Despite one of the biggest turnarounds in college football a year ago, the Ole Miss Rebels are quietly entering the 2013 season with not much hype in the national media.
Despite their success and return of many of last year's starters, head coach Hugh Freeze urged everyone to be realistic about the state of the program after going from 2-10 in 2011 to 7-6 a year ago, capped by a win over Pitt in the Compass Bowl.
Sorry coach. There's a lot of reasons to believe the Rebels are poised to make another jump this year that will have them playing in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta, and ultimately hoisting the trophy by game's end.
Here's 5 reasons why Ole miss will win the SEC in 2013:
Ole Miss will be the most experienced team in the SEC with 19 returning starters, including quarterback Bo Wallace, dynamic wide receiver Donte Moncrief and four offensive linemen who have combined for 82 starts. You can't beat that kind of chemistry, and that's what will separate the Rebels from other SEC teams.
Well, no schedule in the SEC is "easy", but the Rebels have arguably the easiest of anyone in the league. The face the preseason No. 1 (Alabama), No. 7 (Texas A&M) and No. 12 (LSU) teams in the preseason AP Poll, and don't play another ranked team.
Vanderbilt, Auburn, Missouri and Mississippi State are all games the Rebels can easily win, and a 9-1 or even 8-2 SEC mark might be enough to get into the SEC Championship.
Nkemdiche, the nation's No. 1 player in the 2013 recruiting class, is an explosive performer with excellent size, and will make an immediate impact on a defensive line that is already one of the better units in the SEC. The 6'4", 282-pound defensive end could contribute on the edge or create problems as an interior rusher.
Ole Miss' staff is already very impressed with what they've seen:
“He’s physically gifted enough to play, so it’s all about can he understand what we’re trying to accomplish, what his assignments are,” coach Hugh Freeze said over the weekend. “If he can get that, there’s no question he can physically play. [The defensive coaches] better be trying to get him ready.”
"You don't have to do anything to his body to make it already what it needs to be to play in this league," Freeze said in March. "He's so far ahead of the curve with that. Now, it's just a matter of him being mentally able to turn his athletic ability loose because he's confident in what he's doing."
Pressure, or lack thereof
When you win three of the past four national championships in dominating fashion and are picked by many to win your third straight, it's hard to tune out all of the attention and focus on the actual game of football. That's what the Alabama Crimson Tide are facing this year, and this could lead them to lose a game or two this year in which they are over confident. If Ole Miss can make that the game in Tuscaloosa on September 28th, then the Rebels can take hold of the SEC West on their way to the SEC Championship.
Also, the only time has Alabama started and finished No. 1 in the AP Poll was in 1978. And there's never been a three-time National Championship winner. So history is going against the Tide, which could leave Ole Miss to be the biggest benefactor.
Learning to Win Close Games
The Rebels went 3-5 in SEC play last season, but that doesn't tell the whole story. The Rebels could have easily finished with five or even six wins if not for two or three plays.
Three of those losses came by six points or less. They were up 35-28 at LSU with 11 minutes to play in a six-point loss. The Tigers in turn lost three one-possession games, which just shows you how thin the line in the SEC can be between a top-10 team, and an un-ranked team.
The Rebels also led Texas A&M 27-17 in the fourth quarter only to lose by three. They took a 26-20 lead on Vanderbilt, but a touchdown in the final minute resulted in a one-point defeat.
All in all, the Rebels were a combined 10 points away from potentially being 8-2 in the SEC, which would have been good enough to finish second in the West behind Alabama. If they can win the close games this year, they'll easily be in the running for a spot in Atlanta for the SEC title game.