TFS 2013 CFB Preseason Top 25: #21 Ole Miss Rebels

The key in any top 25 poll is understanding the premise on which the poll is based because not all top 25 polls are built the same way. Some people choose to rank teams 1-25 based on where they think teams will be ranked at year’s end. If they think a team will lose 5 games they won’t rank them. While that may seem logical I’ve never been a proponent of that style of poll and it has never been, nor will ever be, how I choose to do my top 25 polls. My polls reflect the 25 teams entering 2013 who I think are the top 25 teams on a neutral field if the country played a round-robin. If a team is likely to max out at 7 wins that doesn’t give me the urge to rank a nine-win team over them if the nine-win team is from a much weaker league. With that covered, let us continue the top 25 for 2013 as the official kickoff of the CFB off season coverage here at The Football Standard.

*Returning Starters Figures from Phil Steele’s Blog

Teams already ranked:

#25. Fresno State Bulldogs
#24 Vanderbilt Commodores
#23 USC Trojans
#22 Miami Hurricanes

Coming in at #21…

Ole Miss Rebels

2012 Record: 7-6

Conference Finish: 5th in the SEC West

Bowl: Won BBVA Compass Bowl 38-17 over Pittsburgh

Returning Starters: 8 offense, 10 defense

 

2013 Offense

Ole Miss may wind up being one of the more polarizing ranks in college football in 2013 as you’ll likely see a large number of people rank them, as well as a large number who don’t buy the hype. Count me in with those who believe in Hugh Freeze. In his first year on the job Freeze took a 2-10 program to a bowl game and convincing win over Pitt to finish the year with seven wins. In 2013, the majority of that pressure falls on the shoulders of junior Bo Wallace. While Wallace had his moments in 2012 with 30 touchdowns (eight on the ground) and nearly 3000 yards passing, the interceptions were still far too high with 17 in a league that punishes teams for mistakes. In Ole Miss’ seven wins a year ago Wallace accounted for 20 touchdowns and six interceptions. In the team’s six losses those totals were 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. While that in part is due to the quality of competition difference in the wins and losses, playing better against those elite teams is what separates good from great teams.

Make no mistake, the bread and butter of the Ole Miss spread attack offense comes at the skill positions and Ole Miss has a number of home run hitters that make this offense even more dangerous in year two. Jeff Scott is a senior back who has progressed each season and has a shot to be a 1,000 yard back in 2013 barring injuries. Him and Wallace in the red zone give the Rebels two tough options to account for on the ground. His 4.3 YPC a year ago is a spot that could use improvement but all in all this was a very efficient running offense in the red zone with 20 rushing touchdowns in 45 trips. In fact the Rebels tied for ninth nationally in red zone offense. The one issue was getting there as the team only had 45 trips on the season. On the outside the trio of Donte Moncrief, Ja-mes Logan and Vince Sanders all return with Moncrief representing a potential all-conference performer. It shouldn’t be overlooked that while his role isn’t known now and may become more telling as the season approaches, Ole Miss did pull in the #1 WR recruit in the country, Laquon Treadwell to add to this group giving Hugh Freeze a number of gadgets to play with in 2013.

The one area of concern for Ole Miss despite four returning starters is the offensive line. In 2012 this unit simply didn’t give the offense a chance at times ranking 97th nationally in sacks allowed. With four starters back next year, all upperclassmen, this unit could make or break the potential of the offense which could ultimately determine if this is a team capable of winning eight or nine games.

2013 Defense

Potential. That’s probably the best word that can be used to describe this side of the ball for the Rebels in 2013. While the low moments in 2012 were pretty low (see: Texas game), the defense made strides over the course of the season and quite frankly was a young group. Seven key returning defenders from a year ago were sophomores or juniors last year and with the addition of #1 prospect Robert Nkemdiche to the defense this season, the youth on defense should again be rampant. There were bright spots and negatives last season with this group as there is with almost any defense. The team generated pressure on the quarterback finishing near the top of the SEC in sacks and tackles for a loss. However the secondary had its problems, an alarming issue when you consider the SEC isn’t notoriously a hotbed for prolific passing attacks.

Eight of the team’s top ten tacklers are back from last season including the top six and the combination of Robert Nkemdiche if he matches the hype with his brother Denzel who led the Rebels in tackles in 2012 should be disruptive. Ole Miss forced turnovers last season and ranked relatively high nationally in red zone defense. When you consider those two tidbits as well as the pressure they generated on the opposing backfield, you wonder how is it that this defense finished the year ranked only 45th nationally and had a stretch where they gave up at least 20 points in eight straight games. This is a defense that gave up 66 points to Texas early in the season as well. Despite the pluses this defense brought, it was more than just secondary woes. The third down defense was only slightly above average and special teams was a train wreck. The punt team finished just about in the middle of the country and they looked like world beaters when compared to a kick off coverage unit that ranked 109th. So while the scores and results may not be there for this defense, fact is this unit has the chance to be very good in 2013 if offensive turnovers and special teams mishaps don’t give the opposition short fields.

Schedule

There’s really no other way to twist the fact the Rebels have a brutal schedule in 2013. Beyond getting Texas in Austin this year for a return game and your typical SEC West gauntlet of Alabama, LSU and now Texas A&M, the Rebels also drew Vanderbilt for its second SEC East game. As you’ll see above, I’m fairly high on Vanderbilt coming back in 2013 which makes for a long year and a strong possibility of four losses. To make matters worse, most of the games aren’t even spread out. The Rebels face a VERY front-heavy schedule with Vanderbilt (road), Texas (road), Alabama (road), Auburn (road), Texas A&M and LSU (both home) in the first seven games. The possibility of a 3-4, 2-5 start isn’t out of the question. Fortunately if they can even salvage a 3-4 start, the back end of the schedule isn’t too bad and unless they overlook a team should still be good for a bowl game and probably a 7-5 type regular season.

Thus Ole Miss goes to show I’m far more concerned with the quality of the roster and talent when judging teams because while Ole Miss may very well lose four or five games, I’ll put this team on a field with any team who I won’t rank and feel good about its chances. Ole Miss beat down an over-matched Pittsburgh team last year due to Ole Miss’ positioning in the SEC bowl totem pole and I’ll go on record right now on February 20, 2013 and say as long as the schedule doesn’t prevent Ole Miss from playing a bowl I’ll take Ole Miss against whoever it plays in its bowl game come next year because this team is a lot more talented than its record will likely indicate.

 

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