Tuesday, October 2, 2012
A bowl is actually in reach for Ole Miss
By Edward Aschoff
If Ole Miss isn't careful, it's going to win enough games to be eligible for the postseason.
For a team that was basically left for dead after two horrible seasons that produced just six wins and the start of a 15-game conference losing streak, the Rebels have some real fight in them this year, and new coach Hugh Freeze might know what he's doing over there in the Grove.
Through five games, Ole Miss has already surpassed last year's win mark by a game (three), and it actually has an offense that fans can stomach and get excited about. More importantly, it has a team that fights and plays for its coach.
Hugh Freeze seems to have things on the right track at Ole Miss.
You couldn't really say that last year about the Rebels, who eventually lost Houston Nutt before the season even finished.
But things are much different. The caliber of ball played by the Freeze-led Rebs is much better. So is the discipline and the attitude. The product is bearable. And the expectations are higher.
Yes, five games in and we have to seriously consider the Rebels for a bowl game. In fact, some kind of expect it with the way they're playing and with the way their opponents are playing, as well.
While Ole Miss is fresh off a 19-point loss to No. 1 Alabama, there are a few positives the Rebels can build off from that game. After being annihilated by the Tide last year with basically the same personnel, the Rebels put it to the defending champs for a while.
Alabama stood with the 33-14 win Saturday night, but if the Rebels wanted to, they could have easily claimed a moral victory in Tuscaloosa. It was certainly there for the taking when you consider that this team stopped Alabama's gaudy lead streak that dated back to Oct. 22, 2011, scored two touchdowns on that vaunted Tide defense and held Alabama to just 305 yards of offense, including not allowing any running backs to eclipse the 83-yard mark.
Think about how far this defense has come since that nightmarish 35-point loss to Texas.
Freeze wasn't interested in moral victories Saturday night. He wanted the real one, as improbable as it might have been.
“I’m pleased with the effort and attitude of our kids and how hungry they are to succeed,” Freeze said. “I’m disappointed because I feel like we should have been in it the fourth quarter and for whatever reason -- we can go through all of them -- we didn’t get there. The next step in this journey is to get there. Get in that fourth quarter. I don’t know if we’ll win it or not but sure would feel good to play as hard as they’re playing and get in one.”
Kudos to Freeze for being genuinely disappointed. If not for three costly turnovers, terrible special-teams play and some execution issues, Ole Miss really might have made a game of it in the fourth quarter. This is certainly something the Rebels can build on and be upset about.
Last year, we saw a team that didn't play for its coach. Really, it was a group of athletes playing, not a team. The leadership stunk and players admitted to giving up far before games were over.
You don't see that this season. You see a team determined to move out of the SEC West cellar. It has better quarterback play, with Bo Wallace taking over (his turnover issues have to stop), and Donte Moncrief might be the most underrated receiver in the SEC.
It's obvious Freeze's spread is working, as the offense ranks fourth in the SEC, and while the defense has its issues, it's nowhere near as clumsy as it was last season.
When you look at the rest of Ole Miss' schedule, believe it or not, a bowl berth isn't an impossibility. Who can seriously sit here right now and say the Rebels wouldn't be favored against Auburn (home), Arkansas or Vanderbilt (home)? Win those and the Rebels are at six wins and can head to the postseason.
And don't count them out in the game against Mississippi State, which is in Oxford. When you have a team that has been disrespected by its rival for three straight years and has a coach who knows this is the game to win, things can get interesting.
Ole Miss still has a lot of work to do, and the lack of overall depth could be an issue down the stretch, but when you look at the Rebels, it's clear the SEC losing streak is coming to an end. And it isn't crazy to think that this team could be playing a 13th game.