Ole Miss became bowl eligible and won the Compass Bowl over Pittsburgh 38-17. At 7-6 it seems like a mediocre season but for a team under a first year head coach, going 7-6 in the SEC is easily like 8 or 9 wins in another conference.
Hugh Freeze came in and installed a new high tempo style offense and it was successful for the Rebels. Mississippi had a nationally ranked top 10 recruiting class overall for the first time in over 30 years so success for Freeze and the school shouldn’t be brief.
The offense is getting plenty of people back from 2012 and it starts with the quarterback Bo Wallace. Wallace was a juco transfer who threw for 22 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 yards. Many were a little unsure how the team would respond to such a radically new system but obviously all went well. Quarterback play in the SEC is important with the likes of Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray and A.J. McCarron in the conference, but it looks like the next tier of quarterbacks is led by the likes of Wallace who has added 10-15 pounds of muscle to his 6’4” frame. Wallace has the tools you are looking for players at the next level to have all he needs to do is improve his decision making, get rid of the ball a little faster and cut down on the turnovers. Wallace did have 17 interceptions last season and the team has already stated 10 is the bar they have set for him to be under this season. Jeff Scott is a small scatback type that can be very elusive and Mississippi has said they plan to use him more as a receiver for 2013. Wallace is not a pure runner but he can pick up yards when needed and is very elusive in the pocket. With some additional work and another year in the SEC under his belt Wallace can be a pro prospect for 2015.
Best Draft Prospect: Bo Wallace QB 7th Round 2015.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
Four of the top five leaders in receptions from last years team are back including projected 2015 2nd Round draft pick Donte Moncrief. Moncrief should be one of the top receivers in the SEC this season and he is coming off of a 66 reception season where he had 979 yards and 10 touchdowns. Ja-Mes Logan and Vince Sanders are back and they combined for 82 catches for 994 yards 5 touchdowns. Ole Miss has been getting prime recruits and they landed the top wide receiver in the country in Laquon Treadwell and it looks like he will see a considerable amount of time as a true freshman. Moncrief may have seen the majority of the receptions but there were five other players who caught at least 20 passes so Wallace has shown the ability to spread the ball around. Korvic Neat will also see time on the field and will serve as the teams primary punt returner. Neat is only 5’7” but he runs under 4.4 and when he gets into the open field he is as fast as any player in the SEC. This is a dangerous unit because they are deep and when teams double Moncrief there are plenty of other options for Wallace to get the ball to and make plays.
Best Draft Prospect: Donte Moncrief WR 2nd Round 2015.
Mississippi is has been known in the past for having some very good lineman go on to the next level and this year is no exception as the unit is solid with a few prospects we could see playing in the NFL some day. Right now the best prospect the Rebels have to offer is guard Aaron Morris who is rated as a 5th round prospect for 2015. Morris is one of four starters coming back that average 322 pounds, meaning Mississippi has one of the largest starting lines in the SEC. The tackles are back in Emmanuel McCray and Pierce Burton although freshman Laremy Tunsil will see the field often. Tunsil is one of those blue-chip recruits coming to Mississippi and the Rebels may end up moving McCray or Burton in order to make room for Tunsil, who looks like a natural left tackle. Evan Swindall is back at center and he is a player that has a chance to make an NFL roster after the season as he looks like a camp invite right now. The line at Mississippi is one I would place in the middle of the pack in the SEC only because they are not as deep as some of the other teams in the conference and the players they do have are short on experience. As long as Ole Miss avoids injury I think the offensive line will not be a weakness and a unit we will see improving as the year goes along.
Best Draft Prospect: Aaron Morris OG 5th Round 2015.
We are starting to see a common theme here, Mississippi islanding top notch recruits and it happens here along the line with Robert Nkemdiche. Nkemdiche is not only the top recruit for the team, not only the top recruit at defensive end, he was listed as the #1 recruit in the entire country at any position. At 6’5” 270 pounds Nkemdiche already looks the part and obviously is going to see a lot of time as Ole Miss does not plan to use the redshirt. Nkemdiche is listed as the primary backup at both end spots behind returning starters Cameron Whigham and C.J. Johnson. It is scary to think about another big weapon for Ole Miss as they were #11 in the all of the FBS last year in sacks per game. One has to wonder how Mississippi is landing all these big time recruits but this one shouldn’t have been too hard to sell as Robert’s brother Denzel had a monster freshman season as a starting outside linebacker. Woody Hamilton is another player on this team that I feel has a chance at the next level, I have Hamilton listed as a 6th round prospect for 2016 as this will be his first season as a starter. Both the tackles that are starting are brand new but both have experience and ability, may take some time to gel but the defensive line at Mississippi looks to be in great shape.
Best Draft Prospect: Woodrow Hamilton DE 6th Round 2016 and Robert Nkemdiche DE 1st Round 2017 (early entrant for 2016. The top recruit in the entire country for incoming freshman).
Here we are talking about Nkemdiche again but this time it will be about Denzel who had the most impact of any freshman in the SEC outside of Johnny Manziel. Nkemdiche led the team with 82 tackles while a staggering 13 came for loss. Throw in 3 sacks, 3 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles and you start to get a picture of the al around game Nkemdiche possesses. Ole Miss runs a base defense with only two linebackers and they primarily play along the outside. Sometimes we will see a linebacker in the middle or a rover from the secondary who goes between middle linebacker and as an extra free safety. Mike Marry is the other starting linebacker and his stats were close to Nkemdiche with 78 tackles with 10.5 coming for loss. While most packages we will only see two linebackers it won’t make this group any less effective, Mississippi has a pair of capable linebackers who can play the run and pass will equal effectiveness. For depth purposes D.J. Shackleford is back for Ole Miss after a serious knee injury he suffered during 2011 and caused him to miss all of last season. Nkemdiche looks like a 1st rounder based on our limited view of him thus far.
Best Draft Prospect: Denzel Nkemdiche 1st Round 2016 (Possible early entry 2015).
Not a lot of big prospects in the secondary but this is a solid group with over 50 games of starting experience. The cornerbacks are athletic but both Charles Sawyer and Senquez Golson are under 6’0” and the SEC does have some tall receivers. Sawyer looks like a 7th round prospect and Golson is an undrafted free agent type who could see action as a nickel back at the next level or even a return man. Cody Prewitt is a junior free safety and looks to be the player with the brightest NFL future as he currently projects as a 5th round prospect. Prewitt was second on the team with 80 tackles and is a great compliment to Trae Elston who can make plays but has been a bit of a gambler in the past and has given up some big plays.
Best Draft Prospect: Cody Prewitt S 5th Round 2015.
As long as the coverage teams improve Mississippi should be adequate on special teams for life in the SEC. Tyler Campbell is back after sitting out last year and in 2010 he led the nation with a 46.4 average. Korvic Neat is a pretty good return man and should see action as rhe primary punt returner. If Campbell can regain his earlier form he will attract the attention of multiple teams and land in a camp as a free agent.
Best Draft Prospect: Tyler Campbell P 7th Round/UFA 2014.
The August 29th opener at Vanderbilt is one that Ole Miss has been waiting for and is a very important for the conference as Vanderbilt is a team like Mississippi, close to joining the elite teams of the SEC and improving. Four of the first five games are on the road with other contests coming against Texas and Alabama. After a road game with Auburn, Ole Miss will play six consecutive home games going nearly two months without leaving the state. The last game on the schedule will be a road game with archrival Mississippi State.
The Nkemdiche brothers are very early in their college playing days but both could wind up first rounders and leading a suffocating defense that doesn’t give opposing quarterbacks much time to react. If Mississippi keeps landing prize recruits from states like Florida, Texas and Louisiana then having first rounders may become the norm vice the rarity.