This time last year, the NCAA allegations swirling about Hugh Freeze and company’s head were still laughably unknown quantities. As the last nine months have dragged on, however, the severity of those allegations and their possible punishments loom large over the Ole Miss football program, which hopes to have an even more prolific season than it did in 2015.
With the return of college football comes a much anticipated veering away from talk of NOAs, response letters and Lindsey Miller’s lunch habits. On Monday night, before a primetime audience and with no other football happenings to watch, Chad Kelly and his Rebels take the field to do their talking with their play. Gone — one hopes — are the distractions of NCAA proctologists and the CHEATIN’ REBEL BEARS narrative. It’s time, finally, to get the hell back to work.
It’s telling that Ole Miss gets to open the 2016 campaign in such conspicuous fashion against a formidable FSU team. This is no noon kickoff loss to some Sun Belt whipping boy, after all. Monday night in Orlando is the premier stage from which to crowd-dive off into one of the most grueling schedules in FBS this year. And the real beauty of Monday’s matchup is this: nobody has any clue what’s going to happen.
Perhaps the firestorm of the past nine months could be read as a blessing in disguise. After all, with all this talk of NCAA punishments and DEATH PENALTY COMIN’, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Ole Miss may be a very good football team this year. While you were busy retweeting every story having to do with Laremy Tunsil’s $305 electricity bill, Freeze and Kelly were busy polishing off what was already a wonderfully humming offensive machine. While you were combing every message board devoted to Hugh Freeze and jail time, Dave Wommack was contemplating the chess match he’s facing in trying to replace Mike Hilton and the Brothers Nkemdiche.
Freeze and Kelly have maintained throughout the offseason that things like NCAA allegations and Steve Robertson worry them not. They can’t control these external forces, however sinister and misguided and targeted, but they can control the on-field product. Scream CHEATIN’ BEARS all you want, friendo, but SWAG just went for 400 yards and three touchdown passes.
It’s perfect that Ole Miss and FSU will face off on Monday night. Two programs that engender the absolute worst knee-jerk reactions in fans playing in college football’s opening weekend showcase. There’s no way to talk about the Rebs and Noles without resorting to blinding white, teeth gnashing rage.
Neither you nor I nor Hugh Freeze can control what sort of hammer the NCAA suits will finally come down with. Freeze, Kelly, Tony Conner and Akeem Judd — they can only go out there and play their asses off.