Over four games in November of 2011, The Ole Miss Rebels were outscored 140-26. A lame duck head coach led an offense that was the SEC's second worst and a defense that was the conference's absolute worst, finishing the year with an unprecedented 2-10 record.
Save for a few exceptions, that Rebels team was not talented, motivated, or well prepared. Discipline and academic issues, coupled with lackluster recruiting and poor program management, meant the team was thin and unfit to face SEC competition week-in and week-out. There was no energy or life to the program. The whole damn thing seemed dead, and it began to seem like this was becoming the new normal of Ole Miss Rebel football.
When Ole Miss lost the Egg Bowl that year by a score of 31-3 in Starkville, I watched at home with one other friend. At halftime, with the Rebels down 21-0, I drank another bourbon and coke and had my friend drive me to Taco Bell. I wasn't going to watch the second half, but not because I was particularly mad or upset. I stopped watching because I was bored. The blowout losses had become predictable, normal even. The team I had been closely following for years didn't give me anything worth following at that point, and hadn't for most of the season. At that point, I didn't want to watch the rest of the game because I simply didn't care. Eating quesadillas had become a better use of my time.
I wasn't alone in this. Ole Miss fans weren't attending games in Vaught-Hemingway. We weren't making road trips to see the red and blue get clobbered in a loss. We weren't even making a point to watch the games on television. We were all collectively over it.
Fast forward to today and it's remarkable to think just how little time separates that moment from now. Over the course of two seasons, Hugh Freeze has coached well enough to immediately return Ole Miss to postseason play, recruited well enough to sustain an SEC-caliber talent level for the future, and has managed the program well enough to make academic and disciplinary casualties the exception rather than the rule. Today, the Ole Miss Rebels are the No. 18 team in the country, and they are favored by 10 to beat the Boise State Broncos on a neutral field. And none of that sounds at all unreasonable.
Had you told me on that evening in 2011 that this would be the case, that Ole Miss would, over the next two years, win 15 games, beat a top-10 team, haul in a top-10 recruiting class, and play competitive, fun football, I'd have called you a liar. The program was just too downtrodden at that point, and the hole we were dug into was too deep to work our way out of so quickly.
But, I'll be damned, that's exactly what's happened over the past two years. Of course it hasn't all been ups. There have been heartbreaking losses, misses in recruiting, a disciplinary casualty here and there -- but this team is a joy to follow again. They've given us a reason to expect good things and, more simply, they've given us a reason to watch.
Today, almost three calendar years removed from those lowest lows, we are on the precipice of a season that has already inspired significant optimism amongst the Rebel faithful. We feel that we have a top-20 if not top-15 type of defense nationally. We know we are going to have a healthy quarterback who, even through injuries, established himself as being more than capable of operating Hugh Freeze's offense. We have elite talents at tackle, receiver, and safety. And this year's schedule gives the Rebels plenty of opportunities to make a statement or, at the very least, play football we can be proud of.
We have a lot going for us Rebel fans right now, and we have every right to believe that this is a year that will give us a lot to get excited about. We'll have great moments to cheer for, some not-so-great moments to get upset over, and we will have every right to expect good, hard-fought football in every contest we watch. We finally have gotten back to giving a damn about Ole Miss football.
So get excited, y'all. Ole Miss Rebel football is back for the 2014 season, and you bet you're ass we're ready for it.