Sitting in Hugh Freeze’s office last summer, you could feel his anxiety when it came to talking about his football team.
Freeze was visibly excited about getting his first season as Ole Miss’ head coach underway, but the more he discussed the laundry list of obstacles he was going to have to conquer in his first year, worry quickly crept into his voice.
There were academic issues, disciplinary issues and a major numbers issue. The Rebels wouldn’t exactly be playing with a full deck in 2012 for various reasons. And no one really expected Freeze to do much in his first season in Oxford.
But he fooled everyone -- probably even himself. In a year in which the Rebels would have been praised for getting four wins, they greatly surpassed expectations with six regular-season wins, including a blowout win over archrival Mississippi State, before getting win No. 7 in a rout of Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Now, he’ll be expected to keep that up. After not being given much of a chance to do much, Freeze will have to keep this momentum going. He’ll still have a numbers issue in 2013, but with the personnel he has coming back and the slew of talent expected in Freeze’s second recruiting class, winning will be expected in Year 2.
It’s a blessing and a curse for Freeze. On the one hand, higher expectations means things are moving in the right direction. On the other, it means that direction better not alter its path. This is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sport and Freeze won right away. Keeping that up is the next task.
The Rebels have a chance to slip into the Top 25 of preseason polls for next season, and those in and around the program will expect a strong run in 2013. Are they expecting an SEC West title? Probably not, but they are expecting to be even more competitive. There’s plenty of time to tinker with offensive timing and improve things on defense. Another offseason means more time with coaches and more familiarity.
This offseason could be even tougher for Freeze, as he and his players deal with higher expectations. If this monster of a recruiting class, which some feel could feature the nation’s No. 1 recruit in defensive end Robert Nkemdiche of Loganville, Ga., makes it to campus, even more hype will surround this Ole Miss team. It won’t be championship-level hype, but it’ll be enough to where another 6-6 season will be looked at as a disappointment.
I’m sure Ole Miss players are feeling pretty good about themselves after the way they finished the season. That “Feed Moncrief” video is all the rage in Oxford, and the confidence is soaring around those parts. That’s a good thing, but the Rebels can’t rest on their recent success. This team still has a ton to work on when it comes to moving and stopping the ball.
Slowly, it appears that Freeze is building something pretty good at Ole Miss, but Year 2 will come with much higher expectations and more pressure. The schedule isn’t too hazardous with Texas A&M, Arkansas, LSU and Missouri at home and Florida, Georgia and South Carolina nowhere in sight.
It’s important that complacency doesn’t set in and that old habits don’t rear their ugly head within the team. For everything this team did in 2012, Freeze wants more, and fans will expect more.