SEC: Aaron Morris

The best way to describe the Ole Miss offensive line right now is a work in progress.

Depth up front was always going to be an issue for the Rebels, who lost three starters from last season's team. But the coaches felt good about the first unit coming out of spring practice. That was until sophomore offensive lineman Austin Golson informed the staff that he planned to transfer so he could be closer to his family.

The former ESPN 300 prospect and Prattville, Ala., native was penciled in as the starter at right tackle, but instead he’ll walk on at Auburn and sit out the 2014 season. He appeared in 12 games last season as a true freshman.

It’s a win-win for Golson and Auburn. He gets to be closer to his family, and the Tigers gets a potential starter on the offensive line. But what about Ole Miss? An already thin offensive line gets even weaker, and the Rebels are now scrambling to try and pick up the pieces before the beginning of fall camp in August.

“That’s the thing,” offensive coordinator Dan Werner told ESPN.com. “We’re still shuffling guys around, trying to get the best five in there. Again, because Aaron [Morris] wasn’t there and we had a young man that was with us and decided to transfer, it sort of [changed]. We’re just going to have to shuffle some guys around and get them in the right position.”

Aaron Morris missed spring practice while recovering from a torn ACL that he suffered in the season opener last season, but Werner believes the veteran left guard is getting close to full speed again and expects he’ll be ready to go for fall camp.

When Morris does make his return, Ole Miss is getting a guy who started every game as a sophomore in 2012 and has the experience that is lacking from the rest of the unit.

“[His attitude] has been really good,” Werner said. “Because we had so many young guys playing, a guy like him who’s started and played a bunch of football for us, it was nice to have him in the meeting rooms and on the sideline for the games to help those guys out.”

The one staple on this Rebels’ offensive line is left tackle Laremy Tunsil. What he lacks in experience he makes up for in ability. He was the top offensive tackle coming out of high school and, as a freshman, he made nine starts and earned All-SEC honors. He has all the tools to be a first-round NFL draft pick one day.

“He’s obviously got to come along, but as a true freshman, to do the things he did, it’s just phenomenal to me,” Werner said. “I’ve coached a lot of guys who were first-round picks, and at that stage of their career, he’s better than any of them that I’ve ever coached.

“He’s got to keep on progressing like I said, but with our strength coach and with [offensive line coach] Matt Luke coaching him, I don’t see why he won’t be [a first-round pick].”

Tunsil and Morris are expected to form an imposing duo on the left side, but the right side remains a concern. The coaches like redshirt sophomore Robert Conyers, but they aren’t sure where he best fits. He played just about every position last season.

There are other younger, more inexperienced players who stepped up and played well this spring, but how will they react when they’re out there against Boise State in the Georgia Dome to open the season?

Ole Miss spring wrap

April, 30, 2014
Apr 30
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Three things we learned in the spring about the Ole Miss Rebels:

1. Expectations are a good thing: Coach Hugh Freeze thought it would take three years before he even talked seriously about bowls. Now, he’s won two and fans expect him to be bowl eligible before November arrives. Expectations haven’t been this high in Oxford in a while, but with the talent returning, confidence is high and the Rebels are ready to make a run.

2. Wallace is healthy: For all the criticism Bo Wallace has endured, the senior quarterback has played just a couple of games at full strength with his throwing shoulder. After another surgery, Wallace says he feels just at 100 percent. He was limited at times this spring, but his arm is stronger and there’s more zip on this throws.

3. The defensive line has muscle: Last season, the Rebels didn’t have the adequate pass rush that gave their defense juice a year prior. Now, with the return of defensive end C.J. Johnson that elite rusher is back. Robert Nkemdiche is moving inside, where he could be better suited, and ends Fadol Brown, Bryan Bennett and Marquis Haynes could be special players.

Three questions for the fall:

1. How will the offensive line look? Ole Miss has to replace three starters and doesn't have a ton of depth. Outside of left tackle Laremy Tunsil, nothing is really settled up front, and not having Aaron Morris or Christian Morris at full strength this spring didn’t help. Also, the versatile Austin Golson is thinking of transferring. Expect Ole Miss to move a lot of guys around before anything is set.

2. Who will back up Wallace? While Ole Miss has its starting quarterback, the backup is a real unknown. And with Wallace’s injury history, that isn’t a good sign. With Barry Brunetti gone, redshirt freshmen DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan competed with junior college transfer Jeremy Liggins and early enrollee Kendrick Doss, but no one separated himself this spring.

3. Not so special teams? Ole Miss has to replace kicker Andrew Ritter and punter Tyler Campbell with players with very little, if any, experience. Only kicker Andrew Fletcher has any experience (two extra points). He mainly competed with redshirt freshman Andy Pappanastos this spring, but freshman Gary Wunderlich will be involved this fall. Will Gleeson led at punter this spring but has no experience.

One way-too-early prediction:

Some people think the jury is still out on this Ole Miss team, but enough talent returns to make the Rebels a real contender in the West. Even with an early test again Boise State (in Atlanta), Ole Miss will be 4-0 entering a brutal October slate. Still, the Rebels will find a way to win at least nine games for the first time since 2009.

SEC's lunch links

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
12:15
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Three SEC teams begin spring practice on Tuesday, and there's a host of news and nuggets, including a bit of the off-the-field variety, in today's lunch links:
Schedule: The Rebels opened practice Tuesday evening. Friday and Saturday practices will be open to the public throughout the spring, beginning with a morning workout on March 7. Other open practices include March 21, March 28, March 29, April 4 and the Grove Bowl on April 5 at 1 p.m. ET inside Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium.

What's new: Yet again, coach Hugh Freeze was able to keep his staff intact. The expectations, however, are a bit higher in Year 3 of the Freeze era in Oxford.

[+] EnlargeHugh Freeze
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesExpectations are higher in Year 3 for Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss.
On the move: Defensive end Channing Ward will work at tight end for the Rebels this spring. Sophomore running back Kailo Moore is moving from running back to cornerback. Defensive tackle Carlton Martin is moving to offensive guard. Cornerbacks Quintavius Burdette and Quadarias Mireles are moving to slot receiver. Defensive back Chief Brown will work at the hybrid husky spot. D.T. Shackelford, who played both linebacker and defensive end last year, is moving to middle linebacker and Laquon Treadwell is moving from inside receiver to the outside spot.

On the mend: Offensive lineman Aaron Morris, who is coming off of a torn ACL he suffered last season, will be limited this spring. Fellow offensive lineman Christian Morris is out for the spring after undergoing surgery to repair an injured Achilles. Defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton is out for the spring after breaking his foot, while offensive tackle Austin Golson will be limited after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery.

New faces: The Rebels welcomed in six early enrollees this year. Two are true freshman: Safety C.J. Hampton and quarterback Kendrick Doss. Two are also junior college transfers: Athlete Jeremy Liggins and linebacker Christian Russell. Defensive end Marquis Haynes is coming over from prep school and Christian Morris transferred from UCLA.

Question marks: Outside of rising sophomore Laremy Tunsil, who is the unquestioned starter at left tackle, the offensive line has plenty of mystery. Coaches will be looking for bodies and answers this spring after losing three senior starters. Not having Aaron Morris or Christian Morris, who could push for a starting job this fall, at full strength certainly hurts. Redshirt junior Justin Bell started all 13 games last year (seven at right guard, six at left guard), which will add stability inside with Aaron Morris limited. Mr. Reliable at center, Evan Swindall, is gone too, leaving a big hole there. The Rebels are also looking for a backup to quarterback Bo Wallace with Barry Brunetti gone. Redshirt freshmen DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan will challenge Ross. Liggins could also get some work at quarterback. With the graduation of Mike Marry and the arrests/suspensions of Denzel Nkemdiche and Serderius Bryant, the Rebels now have some holes at linebacker this spring.

Key battle: The loss of Swindall, who made 35 career starts with the Rebels, is going to hurt. They will mainly work with Bell, redshirt sophomore Robert Conyers and junior Ben Still, who played in five games last year and served as Swindall's backup, at center. Conyers also played in five games last year and has the ability to line up at both center and tackle.

Breaking out: With top-flight wide receiver Donte Moncrief gone, the Rebels will turn to Treadwell to be the new go-to for Wallace. He'll need some help, and Freeze thinks that rising senior Vince Sanders could be that guy. Overshadowed a bit last year, Sanders caught 21 passes for 325 yards and a touchdown. Injuries limited him to playing in nine games, but he has the ability to be a valuable playmaker this season. He has good size and speed to make plays down the field and over the middle. Remember, he registered more than 500 yards and had four touchdowns in 2012. Also, keep an eye on rising sophomore cornerback Derrick Jones, who played in nine games and made three starts last year. He'll be in a battle for one of the corner spots this spring and could be a big-time player for the Rebels.

Don't forget about: Redshirt junior defensive end C.J. Johnson only played in four games last year before undergoing season-ending ankle surgery. Having him back on the field should give the Rebels a big lift off the edge, especially when it comes to the pass rush. That consistent outside threat was lacking after Johnson went down, resulting in Ole Miss finishing the season tied for 12th in the SEC with just 19 sacks after ranking second with 38 in 2012. That year, Johnson led the Rebels with 6.5 sacks. He's not just extremely important on the field; he's a top leader in the locker room.

All eyes on: Wallace could enter the 2014 season as the SEC's top quarterback. Now, some people might scoff at such a statement, but the league lost a great group of QBs, and Wallace has shown good flashes here and there. He has all the tools to be a top player in this league, but he has to work on his decision making. He has a knack for rushing throws and being careless with the ball. Heading into his final year and spring with the Rebels, it's time for Wallace to take that final step as this team's quarterback. He has to conquer the mental part of his game this spring.


Setting up the spring in the SEC West:

ALABAMA

Spring start: March 15

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • Succeeding McCarron: The Crimson Tide must find the person who will step into AJ McCarron’s shoes. There are several quarterbacks on campus: Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Parker McLeod and Cooper Bateman. The person most have pegged as the favorite, however, won’t be on campus until the summer: Jacob Coker. A transfer from Florida State, Coker is finishing his degree before enrolling at Alabama. But new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will get a chance for a long look at the others this spring.
  • What’s next for Henry?: Running back Derrick Henry has the fans excited after his Allstate Sugar Bowl performance (eight carries, 100 yards), and he brings great size to the position (6-foot-3, 238 pounds). T.J. Yeldon is a returning starter who is more experienced and battle-tested, and there are still other talented backs on the roster, such as Kenyan Drake. But plenty of eyes will be on the sophomore-to-be Henry.
  • Replacing Mosley: Linebacker C.J. Mosley was a decorated star and leader, so his presence will be missed. Alabama has plenty of talent in the pipeline; it’s just not tremendously experienced. Watch for Reuben Foster and Reggie Ragland.
ARKANSAS

Spring start: March 16

Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Keeping it positive: It’s been rough around Fayetteville, Ark. The Razorbacks closed their season with nine losses in a row; coach Bret Bielema is a focal point in the unpopular NCAA proposal designed to slow down hurry-up offenses; and leading running back Alex Collins served a weeklong suspension last month for unspecified reasons. The Hogs could use some positivity.
  • A new DC: The Razorbacks will be working in a new defensive coordinator, Robb Smith. He came over from the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he was the linebackers coach. Smith made a significant impact at his last college stop, Rutgers, where he led the Scarlet Knights' defense to a No. 10 ranking in total defense in 2012.
  • Year 2 progress: Making a drastic change in scheme isn’t easy to do, which is what the Razorbacks tried to accomplish in Bielema's debut season. In the second spring in Fayetteville for Bielema, things should come a little more easily as the Razorbacks continue to institute Bielema's brand of power football.
AUBURN

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • Picking up where they left off: The Tigers put together a memorable, magical 2013, and with eight starters returning on offense, keeping that momentum going is key. Replacing running back Tre Mason and O-lineman Greg Robinson won't be easy, but there is still plenty of talent on offense to aid quarterback Nick Marshall.
  • Marshall's progress: Marshall’s ascent last year was impressive, but can he continue it? He’s great with his feet and made some big-time throws last year. As he continues to progress as a passer, it should add another facet to the Tigers’ explosive, up-tempo, multifaceted attack.
  • Improving the defense: The Tigers lost five starters from a group that was suspect at times last season. But defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has a history of improving defenses from Year 1 to Year 2, and it should be interesting to see if he can do that at Auburn.
LSU

Spring start: March 7

Spring game: April 5

What to watch:
MISSISSIPPI STATE

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • All eyes on Prescott: With some strong performances to close out the season in the Egg Bowl and in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, quarterback Dak Prescott certainly played the part of an elite SEC quarterback. He'll enter the season with more national attention after putting together some gutsy performances while pushing through some personal adversity last season after the death of his mother.
  • Malone stepping in: Justin Malone was on pace to start at right guard last season, but was lost for the year with a Lisfranc injury in his foot in the season opener against Oklahoma State. With Gabe Jackson gone, the Bulldogs need another solid interior lineman to step up, and a healthy 6-foot-7, 320-pound Malone could be that guy.
  • Offensive staff shuffle: The Bulldogs added some new blood on the offensive coaching staff, bringing in young quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, a former Utah quarterback. Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy were promoted to co-offensive coordinators, though head coach Dan Mullen will continue as the playcaller in games.
OLE MISS

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 5

What to watch:
  • Wallace’s development: Coach Hugh Freeze believes quarterback Bo Wallace will be helped by having more practice this time around; last year, January shoulder surgery had Wallace rehabilitating most of the offseason, and Freeze believes it affected Wallace's arm strength later in the season. A fresh Wallace going into the spring can only help, and as he’s heading into his senior season, the coaching staff will look for more consistency.
  • Status of Nkemdiche and Bryant: Linebackers Denzel Nkemdiche and Serderius Bryant were arrested last month and suspended. Ole Miss is investigating the situation, but their status remains undecided.
  • A healthy Aaron Morris: During the season opener against Vanderbilt, Morris tore his ACL and missed the rest of the season. The offensive guard was recently granted a medical hardship waiver to restore that season of eligibility. Getting Morris back healthy for 2014 is important for the Rebels as he is a key piece to their offensive line.
TEXAS A&M

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: None (final practice is April 5)

What to watch:
  • Life after Johnny Manziel: Texas A&M says goodbye to one of the best quarterbacks in college football history and must find his successor. Spring (and fall) practice will be the stage for a three-way battle between senior Matt Joeckel, sophomore Kenny Hill and freshman Kyle Allen. Only one of those three has started a college game (Joeckel), and he played in just one half last August. Whoever wins the competition will be green, but all three have the ability to run the Aggies’ offense.
  • Retooling the defense: The Aggies were pretty awful on defense last season, ranking among the bottom 25 nationally in most defensive statistical categories. They have to get much better on that side of the football if they want to be a real factor in the SEC West race, and that starts in the spring by developing the young front seven and trying to find some answers in the secondary, particularly at the safety positions.
  • New left tackle: This spring, the Aggies will have their third different left tackle in as many seasons. Luke Joeckel rode a stellar 2012 season to the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft. Senior Jake Matthews made himself a projected top-10 pick for this year's draft while protecting Manziel last season. This season, Cedric Ogbuehi gets his turn. Ogbuehi has excelled throughout his Texas A&M career on the right side of the offensive line (first at right guard, then at right tackle last season) and is looking to follow in the footsteps of Joeckel and Matthews.

SEC's lunch links

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
12:00
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Some post-NFL combine takes, some more player safety talk, Florida-Florida State renewed and much more in today's lunch links:

Video: Ole Miss offseason spotlight

February, 14, 2014
Feb 14
3:00
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SEC reporter Chris Low discusses players to watch this offseason and spring at Ole Miss.

Midseason report: Ole Miss

October, 15, 2013
10/15/13
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Ole Miss had quite the Jekyll and Hyde start to the 2013 season.

After shocking many and reaching a bowl in their first year under Hugh Freeze in 2012, the Rebels burst out of the gate this season with a potent offensive attack. During the first three games of the season (all wins) Ole Miss averaged 38 points and 490 yards per game. The read option was working wonders for quarterback Bo Wallace and the offense, as the Rebels averaged 250 rushing yards per game and almost 6 yards per carry.

With freshmen filling the stat book, things were really kicking for the Rebel, and they even knocked off Texas in Austin 44-23 to creep into the top 25.

But that was then, and this is now. The Rebels have dropped three straight (all SEC games) and are struggling to get their offense running like it was through the first three weeks of the season. Alabama blanked Ole Miss 25-0, Auburn held the Rebels off 30-22 and Texas A&M broke Ole Miss' heart for the second year in a row with a 41-38 win in the Grove.

In the last three games, Ole Miss' running game just hasn't been as productive, averaging just 101 yards per game without any touchdowns. Wallace has taken more onto his plate in the last three games, attempting more than 30 passes in each game during that span. He's thrown five touchdowns to three interceptions and now has an adjusted Total QBR of 57.7.

The defense held its own through the first five games of the season, but allowed Manziel and that high-flying Texas A&M offense to register nearly 600 yards of offense.

There's no question that Ole Miss' schedule is brutal this fall, and injuries to key players, especially offensive lineman Aaron Morris, have made 2013 frustrating in Oxford. But after a string of three-straight road games, the second half of the season features five straight home games.

Offensive MVP: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Fr.: Ole Miss' stellar recruiting class has made an immediate impact, but none of them have been as good as Treadwell. He leads the Rebels with 32 receptions and is second on the team with 327 receiving yards. He grabbed his first two touchdowns of the year against A&M and debuted with nine catches against Vanderbilt.

Defensive MVP: Serderius Bryant, LB, Jr.: He wasn't even supposed to start for the Rebels, but after replacing Denzel Nkemdiche, who suffered a knee injury in the opener, Bryant has been one of Ole Miss' best players. He leads the team and ranks third in the SEC with 55 total tackles. He leads the SEC with 37 solo tackles. He leads the Rebels with six tackles for loss and has a sack. He suffered a concussion against A&M, but is day-to-day.

Victory at Texas shows Rebels' growth

September, 17, 2013
9/17/13
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Hours after running Bevo out of the Lone Star State, the Ole Miss football team received an early-morning surprise.

As the team bus pulled up to the football complex around 4 a.m., the Rebels were welcomed home from their 44-23 win over Texas by a few fans reveling in their arrival. For players who have seen some truly dark days in Ole Miss' program, Sunday's reception was an odd, yet comforting sight.

"It was pretty cool. It felt good," senior running back Jeff Scott said.

"They showed how dedicated they are to this program."

Jeff Scott
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyOle Miss has come a long way since Jeff Scott arrived on campus.
During Scott's four years with the program, that dedication has been on and off. Ole Miss won a combined six games in his first two years, with just one of those games an SEC victory. The Rebels lost 16 SEC games in a row from 2010-2012.

Scott watched Houston Nutt get fired and was there when the school brought Hugh Freeze back. The former Ole Miss assistant arrived with more questions than excitement. But after a return to the postseason, seven victories and a monster recruiting class in his first season, Freeze brought some hope.

That hope turned into inflated expectations entering the 2013 season, but after a 3-0 start and a Texas-sized victory heading into a bye week, the Rebels have gone from forgotten to formidable.

"It's huge," quarterback Bo Wallace said of the win at Texas. "You have to look at how far we've come. Last year at this time, we were really soul-searching this weekend after the Texas game, trying to find ourselves.

"Anytime you can win a game that people say you aren't supposed to win, you can turn some heads. That's what we have to do: Turn some heads and get people excited about our program and keep climbing in the polls and keep winning games."

Considering the depth issues the Rebels had last year, a victory like this didn't seem possible. On Saturday, Ole Miss was down key players such Aaron Morris, Denzel Nkemdiche and Vince Sanders, yet blew out the Longhorns on the road. Thanks to a stacked freshman class, the Rebels' depth has promise.

"The sky is the limit for this team when we have all hands on deck," Scott said. "It's crazy what this team can do because the potential is there."

Last year, the Rebels were hurting after a 66-31 thumping served up by the Longhorns inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The same place they were greeted by a devoted group of fans early Sunday morning was the same place Texas nearly laid them to rest a year earlier.

It's a different time at Ole Miss. The Rebels are ranked No. 21 in The Associated Press poll. They own the SEC's No. 4 offense (490 yards per game) and defense (332.7). Next weekend, this team will travel to Tuscaloosa to play No. 1 Alabama in a game that will bring major attention and could have major SEC West implications.

All these positive vibes have the Rebels beaming, but they also understand that they have to move on from Saturday's win. As Freeze says, they have to "throw it in the trash" and prepare for what's next. This team is far from perfect and feeling too good about this victory could cause the Rebels to lose sight of a season that is still very long.

"We definitely have some confidence, but at the same time we can't let ourselves be too overconfident," Wallace said. "But we have a mature team, and I don't think we'll have any problems with that."

For Freeze, Saturday's victory was special because of where he saw the program upon his arrival. Academic and discipline issues rocked a team full of potential. Now, the distractions have dissipated, the discipline has increased and players are producing.

"It' definitely a big step in the right direction," Freeze said. "If you were to tell me on my first day on the job that we would have gone to a place like Texas and pull off a win at their place, it probably would have been difficult for me to believe at that point. So I do think that it is a sign that we're moving in the right direction."

What to watch in the SEC: Week 2

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
9:00
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The second week of the college football season is upon us.

Some exceeded expectations in Week 1, others fell short. In the SEC, a few coaches made debuts at new programs, a few key players suffered injuries that will affect their teams and there is buzz, both good and bad, surrounding some of the league’s most visible stars.

Here are 10 things to keep an eye on in the SEC in Week 2:

[+] EnlargeClowney
Gerry Melendez/Getty ImagesAfter his lackluster showing in the season opener, all eyes will be on Jadeveon Clowney when South Carolina faces Georgia.
1. What will Clowney do? South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has endured much criticism after a pedestrian performance in the Gamecocks' season-opening win against North Carolina. After a three-tackle, no-sack performance, some observers questioned Clowney's conditioning and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Clowney was definitely affected by the heat. This week, the No. 6 Gamecocks meet No. 11 Georgia and you can bet people will watch Clowney even more closely as the stakes are raised as each team opens SEC play.

2. What's next for Manziel? Johnny Manziel's return to the field for Texas A&M yielded terrific on-field results (6-of-8 passing, 94 yards, three touchdown passes) as well as a firestorm of media criticism as a result of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty he committed and a few celebrations. Whether he likes it or not, all eyes are on him and as Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said, "people want to make a story out of anything that happens on this team right now." Will there be more non-football conversation circulating Manziel after the Aggies play Sam Houston State on Saturday?

3. Jones returns for UF: Sophomore running back Matt Jones returns to the Florida lineup this weekend as the Gators travel to Miami. The 6-foot-2, 226-pound Jones missed three weeks of practice while recovering from a viral infection and offensive coordinator Brent Pease said Jones will see plenty of touches in his return, perhaps as many as 25 carries.

4. Familiar foe for Malzahn: Auburn and new coach Gus Malzahn are hosting a team that he's quite familiar with -- Arkansas State. Malzahn spent last year as the Red Wolves' head coach, leading them to a 9-3 record and a conference championship before departing for Auburn prior to the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Arkansas State's new coach is former Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, who led the Red Wolves to a 62-11 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff in his debut. Meanwhile, Malzahn's new team escaped with a 31-24 win over Washington State behind new starting quarterback Nick Marshall.

5. Prescott likely to start for Mississippi State: Starting quarterback Tyler Russell sustained a concussion in the Bulldogs' loss Saturday to Oklahoma State and is doubtful to play this weekend against Alcorn State. That means coach Dan Mullen will likely turn to backup Dak Prescott, a 6-2, 230-pound sophomore, to fill in. The dual-threat quarterback brings an ability to run the football to the Bulldogs' offense, recording 131 yards on 32 carries in spot duty last season. Mullen said he's confident in Prescott.

6. Adjustments to be made for Georgia: A season-opening 38-35 loss to talented ACC foe Clemson yielded an injured receiver (Malcolm Mitchell is out for the season after an ACL injury suffered while celebrating a Todd Gurley touchdown) and displayed a struggling offensive line. Quarterback Aaron Murray rarely had time to throw against Clemson and the Bulldogs are facing a talented South Carolina defensive front. But the Clemson loss can be easily forgotten if the Bulldogs open SEC play with a win over a top-10 team and fellow SEC East squad.

7. Can Stoops and Kentucky bounce back? There was a lot of buzz surrounding the debut of new Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops but it was killed by a season-opening loss to Western Kentucky. The Wildcats host Miami (Ohio) and are double-digit favorites. It's imperative to erase the taste of last week's loss with a win this week for UK.

8. Intriguing matchup in Knoxville: Tennessee cruised to a win over FCS foe Austin Peay in the opening week but now get a little bit of a tougher test in Bobby Petrino's Western Kentucky squad, which is fresh off its upset of Kentucky. The Volunteers are favored and rightfully so, and they're a higher caliber opponent than Kentucky. It would be a tough task for the Hilltoppers to pull off in Neyland Stadium, but it's worth at least keeping an eye on as Petrino tries to start 2-0 against SEC foes while Tennessee's Butch Jones looks to keep positive momentum going.

9. Ole Miss looking for others to emerge: The Rebels lost guard Aaron Morris to a season-ending knee injury and linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche for 4-6 weeks because of a meniscus tear. Though they have an FCS foe in Southeast Missouri State, the Rebels will need others to step up in their absences.

10. Mettenberger looking to build on Week 1: In his first game under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger did enough to guide the Tigers to a 37-27 win over TCU. This week against UAB, he told reporters he has to be a little more accurate than his 16-for-32 showing, which was otherwise solid, yielding 251 yards and a touchdown pass.
Ole Miss received some bad news coming out of its thrilling 39-35 win over Vanderbilt in Thursday's season opener.

Junior offensive guard Aaron Morris is out for the season after tearing his ACL, and sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche will miss four to six weeks after tearing meniscus. Nkemdiche is scheduled to undergo surgery Saturday.

The Rebels were already banged up entering the opener, and one of the keys last season to their getting to seven wins was staying healthy.

Junior Keith Lewis will step in at linebacker for Nkemdiche, who led Ole Miss in total tackles, tackles for loss and forced fumbles last season. The Rebels will also get back junior linebacker Serderius Bryant next week against Southeast Missouri.

Morris, who started at left guard against Vanderbilt, was the Rebels' most experienced offensive lineman, but he reported to preseason camp overweight after missing the spring with a shoulder injury. Morris still has a redshirt year available.

With Morris out, that means you could see even more of talented true freshmen Laremy Tunsil and Austin Golson, depending on the way the Rebels shuffle things. Both played a lot Thursday night, as Ole Miss offensive line coach Matt Luke was rotating guys as much as possible up front. It was extremely hot, and the Rebels operate at a blistering pace offensively.

Luke said he was going to play his best five offensive linemen, and it's hard to imagine that both Tunsil and Golson won't be in that five at some point this season. They both looked impressive in the opener. The Rebels, after giving up four sacks in the first half, didn't give up any in the second half. They had 185 of their 206 rushing yards after halftime and also did a better job of staying out of third-and-long. For a big chunk of that second half, Tunsil and Golson were both on the field, too.

Ole Miss season preview

August, 8, 2013
8/08/13
2:00
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Today, we're looking at Ole Miss, which enters the 2013 season under the heavy weight of expectations.

Ole Miss

Coach: Hugh Freeze (37-13 overall, 7-6 at Ole Miss)

2012 record: 7-6

Key losses: OG A.J. Hawkins, RB/WR Randall Mackey, DT Gilbert Pena, K Bryson Rose

[+] EnlargeHugh Freeze
AP Photo/Bill HaberHugh Freeze and the Rebels had the No. 5 ranked recruiting class in 2013. How big of an impact will those freshmen make this season?
Key returnees: LB C.J. Johnson, LB Mike Marry, WR Donte Moncrief, OG Aaron Morris, LB Denzel Nkemdiche, CB Charles Sawyer, RB Jeff Scott, QB Bo Wallace

Newcomer to watch: WR Laquon Treadwell

Biggest games in 2013: at Vanderbilt (Aug. 29), at Alabama (Sept. 28), vs. Texas A&M (Oct. 12), at Mississippi State (Nov. 28)

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The enthusiasm is sky high around Oxford, Miss., these days as Hugh Freeze has injected life into a program that had spent much of the past decade floundering in the SEC. Thanks to a surprisingly competitive 2012 season and a recruiting haul that turned heads around the country, the Rebels are back on the map. But with recognition comes expectations. And despite Freeze's best attempts at trading short-term hopes for long-term goals, his team has to sustain the momentum the program has built and remain competitive despite an obvious lack of depth and a difficult schedule. The young talent he's assembled on campus -- big names like Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil -- won't have long to adjust to the limelight and learn how to play at the next level. How Ole Miss does this season might depend on it.

Forecast: For all the attention Ole Miss has gotten nationally of late, the fact remains that the Rebels finished the 2012 season a .500 team trying to get into a bowl game. Playing competitive football against the likes of Alabama and LSU is one thing. Winning those games is another thing altogether. With many of its key pieces returning from a season ago, Ole Miss has the talent to challenge the league's best, but conquering a stacked SEC West seems improbable the way the schedule is laid out with early challenges against Vanderbilt, Texas, Alabama and Texas A&M all coming in the first six weeks.

Until the SEC changes its rules, Ole Miss is going to push the tempo on offense. And with quarterback Bo Wallace back under center and potential All-SEC running back Jeff Scott and wide receiver Donte Moncrief around him, the Rebels have the right parts to orchestrate their supercharged attack. How Wallace matures and how his repaired shoulder heals will determine how far the offense goes. He told reporters at SEC media days that he's pain free, but the coaching staff has been cautious in practice, limiting the number of throws he makes each day. Getting healthy is his first step. Making better decisions and cutting down on his 17 interceptions from a year ago is the next.

If Ole Miss wants to take the next step, it must come on defense, where the Rebels finished 11th in the SEC stopping the pass. Denzel Nkemdiche is blossoming into a star at linebacker, Antonio Conner has a high ceiling at safety and defensive end Channing Ward has shown flashes of brilliance. C.J. Johnson and Mike Marry aren’t household names yet, but they soon could be. The key, however, is the improvement of the secondary. Losing Nickolas Brassell hurts, but the good news is there’s almost no turnover as its top three interception leaders return.

Lunchtime links

April, 15, 2013
4/15/13
12:00
PM ET
Some SEC links to get your week going.
Who’s the next wave of standout offensive linemen in the SEC or maybe those guys who haven’t received their just due?

Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio, Tennessee’s Antonio Richardson, Mississippi State’s Gabe Jackson, Arkansas’ Travis Swanson, Georgia’s Chris Burnette and Vanderbilt’s Wesley Johnson are known quantities.

But what about the guys who aren’t quite household names yet … but are moving in that direction?

You might not find any of the offensive linemen below on last season’s All-SEC teams, but they’re guys to watch in 2013 and could easily develop into All-SEC players down the road.

They’re listed alphabetically:

Evan Boehm, C, Missouri: He became the first true freshman offensive lineman under Gary Pinkel at Missouri to start in his first college game last season. Boehm wound up starting all 12 games at left guard and earned Freshman All-America honors. He’s moved to center this spring, which tells you a little something about his versatility and how much the Missouri coaches trust him.

A.J. Cann, OG, South Carolina: The fourth-year junior has started 25 games over the past two seasons at left guard, the most among any returning player on the Gamecocks’ roster. Cann has caught the eye this spring of star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who knows a quality offensive lineman when he sees one.

La’el Collins, OT, LSU: The 6-foot-5 Collins has trimmed down from 325 pounds to 310 and is moving well at left tackle this spring. He was a starter all 13 games at left guard last season. But now in his third year in the program, Collins looks like he could be a natural at protecting Zach Mettenberger’s blind side.

D.J. Humphries, OT, Florida: Humphries came to Florida in 2012 as the top offensive line prospect in the country. He started three games as a true freshman last season and has settled in this spring as the Gators’ starter at left tackle. He’s bigger, stronger and primed to be an excellent all-around tackle in this league.

Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee: Even though James is entering his senior season, he’s managed to fly under the radar a bit. The Vols’ offensive line should be one of the best in the SEC in 2013, and the 6-6, 323-pound James is a big reason why. He’s started all 37 games of his college career and will team with Richardson to give Tennessee one of the top tackle tandems in college football.

Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama: Already, Kelly has received ringing endorsements from the guy he’s replacing, former Tide All-American Barrett Jones, as well as Kouandjio, who’s one of the top tackles in college football. Kelly, a sophomore, has everything it takes to be one of the top centers in the league.

Mike Matthews, C, Texas A&M: Yep, another Matthews. His older brother, Jake, will move from right to left tackle, and Mike will step in at center. He didn’t redshirt last season because the Aggies wanted him to be ready for 2013. He’s done nothing to disappoint this spring.

Aaron Morris, OG, Ole Miss: He’s out this spring after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, but the 6-5, 330-pound Morris will be the centerpiece of the Rebels’ offensive line in 2013. He started all 13 games at left guard last season and is the most talented and explosive offensive lineman on the roster. He moves well enough to pull and also has the strength and size to deal with the bigger defensive tackles in this league.

Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M: Part of that vaunted Texas A&M offensive line a year ago as a third-year sophomore, Ogbuehi started the whole season at right guard. But with Jake Matthews moving to left tackle, Ogbuehi has shifted to right tackle. He played tackle in high school, so the transition shouldn’t be that daunting. He’s plenty athletic enough and an excellent run-blocker.

John Theus, OT, Georgia: Theus became just the third true freshman to start at offensive tackle in the season opener for Georgia since true freshmen became eligible in 1973. He wasn’t even an early enrollee, either. He started all 13 games at right tackle last season and earned Freshman All-America honors. He’s been out this spring after undergoing foot surgery, but is expected back this week.

Opening spring camp: Ole Miss

March, 15, 2013
3/15/13
4:00
PM ET
Schedule: The Rebels open spring practice at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday, and will conclude the spring at 2 p.m. ET April 13 with the BancorpSouth Grove Bowl at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Practices are open to the public this spring.

What's new: After losing cornerbacks coach Wesley McGriff to the New Orleans Saints last month, the Rebels replaced him with former Oklahoma State assistant Jason Jones. Jones will coach Ole Miss' cornerbacks, and holds the title of co-defensive coordinator.

On the mend: Starting quarterback Bo Wallace will miss all of spring practice as he recovers from offseason clavicle surgery. Junior wide receiver Collins Moore will only take part in non-contact drills this spring, as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. Junior left guard Aaron Morris is expected to miss spring drills after having shoulder surgery.

On the move: With Wallace out for the spring, senior Barry Brunetti will take the majority of the first-team snaps at quarterback, but there's a chance he could play multiple positions this fall when Wallace returns. Junior college transfer Quadarias Mireles arrived at Ole Miss this spring as an athlete and will start the spring at cornerback. Moore could play safety once his shoulder heals. Sophomore wide receiver Cody Core could also plays some safety this spring, and redshirt freshman Temario Strong is moving from defensive tackle to linebacker.

New faces: The Rebels welcomed Mireles and defensive tackle Lavon Hooks from juco this spring. Freshman running back Mark Dodson and freshman tight end Christian Morgan also enrolled early. Nick Brassell is also back with the team after going the juco route in 2012 due to academic issues. He was a two-way player for the Rebels at both receiver and cornerback as a freshman in 2011, but will start the spring at corner.

Question marks: The Rebels return four starters along the offensive line, but will be without their best lineman from a year ago in right guard A.J. Hawkins. Ole Miss has some solid options to work with this spring, but replacing a guy like Hawkins won't be easy. The Rebels have to replace their top three tight ends from last season, including full-time starter Ferbia Allen. Senior Justin Bigham, who mostly played on special teams last season, is the lone letterman returning to the position. Morgan and redshirt freshman John Youngblood will also compete there this spring. Starting kicker Bryson Rose is gone, leaving redshirt senior Andrew Ritter and freshman Andy Pappanastos to compete for that spot.

Key battle: The departure of Hawkins leaves the Rebels with a major hole on the offensive line. He had the best season of any of Ole Miss' offensive linemen last season, and replacing him will be very tough. Versatile senior Patrick Junen will take the first snaps at right guard this spring, but he will really be challenged by athletic sophomore Justin Bell. The coaches expect a few others to compete for Hawkins' old spot as well.

Breaking out: Sophomore defensive end Channing Ward arrived at Ole Miss last year with a lot of hype surrounding him. He played in 12 games, registering 21 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss, but much more is expected from him in Year 2. Ward has all the tools to be a major player up front for the Rebels. Senior wide receiver Philander Moore could be poised to have a big spring as well. He only played in eight games last season, catching four passes for 38 yards and touchdown, but he's been around the program long enough that the coaches are looking for him to take the next step. The coaches are also excited to see what redshirt junior defensive end Carlos Thompson and senior wide receiver Korvic Neat can do this spring.

Don't forget about: Senior linebacker D.T. Shackelford is finally back on the playing field after two straight years with knee injuries. Even during his absence from the playing field, he's still been one of the team's top leaders. That role should only expand with him coming back. He's an extremely versatile players, who has played well at both linebacker and defensive end during his career. He registered five sacks back in 2010 and was a part of the SEC All-Freshman team in 2009. He should be 100 percent this spring, and having him on the field this fall will instantly make this defense better.

All eyes on: Brunetti has had a very interesting career with the Rebels, but he's getting yet another chance to prove that he can be the quarterback when his number is called. Coach Hugh Freeze liked to switch Brunetti and Wallace in and out at times last seaosn, but Brunetti was used as more of a runner. This is a great chance for him to develop more as a passer and become an even bigger weapon for the Rebels this fall.

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