WHEN: September 28th, 2013 TBD
WHERE: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
LAST SEASON: 7-6 (3-5 SEC West, 5th place in the West Division; defeated Pittsburgh 38-17 in the BBVA Compass Bowl)
CURRENT PRESEASON RANKING: consensus- unranked
SERIES HISTORY: Alabama leads the all-time series 50-8-2. Alabama has currently won 9 straight dating back to the 2004 season. The Crimson Tide won 33-14 last season. The last Ole Miss victory came in a 43-28 victory in 2003.
OFFENSE: Bo Wallace was a surprise coming out of Oxford, Mississippi last fall. After starting every game for the Rebels last fall and racking up the second-most total yards (3,384), third-most passing yards (2,994) and fourth-most touchdown passes (22) in a single season in school history, it is safe to say that as Bo Wallace moves so will the Rebel offense. Helping him on the offensive side of the ball will be Jeff Scott and Donte Moncrief, the leaders in rushing and receiving for the Rebels.
The key for the Rebels will be how their offensive line holds up replacing AJ Hawkins. With four of five offensive linemen returning, it could be very easy for people to see a major improvement in year two under Head Coach Hugh Freeze. Last season against Alabama, Ole Miss managed only 218 yards of total offense, including only 80 on the ground. If they expect to lead Alabama longer than the 15 seconds they did last year, they are going to have to rely on a strong ground game from Jeff Scott and the offensive line as well as a better passing performance out of Bo Wallace.
Conclusion: For Ole Miss to make this a game this year, they are going to have to hold on to the ball better and force the issue against the Alabama defense. Last year, they turned the ball over three times against the Crimson Tide, and could do nothing but watch as Alabama’s offense ground out a 19-point win. If Ole Miss wants to do better this year they are going to have to put pressure on the Alabama defense and hope that with their top three starters on offense back that they can spread the Crimson Tide out.
DEFENSE: The biggest reason Ole Miss was able to go from 2-10 to 7-6 last season belongs to the defense. In just one season under Coach Freeze, the Rebels allowed almost 100 fewer yards on the ground than they did in 2011.
A huge help with that was in the pass rush department, where they were able to record 25 more sacks last year than they did in 2011. While size is still a concern among their defensive tackles and linebackers, Ole Miss has formed a lightning-quick group of guys who can get into the backfield from any spot on the field.
Leading tackler Denzel Nkemdiche is back along with younger brother and the nation’s overall No. 1 recruit in defensive end Robert Nkemdiche in what Ole Miss hopes will bolster their front seven and take pressure off of their safeties.
Conclusion: Ole Miss has taken huge strides talent wise defensively, but they still don’t have the size to match up for four quarters with the big boys of the SEC West. Ole Miss will rely on their speed to cause havoc for the Alabama offense, but if the offensive line can assert themselves early and start to wear down the Rebels it could make for a long game defensively.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Ole Miss will have to replace their leading punter, field goal kicker, and placekicker to begin the season. Gone are Bryson Rose, who made 64 percent of his FG’s last season as well as having 24 touchbacks on kickoffs. Also gone is Punter Jim Broadway, who averaged 41 yards a punt. On the returning side of things, specialists Jaylen Walton and Jeff Scott will return in what Ole Miss hopes will provide a bit of a spark in an area that lacked last season. On kickoff returns last season, Ole Miss averaged only 20 yards a return but gave up 24.5, and they will need big plays to keep them alive especially if their offense bogs down like last year.
COACHING: Hugh Freeze seemingly burst onto the scene last season at Ole Miss, taking them from a 2-10 season in 2011 to 7-6 in his first year in Oxford. It should come as no surprise that he was able to do such an outstanding coaching job in Oxford after leading Arkansas State to a 10-2 season in his lone season as the Head Coach of the Red Wolves the year before. Ole Miss has turned themselves around so quickly thanks in large part to the attitude and effort that Hugh Freeze has instilled in his team. While not the biggest or the strongest team on the field, they go into every Saturday believing they can hang with anyone. Hugh Freeze is a personal favorite of mine because you can tell he enjoys what he does and he believes in what he’s doing. And yes, he will respond to you on twitter if you call him out for lying about “BCS” national championships from the 1960’s he claims to have pictures of.
There aren’t many people, if any, in the country who are going to outcoach Nick Saban and his staff week in and week out, but with a bye week before heading to Tuscaloosa, Hugh Freeze will have as good of a shot as anybody at knocking off the defending national champions just by having the schedule fall the way it does.