of senior Nik Scholtz, a three-time All-American and the reigning SEC Player of the Year. Unranked because he did not play in the fall, Scholtz defeated the 34th-ranked and 71st-ranked players this past weekend. For more on Scholtz and his decision to return to Ole Miss for his senior season, click here.

- Former Ole Miss players Cody Prewitt and Senquez Golson showed out at the Senior Bowl this week. They impressed coaches, scouts and media members, among others. Next up is the NFL Scouting Combine (Feb. 17-23). For more on their week at the Senior Bowl, click here and here.

- Another former Rebel, the New England Patriots' Brandon Bolden, will be playing in the Super Bowl next Sunday (5:30 p.m. CT, NBC). I caught up with Bolden earlier this week, so look for more on him in the days leading up to the Super Bowl.

- In case you missed it, with the start of classes, the Ole Miss football has been updated to reflect six mid-year additions, including freshman offensive lineman Javon Patterson, a U.S. Army All-American Bowl selection from Pearl, Mississippi. Looking ahead, National Signing Day (Feb. 4) is a week and a half away, so stay tuned.

- In case you missed it, part two, the Ole Miss football video department released a couple of videos over the weekend: "Home is Ole Miss" and "The Journey: Chapter 3."

Former Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt capped an impressive week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, with a game-high five tackles in the game itself Saturday. His former teammate, cornerback Senquez Golson sat out the game with a hamstring injury.

As of the latest prospect rankings from CBS Sports on Wednesday, Prewitt is the No. 54 NFL Draft prospect, the No. 1 free safety and a projected second round pick, while Golson is the No. 68 NFL Draft prospect, the No. 8 cornerback, and a projected second-to-third round pick.

Prewitt is on the fringe on first-round status, garnering a top-50 ranking on big boards according to Rob Rang from NFLDraftScout.com and Joel Klatt from Fox Sports.

The 2015 NFL Scouting Combine will be held from Feb. 17-23, and the NFL Network will provide extensive coverage of the event. The 2015 NFL Draft will be held from April 30-May 2.

Cody Prewitt has raised his draft stock at the Senior Bowl, writes Ross Jones from Fox Sports

Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt's stock is on the rise.

Prewitt followed up his interception in Tuesday's practice by showing great instincts and closing speed on Wednesday. He blew up an oncoming reverse, and Jaguars coaches ran onto the field to congratulate him.  

Prewitt, who says he patterns his game after that of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, is the No. 45 overall player on FOX Sports 1 NFL insider Joel Klatt's big board and has the potential to creep into the first round.

"I like to think I pick up on things really well, and it allows me to play really fast," Prewitt said after practice. "I take a lot of pride in my football IQ."

To add even more intrigue, the 6-foot-2, 212-pounder is at the Senior Bowl with his Ole Miss teammate, cornerback Senquez Golson.

Golson, who once turned down a $1.35 million signing bonus from the Boston Red Sox to instead play college football, has finally dedicated himself to the gridiron despite Ole Miss spring baseball gearing up.

"I'm really proud of him. He has come a long way, and honestly we have come a long way together," Prewitt said. "And to be sharing this experience together has been a real blessing for us."

Golson, of course, led the SEC with 10 interceptions and made a major impact for Ole Miss' defense this past season.

The duo is coming off a banner year, leading the Rebels to their first season finishing ranked since 2009. 

Here's more on Prewitt from Klatt:

Prewitt displays a quality understanding of the game as he is rarely out of position against complicated route combinations. I was most impressed with his ability to adapt to the new game by avoiding big hits and penalties when he sees exposed receivers.

Here's more from on Prewitt from Tony PaulineNFL Draft Analyst for DraftInsider.net:

Prewitt came to Mobile and ended the notion that he's a run-defending safety who struggles in coverage. Today, he made several nice plays on passes including an interception in the end zone as well as a break-up in the middle of the field. Prewitt's solid play in coverage the past few days will enhance his draft stock.

Senquez Golson has met with the Cleveland Browns, writes Matt Miller, NFL Draft Lead Writer for Bleacher Report

The Cleveland Browns were very interested in Ole Miss cornerback Senquez Golson, and I've spoken with sources close to both sides who say they've spent a lot of time with him this week.

Cody Prewitt tackles new ideas, writes Parrish Alford from the Daily Journal

Senquez Golson is determined to measure up for NFL, writes Parrish Alford from the Daily Journal

Cody Prewitt stands out in the South secondary at the Senior Bowl, writes Patrick Magee from the Sun Herald

Senquez Golson sat out the Senior Bowl due to a hamstring injury, writes Patrick Magee from the Sun Herald



VIDEO: Home is Ole Miss

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Cody Prewitt and Senquez Golson will represent Ole Miss in the Senior Bowl, which will take place Saturday at 3 p.m. CT from Mobile, Alabama, and will be televised by the NFL Network. 

The duo have already had a busy week in Mobile, starting with the national football scouting weight-in on Tuesday morning. Golson came in at 5-foot-8.4 and 174 pounds, while Prewitt came in at 6-foot-2.1 and 211 pounds.

As of Wednesday, Prewitt is the No. 54 NFL Draft prospect, the No. 1 free safety and a projected second round pick, while Golson is the No. 68 NFL Draft prospect, the No. 8 cornerback, and a projected second-to-third round pick. 

Through the first two days of practice, they have impressed coaches, scouts and media members, among others. Senior Bowl practices continue Thursday with a walk-through Friday before the game Saturday.

Senquez Golson was tabbed the standout from Day 1 of Senior Bowl practice by Matt Bowen, NFL National Lead Writer and former NFL Defensive backs. Here's more from Bowen:

Golson doesn't have top-tier size at the cornerback position (5'9", 180 lbs); however, the Ole Miss product displays quick footwork and the transition speed (plant/drive) to close on the ball. A player with the hip flexibility to open and run, Golson was physical from a press-man position and looked comfortable playing off the ball in one-on-ones and team drills.

With defensive backs, I always watch for players who want to compete in drills. Do they finish plays? Can they recover versus the deep ball? And do they attack downhill (with speed) to the upfield shoulder in the three-step game? On Monday, that was Golson. The cornerback was aggressive with his technique and challenged receivers on every rep during the South squad practice.

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive backs coach DeWayne Walker will make Golson work hard this week, with a focus on technique. I played for Coach Walker back in Washington, and he is an excellent teacher. This is a great opportunity for the Ole Miss cornerback to continue playing good football in front of NFL scouts, general managers and coaches.

Matt Bowen had this to say about Cody Prewitt after Day 1 of Senior Bowl practice:

Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt displayed the range and ball skills to make plays from the middle of the field on Monday. And he will attack the ball in the vertical passing game.

Senquez Golson was one of nine standouts from Day 1 of Senior Bowl practice, writes Bucky Brooks, NFL Media analyst for NFL.com:

Golson lacks the ideal size to be a frontline starter as a pro, but DB coaches are quickly falling in love with the possibility of him filling a role as a nickel corner. The 5-10, 176-pounder displayed impressive footwork and short-area quickness in coverage, while also exhibiting outstanding instincts and awareness in coverage. He repeatedly made bang-bang plays on the ball in one-on-one and team drills, showcasing the playmaking skills that made him one of the top cover corners in the SEC. Although his slender frame could make him a liability against big-bodied receivers in the NFL, Golson's explosiveness and natural ball skills make him a hot commodity as a sub-defender.

James Walker, ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter, had this to say about Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt after Day 1 of Senior Bowl practice:

Keep an eye on Ole Miss cornerback Senquez Golson. He's undersized at 5-feet-10 and 175 pounds, but Golson played bigger than his size in the first day of practice. He made plays on the ball Tuesday that caught my eye. Golson looks comfortable playing man-to-man defense, which is a valuable commodity in the NFL. I'm curious to see him practice more throughout the week.

Speaking of Ole Miss, safety Cody Prewitt recorded the only interception in either practice Tuesday. Prewitt had an easy pick off Grayson, who floated the ball in coverage after being pressured. Prewitt also had a nice return of about 20 yards.

Ryan Mink, staff writer for BaltimoreRavens.com, had this to say about Senquez Golson after Day 1 of Senior Practice:

Ole Miss' Senquez Golson is the shortest player at the Senior Bowl, measuring in Tuesday morning at 5-foot-8 ½ inches and a mere 178 pounds. The SEC's 2014 interceptions leader showed he's not afraid to throw his body around, however, as he went high to whack a 6-foot-6, 281-pound tight end in 11-on-11 drills, causing an incompletion.

Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley had this to say about Cody Prewitt and Senquez Golson (via Parrish Alford from the Daily Journal):

"We're trying to get him to understand that we're teaching him our principles" said Bradley of Prewitt. "He's done a good job. He's lively and spirited and has some energy out there in meetings and some stuff. Sometimes, he's down. Sometimes, he's back. It's really like understanding two positions because there's a lot of technique involved with that, and he's handled it really well."

"Every team is looking for different traits at the corner spot," said Bradley of Golson. "... You look at these players, and he's going to have a fit for a team. That's what you're looking for. He has great quickness and great competitiveness. Some teams get caught up more in height, weight and length. For some teams, it's not an issue, and it's more about transition, coverage ability and ability to stay on top. Each team has unique traits that they're looking for."

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive backs coach DeWayne Walker had this to say about Senquez Golson (via Patrick Ochs from the Sun Herald):

"You gotta play big," Walker said. "You can't make them taller. They have to be physical, be aggressive, play with urgency," he said. "Seeing details and having a high IQ helps because it helps them get to the play faster and compensate for their lack of size. ... There's a spot for little guys, they just have to play big."

Senquez Golson, a former eighth-round selection of the Boston Red Sox who turned down more than $1 million to attend Ole Miss, has officially decided not to play college baseball this spring, writes Patrick Ochs from the Sun Herald:

"It got to the point where I just need to focus on football," Golson said. "We tried to work it out to where I could try to play baseball, but I was just going to be missing too much time."

More on Golson's decision to not play college baseball this spring, writes Parrish Alford from the Daily Journal:

"I don't think I'm going to be able to play," Golson said. "I'm just missing too much time. I'm here all week. Then within the next two or three weeks we head to the combine. I've got training in between. There's just so much going on. I've been out of baseball a year. I just felt like I wasn't going to have the time to catch up."

Here's what Senior Bowl practice onlookers are saying about Prewitt:

Here's what Senior Bowl practice onlookers are saying about Golson:

Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25 Rankings

Ole Miss football finished the 2014 football season with a 9-4 record and a top-20 final national rankings in both polls. The Rebels come in at No. 17 in the Associated Press poll and No. 19 in the Amway Coach Poll, their first final national ranking since 2009 and their highest final national ranking since 2008, when they finished No. 14 in the AP poll and No. 15 in the Coaches poll.

With the 2014 college football season officially in the books, various outlets looked ahead to 2015 and released way-too-early preseason top 25 rankings for 2015. Ole Miss featured prominently in these rankings, including two top-10 rankings, one as as high as No. 7.

Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com: 7th

The Rebels weren't a one-hit wonder. Hugh Freeze gets back receiver Laquon Treadwell and budding superstar Robert Nkemdiche in the defensive line. The Landshark defense returns with a snarl. If Chad Kelly can keep his nose clean, Ole Miss might be better at quarterback with the departure of Bo Wallace.

Bryan Fischer, Mike Huguenin and Chase Goodbread, NFL.com: 7th

2014 final ranking: 19

Key returnees: DL Robert Nkemdiche, WR Laquon Treadwell, OL Laremy Tunsil

The skinny: The Rebels need to find a quarterback to replace the inconsistent Bo Wallace, but the quality recruiting classes coach Hugh Freeze has brought to Oxford should be starting to pay big dividends this upcoming season. There's a ton of talent that will eventually make its way to the draft, but it still might not be enough to get out of the loaded SEC West on top.

Paul Myerberg, USA Today Sports: 9th

Why No. 9? Because the Rebels improve with each passing season under Hugh Freeze. The offense may be more consistent with a new starter under center, particularly with wide receiver Laquon Treadwell back from injury. The defense will retool in the secondary without two all-conference picks, but the talent along the defensive line is undeniable -- and it's these contributors, led by Robert Nkemdiche, who set the tone for the entire defense. If they can stay healthy, the Rebels might sneak up and take the SEC West Division.

Mark Schlabach, ESPN.com: 11th

2014 record: 9-4, 5-3 SEC

Returning starters: 10 offense, 7 defense, 2 special teams

Key personnel losses: QB Bo Wallace, S Cody Prewitt, CB Senquez Golson, LB Serderius Bryant, LB Deterrian Shackelford

Why they might finish higher: If you can somehow erase the Rebels' horrid performance in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl from your mind, the rest of the 2014 campaign was pretty memorable. The Rebels started 7-0 and were ranked No. 3 in the country before injuries started piling up. They're bringing back 18 players who started the bowl game, and star receiver Laquon Treadwell, cornerback Tee Shepherd and linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche are coming back from injuries.

Why they might finish lower: There's no question Wallace had a roller-coaster career under center, but the Rebels don't have a replacement ready to go. Redshirt freshmen Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade are in line to replace him, although Clemson transfer Chad Kelly could be an option, despite his recent legal problems. There are some significant holes to fill on defense, after losing three of the top five tacklers and two stars in the secondary. Ole Miss' road schedule in 2015 isn't easy, with games at Alabama, Florida, Memphis, Auburn and Mississippi State.

Stewart Mandel, Fox Sports: 11th

The Rebels' Peach Bowl debacle obscured a season in which they beat 12-2 Boise State, 12-2 Alabama and 10-3 Mississippi State. The Rebels will be breaking in a new quarterback but should be deep with playmakers, provided WR Laquon Treadwell returns healthy. And a defense that dominated over the first half of the season should only be more talented.

Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports: 13th

The Rebels are coming off their first season of double-digit victories since 1999. And the arrow on coach Hugh Freeze's team is pointing up, as this team has the pieces in place to finish among the top 10-15 nationally in 2015. Bo Wallace must be replaced at quarterback, but the new starter will benefit from the return at Laquon Treadwell at receiver. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil is one of the best in the nation and is part of an offensive line that returns all five starters from the Peach Bowl depth chart. With the uncertainty at quarterback, the defense will have to carry Ole Miss - at least early on - in 2015. This unit allowed only 13.8 points per game in 12 regular season contests and should have one of the nation's top defensive lines. However, there's concern in the secondary with the departure of cornerback Senquez Golson and safety Cody Prewitt.

The Ole Miss men's basketball team opened SEC play, while the Ole Miss women's basketball team continued SEC play, as we enter the heart of college basketball season. Over the weekend, the men's and women's teams posted wire-to-wire wins on back-to-back days. After the conclusion of NFL Divisional Round, the Rebels are guaranteed to have a representative in Super Bowl XLIX. Here are some thoughts and opinions on the week that was:

- The Ole Miss men's basketball team welcomed five newcomers, including two fifth-year transfers and two junior college transfer, and it's been a process for the team learning to play together. After an up-and-down nonconference slate, the Rebels played No. 1 Kentucky to overtime on the road and then notched a wire-to-wire 65-49 win over South Carolina to open SEC play.

"With us, every player has a strength and a weakness and what I'm trying to do is have combinations to cover ourselves, and I think we're getting better at that," head coach Kennedy said. 

"It's a process," junior guard Stefan Moody said. "You can't just throw a bunch of guys together and expect them to mesh automatically. It's a process. It's going to take a little while and we're figuring it out."

- Ole Miss did not get the result it wanted on the road at No. 1 Kentucky, but the Rebels played perhaps their best game of the season, and if they play like that the rest of the way, they have a chance to play meaningful basketball come March. Ole Miss shot 49 percent from the field, including 9-of-17 from 3-point range, and scored 86 points, all season highs for Kentucky opponents.

"It doesn't really get any worse than that, especially when you have a chance to beat the No. 1 team in the country," said junior guard Stefan Moody, who led the Rebels with 25 points before cramping up in overtime. "It's a part of life. You have to take it how you got it. We lost by a few points. It was a confidence booster coming into this game (against South Carolina) and in games ahead. We went toe to toe with (Kentucky). It proved we can go toe to toe with anybody."

- In case you missed it, here's a vine of a highlight-reel dunk by Aaron Jones against No. 1 Kentucky, which earned him top-play honors on Fox Sports Live. (H/T @ColeMissSports)

- After winning 12 of its first 13 games, all in the nonconference slate, by double digits, No. 1 Kentucky has been taken to overtime in back-to-back games, first at home against Ole Miss and then on the road against Texas A&M. Speaking to the way No. 1 Kentucky played in each of the two games, Ole Miss took a better shot, and it came on the Wildcats' home floor. Against Ole Miss, Kentucky shot 42 percent from the field, including 11-of-20 from 3-point range, and went 28-of-40 from the free-throw line. Against Texas A&M, Kentucky shot 28 percent from the field, including 9-of-28 from 3-point range, and went 25-of-35 from the free-throw line.

"I told them, the standard has been changed," Kennedy said. "Through 13 games, we've seen some high points and low points. And then we went into Rupp Arena, in that environment. The only thing that bothered me about the commentary afterwards was a lot of people saying that Kentucky didn't play well. Kentucky played well. We took their best shot. My hope was that our guys saw that this is the new standard, and this is what we are capable of doing, if we take the right approach. If we take the right approach, this team has a chance."

- Watching Ole Miss on film, South Carolina head coach Frank Martin said it was easy to spot their progress through 15 games this season, pointing to the Rebels' nonconference wins over Oregon and Cincinnati, as well as the way they played Kentucky.

"They're athletic," Martin said. "They're seniors. They stay the course. They don't whine and pout. They don't roll their eyes. They play. Moody has given them an unbelievable presence to go with those other guys. Andy's got his guys playing well."

- After a 1-1 start to SEC play, the Ole Miss men has a crucial four-game stretch ahead, all against teams ranked in the RPI top 80: vs. LSU (No. 43), at Arkansas (No 14), at Georgia (No. 38) and vs. Florida (No. 79).

- With wins over Florida and Alabama this week, the Ole Miss women's basketball won back-to-back regular-season SEC games for the first time since the 2011-12, improving to 13-4 overall and 3-1 in SEC play. The 13-4 start is the best since the 2006-07 season, when the Rebels finished 24-11 and made a run to the Elite Eight. 

- "We said before the SEC started, when we were 10-3, that five more wins gets us to the WNIT," head coach Matt Insell said. "We said eight more wins gets us to the NCAA Tournament. I asked them what they wanted, and they said they wanted the NCAA Tournament, so they're fighting every day to get to that eight-win mark because when you get to that eight-win mark in this league in women's basketball, I can't name a team that didn't make the NCAA Tournament after getting eight wins in this league."

- One of the"next four teams" out in the first Bracketology projection from ESPN.com women's basketball Bracketologist Charlie Creme, the Ole Miss women also have a crucial stretch ahead, starting with a home game against No. 19 Georgia on Thursday, followed by a road game at No. 8 Texas A&M, followed by a rivalry game at home against No. 14 Mississippi State.

"Georgia is coming in here, and they're ranked in the top 20 in the country, and you get a chance to get them on your home court, and you get a chance when you have a lot of momentum going within your team and your team is playing well," Insell said. "It's a huge game. If we want to get to the NCAA Tournament, we have to win a couple of those games. This week, we have a chance to play two teams this week to see where we're at and see where we're going."

- The Ole Miss men's tennis team netted a big win off the court with Nik Scholtz's Twitter announcement that he would return for his senior season. The Rebels began the 2015 season this past weekend with singles and doubles matches at the Florida Gulf Coast Invitational. They play their first dual match of the season on Friday at UCF, before starting play at the ITA Kickoff Weekend on Saturday, Jan. 24.

- Five former Ole Miss football players have been invited to play in college football postseason all-star games, headlined by Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt, who will play in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 24. Serderius Bryant played in the Medal of Honor Bowl this past weekend, totaling three tackles and two tackles for loss.

- With Brandon Bolden (New England Patriots) and Donte Moncrief (Indianapolis Colts) both advancing to the AFC Championship, Ole Miss is guaranteed to have a former player in Super Bowl XLIX. It will be the 20th Super Bowl featuring a former Ole Miss player, and whether it's Bolden or Moncrief, Ole Miss have its 23rd different former player participate in a Super Bowl.

Ole Miss Athletics Week in Review

Dec. 29, 2014-Jan. 5, 2015

Football

- The No. 9 Ole Miss football team finished the 2014 football season with a 9-4 record, its best since 2009, after a 42-3 defeat to No. 6 TCU in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.

- The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl was the first of the inaugural New Year's Six bowls that features the top six matchups in college football.

- The loss snapped Ole Miss' school-record streak of six straight bowl wins that was tied with Florida State for longest in the nation.

- Ole Miss finished the season with the nation's top-ranked scoring defense, giving up 16.0 points per outing.

- The Rebels forced four TCU turnovers to run their season total to 32, which ranks top 10 in the nation.

- All-America CB Senquez Golson tied the school record with his 10th interception of the season... His 16 career picks are most among active NCAA players and tied for third-most in Ole Miss history.

- Ole Miss finished the season with 419.1 total offense ypg (5th-best in school history) and 263.6 passing ypg (5th-best in school history).

Men's Basketball

- Ole Miss posted a 1-1 mark last week, falling by four on the road at Dayton before routing Austin Peay in its non-conference finale. 

- Ole Miss will open league play at No. 1 Kentucky Tuesday night. It marks the 13th time in the last 17 years the Rebels have opened conference play on the road. Ole Miss has won its last two SEC openers and is 28-53 all-time in league openers. 

- The Rebels will face the nation's No. 1 team for the first time since a 77-62 loss at top-ranked Kentucky on Feb. 18, 2012. Ole Miss is 0-15 all-time against the top-ranked team in the country, including 12 times against the Wildcats. 

- Ole Miss leads the nation hitting 78.4 percent of its free throw attempts. The Rebels hit 19-of-21 attempts (.905) against Northern Arizona and have hit 65 of their last 79 from the line (.823). 

- Five Ole Miss players are shooting at least 80.0 percent from the line, including junior G Stefan Moody, who leads the SEC and is tied for ninth in the nation shooting 92.2 percent (47-of-51). 

Women's Basketball

- The Ole Miss women's basketball team closed out the non-conference slate with a 79-71 (OT) win over former Rebel Yolanda Moore's Southeastern Louisiana squad. 

- The win gave the Rebels a 10-3 mark in the non-conference, the best non-conference record since 2011-12 when the Rebels also went 10-3.

- Playing at home for its SEC opener for the second consecutive season, Ole Miss defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks, 71-57 for its first win in an SEC opener since defeating Vanderbilt at home in the 2010-11 opener. 

- The win moved Ole Miss to 7-4 in SEC home openers in the last 10 years. Additionally, the 14-point margin of victory is the largest since defeating Alabama by 14 in the 2009-10 home opener. 

- Tia Faleru posted her fourth consecutive double-double with 21 points and 13 rebounds in a 64-58 loss at Kentucky. It's the longest double-double streak of the season and her career. 

- Additionally, her 21 points marked her 4th game of 20+ points this season and her 15th career game of 20 or more points. Faleru now has 26 career double-doubles and moved into No. 17 on Ole Miss' all-time scorers list with 1,204 career points.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIDEO: Ole Miss-TCU Motivational

Three and Out: Keys to Ole Miss-TCU

Three areas to watch as No. 9 Ole Miss plays No. 6 TCU in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, the inaugural "New Year's Six" bowl game.

Containing Boykin, Handling TCU's Tempo

Ole Miss coaches and players have compared TCU junior quarterback Trevone Boykin to former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, two quarterbacks who were each 2-0 against the Rebels in their respective careers.

The Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and fourth-place finisher for the Heisman Trophy, Boykin ranks third nationally in total offense (363.0 ypg) and is also on pace to become just the third quarterback since 2009 to average over 300 yards passing (309.5) and 50 yards rushing (53.5).

"You just have to make sure you prepare on every play because he's always, you know, a broken tackle away or a throw away from a big play so we have to make sure that we're locked in on every snap," graduate student linebacker Deterrian Shackelford said.

The other key to the nation's statistically most improved offense in both total yards and scoring from last season has been tempo. TCU runs 79.9 plays per game, while Ole Miss opponents have averaged just 69.7 plays per game.

"As far as the layoff, I think our intensity has been good here," Freeze said. "I've been pleased with that. I have a concern about just how the conditioning will be when we hit the field against a tempo team like these guys, particularly it's just hard to simulate that over and over again, and particularly the closer you get and we've had a Christmas break and you get here. You certainly want to have fresh legs when the game starts.

"But the energy and the emotion that will be involved when it kicks off will no question have an impact early on with some fatigue issues probably. So we'll have to be smart, how we rotate our kids and I think everybody will regain that shortly into the game."

Young Receivers Called Upon

Sophomore tight end Evan Engram has drawn the most attention, and deservedly so, as Ole Miss will be without their top two receivers against No. 6 TCU, but a trio of young receivers will also have to step up to replace the production and leadership of sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and senior wide receiver Vince Sanders.

"Stepping up is a big thing for us," sophomore wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo said. "We've been instilling that in our heads since Laquon went down. And when Vince went down, we knew we had to compete even more."

An All-America second team and consensus All-SEC first team selection, Engram stepped up with a career-high 176 receiving yards in a win over Mississippi State in the regular-season finale, but against the Horned Frogs, the Rebels will likely also need contributions from some combination of Adeboyejo, junior wide receiver Cody Core, and freshman wide receiver Markell Pack.

"We know we're down some guys, but we have guys that are going to step up and fill that void," senior quarterback Bo Wallace said.

Rebels Ride Walton

Helped by a couple of long runs, Ole Miss had a breakout game on the ground, rushing for 205 yards in a win over Mississippi State in the regular-season finale. Sophomore Jaylen Walton led the way with a career-high 148 yards on 14 carries, including a highlight-reel 91-yard touchdown run.

"We made just a decision, going into the last game, that he's our best option," said Freeze of Walton. "Let's get the ball to 6 and we wanted to get him a certain number of touches and thought he ran extremely physical, made explosive plays, and we always knew he could and we believe the other can too. But we just made a decision that he's our most mature guy. He's had the most experience in our offense. He's good in the pass game. He's good in understanding protections."

Walton emerged as the leader of a crowded backfield, rushing for a career-high 583 yards and averaging a career-best 5.9 yards per carry this season. He also leads the team with seven total touchdowns. Freeze expects more of the same from Walton in the bowl game against No. 6 TCU.

"He produced really, really well," said Freeze of Walton. "We'll do the same tomorrow. I don't know that it's been so much that he's done anything different. I think he's always been that way. It's probably us just making sure he got the number of touches that he got."

Freeze, Patterson See Programs Rise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ole Miss Seniors Prepare for Next Step

For some of the Rebels' 21 seniors, the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl will be their final football games. For others, such as Senior Bowl participants Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt, it's the end of their college careers, but it might also be a springboard for a potential professional career.

Golson and Prewitt are projected second-to-third round NFL Draft prospects by CBSSports.com, while quarterback Bo Wallace is a projected sixth-to-seventh rounder, and linebacker Serderius Bryant and defensive tackle Bryon Bennett are projected seventh-rounders to undrafted free agents.

The first consensus first team All-American and first unanimous choice since Michael Oher in 2008, Golson is ranked the No. 7 cornerback and No. 69 overall prospect, but he continues to weigh his options between playing baseball in the spring or focusing on preparing for the NFL Draft, ahead of the Senior Bowl on Jan. 24 and the NFL Scouting Combine that runs Feb. 17-Feb. 23.

"After the bowl game, I'm definitely going to be in contact with people trying to figure everything out," Golson said. "I don't know if I'm going to be in Oxford training, or anywhere else. I don't know exactly where I'm going to be, but I'm starting to narrow it down and getting everything situated. It's difficult because I have to get plans made, whether I'm going to train, or stay in Oxford and play baseball, or train, or something like that. I have been taking things slow and playing them by ear."

Prewitt became the first player to return to Ole Miss as a first team All-American since Patrick Willis in 2006, going on to earn second team All-American honors in his senior season. Despite fewer interceptions, he feels like he has improved his consistency this season. The No. 3 ranked free safety and No. 71 overall prospect, Prewitt might also see a change in position at the next level.

"I have heard outside linebacker some, but I have heard safety, too," Prewitt said. "I love playing football. Hopefully, I go to a team that would rather use me as a safety and thinks I can be used best as a safety, but if I go a team where a coach wants me to play linebacker and feels like I can be used best as a linebacker, I'm absolutely ready to do that."

Already the school's all-time leader in total offense, Wallace also has the opportunity to become the winningest quarterback in modern Ole Miss history, but he does not see Wednesday as the end of his football career. Wallace said he will move to Los Angeles after the bowl game and work with mechanics guru Tom House, with whom he worked this past offseason.

"I know scouts are interested," said Wallace, the No. 11 quarterback and No. 228 overall prospect. "Barney (Farrar) has told me about some teams. Coach Farrar deals with that, and we have talked. I know I'm going to have a shot, and that's all I can ask for."

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."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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