2012 record: 7-6
2012 conference record: 3-5
Returning starters: Offense: 8; defense: 11; kicker/punter: 0
2012 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Jeff Scott* (846 yards)
Passing: Bo Wallace* (2,994 yards)
Receiving: Donte Moncrief* (979 yards)
Tackles: Denzel Nkemdiche* (82)
Sacks: C.J. Johnson* (6.5)
1. Running wild: Senior Jeff Scott gives the Rebels a proven breakaway threat at running back. He also carried the ball nearly 200 times last season, but might get some relief in 2013. Sophomores I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton and freshman Mark Dodson all had big springs, and they’re all different types of runners. It’s a given that you need more than one running back to make it through an entire SEC season, and Ole Miss might have three or four they can count on in 2013.
2. Ward shows flashes: One of the most physically gifted players returning for Ole Miss on defense is sophomore end Channing Ward. The push this spring was for him to cut it loose and play and become that every-down game-changer he was projected to be coming out of high school. Toward the end of spring practice, he looked like he was starting to get it. The 6-foot-4, 256-pound Ward missed most of preseason practice as a freshman last season while waiting to be cleared by the NCAA. If he can pick up in August where he left off in the spring, he has a chance to be a force coming off the edge.
3. Bright future: Most of the buzz this spring in Oxford centered around the celebrated signing class Hugh Freeze and his staff assembled. It was rated No. 5 nationally by ESPN and features the country’s No. 1 overall prospect -- defensive end Robert Nkemdiche. He can’t get to campus soon enough as far as Ole Miss fans are concerned and will be joined by the likes of offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, receiver Laquon Treadwell and safety Antonio Conner -- all top 25 players nationally. Some serious talent is on the way.
1. Wallace’s maturation: In his first season in the SEC, quarterback Bo Wallace finished fifth in the league in total offense with an average of 260.3 yards per game. He accounted for 30 touchdowns and made his share of plays in the Rebels’ fast-break offense. He also threw a league-high 17 interceptions, although he made better decisions toward the latter part of the season. He missed the spring after undergoing shoulder surgery. His big challenge in the fall is continuing to be the playmaker he was for the Rebels last season, but doing so while taking better care of the ball. He also needs to stay in one piece and pick his spots when it comes to taking on defenders.
2. Defending the pass: Ole Miss finished 11th in the SEC last season in pass defense and gave up 22 touchdown passes. The fact that junior cornerback Senquez Golson gave up baseball and concentrated solely on football this spring was a plus. Getting back Nick Brassell would also be huge. Freeze has said he thinks that Brassell can be an NFL cornerback, but academics have been a struggle for Brassell. So depending on what happens with Brassell, depth at cornerback could be an issue.
3. On the mend: The Rebels had a wide array of players out or limited with injuries this spring. Not only was Wallace sidelined after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, but defensive end C.J. Johnson broke his leg early during spring practice. Cornerback Charles Sawyer also missed the last half of spring with a minor injury, while receiver Donte Moncrief was banged up as well. Depth is still a problem for the Rebels, and even with the highly-rated signing class on its way, it’s always a bit of a guessing game on who’s going to be all the way back to 100 percent come fall.