SEC: Mississippi Rebels

SEC morning links

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
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1. Raise your hand if you saw that coming from Texas A&M last night? Nobody? That's OK, I didn't and neither did my SEC colleagues, as evidenced by our Week 1 predictions. The Aggies coming out of Columbia, South Carolina with a win wasn't far-fetched but absolutely dominating? That was unexpected. Especially for the College Station-area Ashley Furniture store. Ashley promised customers free furniture if the Aggies beat the Gamecocks by 10 or more points. The result? More than $1 million in free furniture given away. The Aggies themselves were pretty fired up, evidenced by this celebration video involving Kevin Sumlin and the team. But the biggest story on Thursday night was none other than quarterback Kenny Hill, who -- in his first career start -- broke Johnny Manziel's single-game school record for passing yards and completions. Hill proved that the Aggies are far from a one-trick pony.

2. There's some good and some not so good to take away from Ole Miss' win against Boise State on Thursday night. The good is the defense was stout. The not so good was that quarterback Bo Wallace wasn't as consistent as you'd like a senior quarterback and third-year starter to be, throwing three interceptions and four touchdowns. Those are two of the three things we learned from the Rebels 35-13 win over the Broncos. Robert Nkemdiche was certainly pleased with the defensive effort. Here's a look at some of the plays that changed the game for the Rebels.

3. Nick Saban hasn't publicly named Alabama's starting quarterback, but reading into his commentary during his radio show on Thursday night, but it certainly sounds like Blake Sims might take the first snap. Saban dropped a few hints into his thought process Thursday and one report claims that Sims will indeed start, citing a source. Saban lauded Sims' experience, something Jacob Coker lacks after arriving in Tuscaloosa, Alabama just this summer. "Here's the thing everybody needs to understand that people don't understand," Saban said. "We have a guy playing quarterback who has been in the system for a long time and really has a really good understanding, very confident in what he's doing. I know he didn't play very well in the spring game and that's how a lot of people evaluate him. But he has done very well this fall and he did very well last spring and he has a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge."

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Can anyone recall a season in recent memory that promises to be as wide open as this one? Every team in the SEC has holes. Every team has question marks. But almost every team has talent and legitimate hopes of a banner season.

How will it all shake out? This is our first shot at it, so take it easy on us. Like most of you, we will know a lot more about every team in the conference by the time the weekend is through.

But if there is one thing I'm confident in, it's that an SEC team will compete in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Sorry if I'm not buying that two will make it. Maybe next season, when all these inexperienced quarterbacks are a year more mature, but not now.
  • CFB Playoff (Allstate Sugar Bowl): Alabama
  • Cotton Bowl, Jan. 1: South Carolina
  • Orange Bowl, Dec. 31: LSU
  • Birmingham Bowl, Jan. 3: Vanderbilt
  • TaxSlayer Bowl, Jan. 2: Florida
  • Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: Georgia
  • Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: Auburn
  • Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Dec. 30: Missouri
  • Belk Bowl, Dec. 30: Mississippi State
  • AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl, Dec. 29: Texas A&M
  • AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Dec. 29: Ole Miss

SEC morning links

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
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1. We made it! The college football season is here and SEC play begins tonight. First on the docket this evening is No. 9 South Carolina hosting No. 21 Texas A&M. This game matches two compelling teams, both beginning life without megastars that made lasting imprints on their respective campuses last year. It also pits two dynamic offensive-minded coaches -- the cagey, SEC veteran Steve Spurrier against the relative SEC newcomer but charismatic Kevin Sumlin. How do they stack up? Let's look at the tale of the tape. Both of them had their moments at SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama and Spurrier is known for not having a filter, saying what he thinks at all times. Sumlin doesn't have that reputation, but is beginning to show more and more personality as the years go by (see his responses to Johnny Manziel questions in Hoover as evidence). By the way, if you missed it yesterday, do yourself a favor and read Chris Low's in-depth feature on Spurrier, who is different from many in the profession when it comes to office hours and leisure time. Notably, Sumlin -- a friend of Spurrier's -- is big on family time and the health of his staff also.

2. Next up on the SEC schedule is No. 18 Ole Miss hosting Boise State. Need to get up to speed on the Rebels? Here's an in-depth discussion of the offense and the defense. Interestingly, both head coaches in this game, Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze and Boise State's Bryan Harsin, got their FBS head coaching starts at Arkansas State. Both speak fondly of their time there but acknowledged the difficulty of leaving so soon. The Rebels are one of the handful of SEC programs returning a starting quarterback and there's hope that a big year is ahead for Bo Wallace. The senior himself said he feels a lot more confident than he did at this point a year ago.

3. Finally, tonight's SEC slate concludes with Vanderbilt hosting Temple. New Commodores head coach Derek Mason makes his head coaching debut tonight, doesn't plan to be out in the forefront. Unlike his charismatic predecessor, James Franklin, Mason would rather blend in tonight. Linebacker Kyle Woestmann said "It's definitely centered a lot more around us. It's always player-first. Coming out of the tunnel, he wants it to be us first. Whatever we do, he wants it to be us first." It's also the time for quarterback Patton Robinette to take the wheel. He was named the starter in camp and though Mason acknowledged on Wednesday that it was a close race, he doesn't want Robinette looking over his shoulder and is confident in his signal-caller.

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SEC morning links

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
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1. Kentucky settled its quarterback race on Monday when coach Mark Stoops announced that sophomore Patrick Towles will be the Wildcats' starter. It's a nice story, because Towles redshirted last season and competed for the starting job twice before and lost. Instead of transferring, Towles continued to work and battled his way to the top of the depth chart. Not an easy thing to do in the winner-starts-loser-transfers trend that seems to be increasing among college football quarterbacks. The 6-foot-5, 238-pound Towles was even able to fend off highly-regarded true freshman Drew Barker, a prize recruit in the Wildcats' 2014 class. No word yet from Stoops whether Barker will redshirt this season, but regardless, former Wildcat great Tim Couch has sage advice for the young Barker: "It’s how you handle that year that is really going to determine the rest of your career."

2. Vanderbilt's quarterbacks are wearing knee braces in hopes of preventing injuries. It's not common to see healthy quarterbacks who haven't had knee injuries wear them and Vanderbilt's signal-callers did not engage in this practice in the 16 years that head trainer Tom Bossung has been there. After losing two quarterbacks to knee injuries last season, though, the Commodores decided to make the move. They're different from the offensive linemen's knee braces, but thumbs up to the Commodores training staff on the move. While it may not prevent all knee injuries, the decision to do it moving forward should help. It has become so common among offensive linemen, it will be interesting to see if this becomes a trend among quarterbacks across the nation.

3. Alabama brought in its fourth motivational speaker of fall camp, welcoming former Fresno State basketball star Chris Herren to campus on Monday. Herren got a positive response from the Crimson Tide players. Preceding Herren in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, during training camp was former NFL player and current league executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent, former NBA star Antoine Walker and well-renowned motivational speaker Eric Thomas. This is certainly not uncommon; plenty of programs bring in guest speakers or motivational speakers to get messages across to players. Still, it's beneficial because when you recruit at the level Alabama does, you bring in dozens of highly-regarded players who have been told often how good they are. Getting messages from people who have been through ups and downs like Herren or Walker or someone like Vincent who has played at the highest level of football as these players undoubtedly hope to, they can impart valuable wisdom and provide a different voice other than the coaches who are barking at them every day. Sometimes that different voice can have an effect.

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It’s not that Ole Miss had a terrible season last year. The Rebs, under coach Hugh Freeze, won eight games for the first time since 2009. Freeze admittedly was pleasantly surprised by how far the program had come since he took over following a 2-10 season in 2011. To anyone who’d ask, he’d say that he thought the process of fielding a competitive football team in the SEC would have taken longer.

Recruiting will do that for you.

Freeze changed the mentality of Ole Miss football in the blink of an eye. That day was Feb. 6, 2013, when the program’s news release -- “Ole Miss Lands Historic Signing Class -- was, for once, not an overstatement. Eleven All-Americans headlined the class, including the No. 1 overall prospect, Robert Nkemdiche. All told, Freeze signed four recruits who were considered the best prospects at their position, according to ESPN.

Relying heavily on freshmen such as Nkemdiche, Tony Conner, Evan Engram and Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss began the 2013 season on a tear, beating both Vanderbilt and Texas on the road. Losses at Alabama and Auburn weren’t altogether unexpected, and when the Rebs returned home, they beat No. 6-ranked LSU in dramatic fashion.

[+] EnlargeRobert Nkemdiche
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsWith a year of experience under their belts, Robert Nkemdiche and the rest of Ole Miss' sterling sophomore class should be much improved.
But somewhere along the way, things changed. After reeling off five victories in a row, Ole Miss began to falter, losing two in a row to Missouri and Mississippi State.

Dropping the Egg Bowl in overtime was particularly painful. Freeze would look at the film each Sunday and see mental and physical breakdowns from his players. The level of consistency wasn’t there.

“We just didn’t play as crisp,” he said.

They lost to Missouri because they drove into the red zone three times and couldn’t punch it in. They lost to Ole Miss because Bo Wallace was on his way into the end zone and had the football punched from his grasp.

“You could see kids making some mistakes they didn’t make earlier in the year,” Freeze said.

Freeze looked in the mirror and decided, “I have to look at what I do.”

“We weren’t the same,” Freeze said. “Now we lost C.J. Johnson, Aaron Morris, Evan Engram, Charles Sawyer, Denzel [Nkemdiche], Robert [Nkemdiche]. We lost five games. But for whatever reason we weren’t the same. We think part of it was the mental fatigue.

“Year 2, I expect them to handle that much better.”

It isn’t just that Wallace’s shoulder has finally recovered. It isn’t even that those sidelined players are back. Freeze believes Year 2 will be different because that much-talked-about signing class from 2013 is more mature. The growing pains those freshmen went through last season should make them better prepared as sophomores.

“Those young kids, as many as we played, physically, you would look at them and say, ‘They look the part,’” Freeze said. “But mentally it took a toll on them. We played four out of the first five [games] on the road. Every one of them was 7 or 8 p.m. kickoffs. We’re getting back at 4 a.m., and those high school kids, that’s a new world for them.”

This season’s schedule is more favorable, with four of the first seven games in Oxford, Mississippi. And if that’s not enough, Freeze is considering altering his weekly schedule after the fatigue he saw last season, whether that means changing practice times or taking Sundays off entirely. If Ole Miss wants to be a contender in the SEC West, keeping consistent throughout the season is a must.

“I assure you that I’ll be looking at it,” he said. “Last year I had blinders and was saying, ‘Let’s get ready for the next one.’ I didn’t think about, ‘Hey, somewhere in here they’ve lost 2-3 days.’ When you get back at 4 a.m. for five straight weeks, that’s part of my learning curve.”

For the players’ part, they’re taking some of the onus on themselves.

“I’ve never seen since I’ve been here people getting extra work on their own, going out and doing cone drills and things like that,” Wallace said. “I think everyone is ready to go.”

Veteran defensive end C.J. Johnson said the way last season ended should be motivation enough.

“It was kind of taking a toll on everybody because we had been through so much as a football team: a close loss at Auburn, a close loss at A&M, the Alabama game was a lot closer than the score was,” he said. “So, you know, going through all that physical grind and then to drop the Egg Bowl the way we did, I think it kind of pushed a couple of guys.”

The hard part isn’t pushing through fall camp, though. For Ole Miss, the real test will come when they realize they’ve pushed enough. After all, you can’t go anywhere without ample gas in the tank.

Ole Miss Rebels season preview

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
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AM ET
video » More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Ole Miss Rebels:

2013 record: 8-5, beat Georgia Tech in the Music City Bowl

Final grade for 2013 season: Because of the team’s inconsistency, a B- seems fair. Eight wins isn’t a bad result for second-year coach Hugh Freeze, especially when you look at the close losses to Auburn and Texas A&M, but losing back-to-back games to Missouri and Mississippi State when the offense combined for 20 points isn’t good enough.

Key losses: WR Donte Moncrief, RB Jeff Scott, C Evan Swindall, OL Jared Duke, OL Pierce Burton, K Andrew Ritter

Key returnees: QB Bo Wallace, WR Laquon Treadwell, TE Evan Engram, DL Robert Nkemdiche, DE C.J. Johnson, S Cody Prewitt, S Tony Conner

[+] EnlargeBo Wallace
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsIf Bo Wallace can limit his turnovers, Ole Miss could be a factor in the SEC West this season.
Projected 2014 starters: QB Wallace, RB Jaylen Walton, TE Engram, WR Treadwell, WR Quincy Adeboyejo, WR Vince Sanders, LT Laremy Tunsil, LG Aaron Morris, C Ben Still, RG Justin Bell, RT Robert Conyers, DE Johnson, DT Nkemdiche, DT Issac Gross, DE Fadol Brown, OLB Serderius Bryant, MLB Deterrian Shackelford, CB Senquez Golson, CB Mike Hilton, S Prewitt, ROV Trae Elston, NB Conner

Instant impact newcomers: OL Rod Taylor, S C.J. Hampton

Breakout player: Really, Engram broke out last season. That is, if you were paying attention to the first half of the season and saw him set an Ole Miss record for touchdowns from a freshman tight end (three). However, he injured his ankle and missed five games down the stretch. As Freeze said, the offense changed with him gone. If Engram can stay healthy, the offense and his own personal numbers should improve greatly.

Biggest question mark: The defense is talented and deep. The offense is loaded with skilled players at quarterback, receiver, tight end and running back. But at the one position where you need experience to win in the SEC, the offensive line, Ole Miss is lacking. With three starters gone and Austin Golson no longer with the program, the Rebs are thin up front. Morris should make for a nice addition, and Tunsil is quickly becoming one of the best linemen in the SEC, but it might take some time to work out the kinks on the line of scrimmage for Ole Miss.

Upset special: Can one top-25 team upset another? Sure, especially when the opponent is Alabama. Ole Miss has struggled with the Crimson Tide in recent years, but this season could be the time to change all that. Alabama is breaking in a new quarterback, two new offensive linemen and three new starters in the secondary. Throw in the fact that coach Nick Saban still hasn’t solved the no-huddle offense, and you have a recipe for an upset. If Wallace can limit his turnovers and push the pace on offense, the Rebels will have a chance, especially at home on Oct. 4.

Key stat: If there is one stat that means anything in football, it’s turnovers. Ole Miss was found lacking in that department last season, coming in 58th nationally with a +1 turnover margin. Of the Rebels' 21 turnovers on offense, 10 came from Wallace interceptions. Another turnover, the most crippling of the season, came when Wallace fumbled in an overtime loss to Mississippi State. If he can take care of the football, Ole Miss has a chance to compete in the SEC West. If not, it won't matter how much talent the Rebels put on the field, because you can’t win games giving the ball away.

They said it: “To be very candid, I think the journey that we've been on, I think it's faster than I thought possible. ... We had some very nice wins last year: going to Texas and winning, beating No. 6 LSU in the beginning of the year. We didn't finish the season like we wanted, obviously. But with the recruiting that our coaches have done and with those two successful seasons, there's no question that the expectations are raised. I think most fans that are close to our program realize that we're still maybe a year or two away of looking like a total SEC team in the depth chart. But I said on day one that my expectations were to make Ole Miss very relevant in the SEC West. And I think this year we should be that. That's my expectation, is that we should be competitive in every single game.” -- Freeze at SEC media days.

Preseason predictions:

ESPN Stats & Info: 7.7 wins

Bovada over-under: 7.5

Our take: The schedule could be worse. Getting Boise State to start the season would have been a mammoth undertaking in past years. But with coach Chris Peterson gone, now is the time to take on the giant of all giants among mid-majors. That aside, the rest of the non-conference schedule (Louisiana-Lafayette, Memphis, Presbyterian) should result in wins, and drawing Tennessee and Vanderbilt from the SEC East is more than any coach could ask for. If Ole Miss can beat the teams it should (Arkansas, for instance), go .500 in the others (Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Texas A&M) and get revenge in the Egg Bowl against an evenly matched Mississippi State, then a 10-win season is a reasonable proposition.

SEC morning links

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
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1. On Tuesday, ESPN unveiled campaign posters for the top four contenders in the College Football Playoff hunt. Each came with a clever tagline, such as Alabama’s “Process of elimination” and Oregon’s “Look good, play better.” Florida State’s “Dallas to Dallas” was a nod, of course, to the Seminoles opening the season in Big D against Oklahoma State and, hopefully, closing the season there in the CFB Playoff title match. But it got me thinking: What taglines would other SEC programs employ in their bid to make the Playoff? Auburn’s is easy: #AuburnFast. Florida’s could read: No Georgia Southern, no problem. LSU’s might go: The young and the relentless. And South Carolina’s could nod to the Head Ball Coach: Keeping the SEC spicy. There’s a comments section, so go ahead and have fun with the concept.

2. Laquon Treadwell is not a man to be trifled with. Even in practice, he does things that make your jaw hit the floor. Just look at this catch the other day. His Go-Go-Gadget fingertips are just ridiculous. How he corralled that pass is mesmerizing. To me, he seems like a young Joe Horn (without the cell-phone celebrations). He not physically imposing or particularly fast, yet he’s explosive. If he can’t get by a DB, he’ll simply jump around or over them. He's got that knack for getting his hands on the football. Though there are definite questions about the quarterbacks in the SEC, I’m excited to see the crop of receivers. Treadwell and Amari Cooper are clearly at the top of the list. But look out for young studs such as Ricky Seals-Jones (Mike Evans 2.0), Speedy Noil (the SEC West’s long-awaited answer to Percy Harvin) and Malachi Dupre (think of a young A.J. Green).

3. A few weeks ago, ESPNU replayed the South Carolina-Missouri game from last season. You remember it, I’m sure: Connor Shaw comes off the bench to lead the Gamecocks to a furious come-from-behind win in double overtime. It was a doozy. But watching it again, I paid closer attention to the offense under Dylan Thompson. It was a best case-worst case scenario. At times, Thompson was sharp. It wasn’t his fault Mike Davis fumbled twice in the first half. But there were other times where Thompson left you wanting more. I had to rewind and replay his interception at least a dozen times. His footwork and fundamentals were unspeakably bad. It was what you teach a QB not to do. Turns out, he has a little gunslinger in him. Now he’s trying to tone some of that down. That’s good news if you’re a Gamecocks fan. You don’t need Thompson to be Brett Favre. With a stellar group of tailbacks, a strong offensive line and an underrated receiving corps, Thompson needs to simply manage the game. If he limits his mistakes and keeps his defense out of short-field situations, South Carolina has a chance to separate itself in the East.

More around the SEC

SEC lunchtime links

August, 6, 2014
Aug 6
12:00
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With training camps in full swing now across the conference, there are plenty of interesting stories around the SEC. From talk about quarterbacks to injuries and more, here's a sampling via Wednesday's lunch links:

SEC lunchtime links

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
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Traditions, position changes, underrated players, suspension news and even anonymous scouting reports on SEC teams. It's all here for you in today's lunch links:

SEC lunchtime links

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
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With camps underway or about to open, there is no shortage of news and notes from around the SEC. Let's dive right in:

SEC lunchtime links

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
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When Auburn opens fall camp this afternoon, it will do so with a reminder of their former teammate, Philip Lutzenkirchen.


It may be the first time in seven years that the SEC does not boast the defending champion of college football, but the league still maintains the most teams in the Amway Coaches Poll with seven of the Top 25. The next closest conference was the Pac-12 with six.

Alabama, coming off back-to-back losses for the first time since 2008, was ranked No. 2 behind defending champ Florida State. Auburn, fresh off an SEC championship, came in at No. 5.

Neither the Crimson Tide nor the Tigers received a first-place vote from the coaches surveyed, which included Bret Bielema, Les Miles, Mark Richt, Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, and Kevin Sumlin of the SEC. The Seminoles, on the other hand, garnered 56 of the 62 total first-place votes.

South Carolina (9), Georgia (12), LSU (13), Ole Miss (19) and Texas A&M (20) also made the Top 25 from the SEC, which saw its total selections in the preseason Top 25 poll rise from six to seven this year. However, the SEC saw its numbers in the top 10 drop from five to three.

Missouri led all teams not in the Top 25 in votes received with 126. Mississippi State (74) and Arkansas (1) were also listed as having received votes in the preseason poll.

ESPN 300: SEC's must-get recruits 

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
9:30
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video
The SEC already has commitments from 77 prospects in the ESPN 300, but there are still several key targets available. Whether it's a current commit, a position of need or just the best available player, here is a look at the top must-get recruits for each SEC team.

Alabama remains the clear favorite to win the SEC in 2014 according to the latest odds posted by Bovada.

The sportsbook released odds on each team's chance to win the conference earlier this summer and recently released an updated set of odds. Auburn remains at 5-to-1 and is joined by South Carolina, who is tied for second with the Tigers at 5-to-1 odds.

Georgia, a team that previously had 5-to-1 odds is now running at 6-to-1. LSU comes in behind the Bulldogs and interestingly, Florida comes in next at 13-to-2 odds. Clearly, oddsmakers are betting on the Gators bouncing back from last fall's 4-8 disaster. Notably, the Gators are ahead of rising Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Missouri -- the team that won the SEC East in 2013 -- in the updated odds.

Here's a look at the full list of odds for the conference:

Alabama -- 7/5
Auburn -- 5/1
South Carolina -- 5/1
Georgia -- 6/1
LSU -- 13/2
Florida -- 12/1
Ole Miss -- 14/1
Texas A&M -- 25/1
Missouri -- 40/1
Mississippi State -- 40/1
Tennessee -- 50/1
Arkansas -- 100/1
Kentucky -- 200/1
Vanderbilt -- 200/1
HOOVER, Ala. -- Evan Engram might have been one the most underrated true freshman in the SEC last season. Of course it didn’t help that he rolled his ankle and missed five games, and when he did return for the Music City Bowl he simply wasn’t 100 percent. But when he was on the field and healthy, he was the type of pass-catching threat that makes defenses cringe. At 6-foot-3 and 217 pounds, he had the build of a tight end and the athleticism of a receiver. On a team with Donte Moncrief and Laquon Treadwell, he had 20 receptions and three touchdowns in seven games before being sidelined.

[+] EnlargeEvan Engram
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsTight end Evan Engram had 20 receptions and three TDs in seven games for Ole Miss last season.
Coach Hugh Freeze’s eyes lit up when asked about Engram at SEC media days this month. The guru of the Rebels’ offense couldn’t hide his enthusiasm; he couldn’t wait to see his promising tight end back on the football field this season. When Engram went out last season, Freeze had to turn to two walk-ons at the position. Though he “loved having them” and praised their effort, they were no replacement for Engram. It got to the point that from Week 8 on, Ole Miss released its pregame depth chart with three receivers, two running backs and no tight ends.

“I cannot overstate it,” Freeze said of Engram’s absence. “We changed last year when he went out. We were not the same.”

Early on against Vanderbilt, Texas, Auburn and Texas A&M, Ole Miss averaged 466 yards and 35.75 points per game. Week 7 against LSU -- the same game Engram rolled his ankle in the second half -- the Rebels racked up 525 yards and 27 points in a dramatic upset victory. But down the stretch in losses against Missouri and Mississippi State, the offense faltered, failing to score more than 10 points in either game. Without Engram, there was no one to work the middle of the field and keep the safeties honest. Quarterback Bo Wallace began forcing the ball and threw six interceptions in November alone as the Rebs limped to an 8-5 finish.

A healthy Engram should mean greater consistency for Ole Miss in 2014. He and fellow freshman Treadwell are a year wiser, and Wallace’s arm is finally back to 100 percent after never fully rehabilitating from shoulder surgery prior to last season. Moncrief might be off to the NFL now, but there is plenty to like about the depth of the receiving corps, especially 6-foot-3 sophomore Quincy Abedoyejio, whom Wallace said is the best route-runner and the fastest receiver of the bunch.

Even though the receivers deserve their fair share of acclaim, don’t sleep on Engram. He might not be a household name yet, but to the people who matter most he’s held in high esteem. As junior defensive end C.J. Johnson said, “I think it will be key to keep him healthy.”

“Evan is a little faster than people give him credit for, I think,” Johnson added. “He’s tough, really long, really athletic, has good hands. He can really cause some problems in the slot.

“Having Evan and the skill set he has is pretty special.”

Asked in May what Engram brings to the table, offensive coordinator Dan Werner said simply, “The fact that he’s almost a wide receiver.”

“He’s got the talent of a wide receiver, but he’s more physical so he can play inside. Now we’re getting him matched up on linebacker and safeties a bunch. That’s just a total mismatch.”

But it’s not just Engram who is poised to wreak havoc on SEC defenses this season. The entire league seems to be strong at tight end. When the John Mackey Award watch list came out last month, Engram and six other SEC players were on it: Rory Anderson, Hunter Henry, O.J. Howard, Malcolm Johnson, Jay Rome and C.J. Uzomah. The seven total selections (compared to five the year before) were more than any other conference in college football.

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