SEC: Justin Bell
“Tar Heel head coach Larry Fedora met with Durkin on Sunday, sources confirmed, and the UNC administration has granted Fedora the ability to offer a competitive financial package."
Durkin was named the Gators' interim coach for Florida's bowl game, but his return as defensive coordinator isn't a sure thing. Surely, McElwain won't wait until after the bowl game to figure out his staff, right?
2. It truly was heartbreaking to hear about the tragic death of Auburn freshman Jakell Mitchell, who was shot and killed early Sunday morning. On Monday, hundreds gathered to mourn and remember Mitchell at a candlelight vigil in Opelika, Alabama. Funeral arrangements have also been made for Mitchell:
- The funeral will be held at noon on Saturday at Greater Peace Baptist Church at 650 Jeter Avenue in Opelika.
- The visitation will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday night.
Former teammates also remembered Mitchell.
3. The Ole Miss Rebels have a lot going on around them, as they prepare to face No. 6 TCU in the Peach Bowl. For starters, the Rebels just lost linebackers coach Tom Allen to South Florida, where he will go to be the Bulls' new defensive coordinator.
Think Tom Allen will be a great fit for #USF. Knows the Tampa area well and he's a high character guy which recruits will like.— Derek Tyson (@DerekTysonESPN) December 15, 2014
Also, offensive guard Aaron Morris will miss the bowl game -- and then some -- with a torn ACL. That's a big blow to the Rebels' offense, and it will force Justin Bell to move to left guard, with freshman Rod Taylor now starting at right guard. Oh, and quarterback Bo Wallace is playing in his final game with the Rebels, while nursing an ankle injury. With a win over the Horned Frogs, Wallace would become the first Ole Miss quarterback to start and win three bowl games.
Apparently, Ole Miss' senior quarterback knew not to be so optimistic. Of course it wasn't good that his starting left guard, Aaron Morris, was done for the season with a torn ACL.
But the reality was that Wallace learned of the injury two weeks ago. He also knew that despite Morris' absence, there was a good backup plan in place: Justin Bell would slide over to left guard and freshman Rod Taylor would come off the bench to fill the void.
So Wallace didn't have any trouble seeing the silver lining as he spoke to ESPN after practice on Monday afternoon. He estimated that Taylor, a former blue-chip prospect, has played roughly 35-40 percent of the snaps this season anyways.
"I mean it's never good when someone gets hurt," Wallace said, correcting his earlier statement. "But as far as us building depth on the o-line for guys next year, it can come out to be a positive because we know Aaron is going to come back and be the same type of player he is."
Bringing it back to Ole Miss' impending showdown with TCU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Wallace said, "[Taylor] was in the rotation, so he knows what it's like. He's been in there before, so we trust him. He'll be ready to go."
He better be, because TCU's defensive line can get after it.
The No. 6-ranked Horned Frogs are tied for 20th nationally in sacks (35) and rank third in interceptions (23). Their five defensive touchdowns are the most of any Power 5 program not named Washington, Kentucky or Georgia Tech.
Much like his quarterback, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze was hopeful about Taylor's ability to slide into the starting lineup without issue.
"He improves every week," Freeze told reporters in Oxford, Mississippi. "He loves to practice. He loves to play. Really pleased with his progress.
"He's going to be a good one."
When Morris does undergo surgery on his injured knee, it will be the second time doctors have repaired the ligament. He first tore it back in Ole Miss' 2013 season-opener against Vanderbilt.
Freeze was optimistic Morris would return for the 2015 season, but allowed that "these things tend to be iffy."
"It's hard to say," he said. "I sure hope so for his sake and for our team."
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.
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.
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.
Immaturity really is a must for this special time of year.
But a few members of Ole Miss' football team decided to use their time during the break for more humanitarian endeavors. Instead of hitting the white, sandy beaches of Panama City, Fla., six Ole Miss players, a team manager and the team chaplain are in the capital city of the Republic of Panama, where they will visit an orphanage, feed the homeless, speak to school-age children and run a free football clinic, along with other activities.
“It says a lot about not only their character, but the environment that Coach [Hugh] Freeze and his staff have brought to this university,” team chaplain John Powell said in a release through the school. “They understand the importance of giving back to those who are in need, and this opportunity gives them a chance to do that in a real way.”
The six Ole Miss players -- senior linebacker D.T. Shackelford, sophomore offensive lineman Justin Bell, junior defensive backs Ontario Berry and Josh Richardson, freshman defensive end Kameron Wood, and freshman tight end John Youngblood -- are being accompanied by 10-15 other college and professional athletes while in Panama.
The players arrived on Monday and will leave Friday. Ole Miss' spring practice begins Sunday.
Since NCAA rules prohibited players from raising money for the trip, Powell raised support for the group through donations and received more than $1,600 above what was needed for travel and living expenses in Panama.
The idea to head to Panama came from former Ole Miss quarterback Michael Spurlock, who went on a short-term mission trip to Panama last year with some of his Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammates and team chaplain Doug Gilcrease. With Spurlok unable to make a return trip this year, he reached out to Ole Miss to see if any players would be interested in going in his place.
It isn't exactly partying on the beach, but there's no doubt that these players will also return from their time away from Oxford with some interesting stories to tell.
“My hope is that we all come back realizing how blessed we are here and that will carry over into how we look at our teammates, how we serve our community, how we approach our education and being grateful for all those things,” Powell said.