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Ole Miss Football 2013 Season Countdown: Two Paths

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Two days until the season begins. Today, we're looking at two different viewpoints: one a reason for optimism and the other for a not-so-happy year.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

I should point out that neither of these are actually my opinion (or that of Whiskey Wednesday who helped me on this). These are polar and extreme.

Three Reasons Ole Miss Will Be A Good Football Team
1. This Ole Miss defense strongly resembles the 2008 version-- and might be better

As good as the offense was at times during UM's 2008 Cotton Bowl Championship run, the defense is what really distinguished that squad. They had an unstoppable pass rush at times, and were always in the backfield. The back 7 weren't as talented, but often benefited from the opportunities that the front 4 gave them. In 2012, CJ Johnson and Robert Nkemdiche might be a better 1-2 at DE than Hardy/Lockett/Tillman back in ‘08. Though we don't have a Peria Jerry, we might have better depth at the DT position too; Isaac Gross has lived in the offensive backfield at times. We have marginally more skill and depth at linebacker; Nkemdiche/Marry/Lewis/Bryant could actually be far better than Cornell/Fein/Palmer/Walker when the year is out. I think the two secondaries are very comparable, and again, the 2012 squad has more upside. We are taller and tougher at cornerback and have faster, better hitters at safety.

2. The offensive line has SEC-level depth

Recruiting offensive linemen year in and year out is a common struggle with mid to low tier SEC teams, and Ole Miss has been no exception. While they haven't recruited tons of 4 and 5 star guys, good coaching, good evaluation, and hard work on the part of the players have put Ole Miss in a rare situation, depth-wise. They have a two-deep at every position that they're pretty happy with. That clearly wasn't the case in any of the last 4 bowl seasons (2003, 2008-9, 2012). While those lines had a good bit of talent in the starting 5, the next 5 were really shaky at best. Ole Miss really could find themselves with one of the top 3-5 offensive lines in the SEC this year, which could bring out the talents of the Ole Miss skill players.

3. Improved special teams

If you consider some of the difficulties that Ole Miss encountered on special teams last year-- some missed field goals, big lapses in return coverage, erratic punting, and mishandled punt returns-- those 6 wins become even more remarkable. Freeze made a risky move in redshirting two senior kickers, hoping to cash in on a much-improved unit in 2013. In addition to likely improvements on kickoffs, punts, and punt returns (with Jeff Scott replacing Korvic Neat), the rest of the special teams units will benefit from the overall increase in depth and athleticism that Freeze and company have worked towards. Overall, the 2nd line of guys that Ole Miss has to work with is far better than last year, and those will be the guys looking to stand out on special teams. After letting three one-score games slip out of reach in 2012, there is no understating the importance of that one field-flipping punt, one 52-yard FG, one touchback, or one clutch open-field tackle.

Three Reasons Ole Miss Will Not Be A Good Football Team
1. Bo Wallace's decision-making

Bo Wallace is a good quarterback. He's fun to watch and can make good things happen, throwing beautiful passes at times. Unfortunately, there are other times when he makes throws no quarterback should ever attempt. Wallace will always be a "gunslinger," but he may be too risky right now. The Rebels don't necessarily need Wallace to make crazy plays to be successful, and he needs to realize that. Ultimately, Wallace can't continue to make throws like the one we all remember out of the end zone against Pittsburgh. There's a difference between taking a chance and throwing a ball up with a better shot it goes to the defense than your team.

2. The secondary

I like Senquez Golson and Charles Sawyer a lot. Unfortunately, neither appears to be 100%. Quintavius Burdette and Dehendret Collins are fine, but neither was recruited with the expectation that they would cover the likes of Jordan Matthews, at least not at this point. Both played different positions last year, and past them there's even more uncertainty. At safety, both starters are players I really like, but they also both struggle in coverage. That's not a good recipe for success with suspect talent at corner.

3. A stalled running game

In four of the Rebels' six losses last season, Jeff Scott rushed for less than 2.8 yards per carry. He only did that once in a win: the Arkansas game. Suffice it to say that as the Ole Miss running game goes, so goes the entire team. Against Vanderbilt, the Rebels meagerly produced 55 rushing yards on 40 carries. Performances like that won't do it. Even though the Rebels have more options at the running back position, how can we know they'll produce more?