Premature Preview 2012: Ole Miss

Previously: Jackson State, Auburn, Troy, South Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Middle Tennessee State, Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Arkansas (sorry, no links due to technical issues)

OK, so I’m late with this one, but at last we wrap up this annual series. Today we take a look at MSU’s final opponent of the 2012 regular season, a team Dan Mullen has yet to lose to. Will he be 4-0 in the Egg Bowl after this one? Likely.

There is change at Ole Miss, and plenty of challenges to go along with it. I see the Rebs topping out at four wins, but this game is at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, so who knows what might happen, right?

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Ole Miss Rebels (Nov. 24, in Oxford)

Conference: SEC

2011 record: 2-10 (0-8, 6th Western Division)

Final ranking: Not ranked

Coach: Hugh Freeze (first year)

Returning starters: 15 (7 offense, 6 defense, 2 specialists)

Last meeting: MSU, 31-3 (Nov. 26, 2011, in Starkville)

One the Web: OleMissSports.com

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Ole Miss has mostly had tough luck at quarterback since Eli Manning left, save for that really good half-season Jevan Snead had back in 2008. Right now the battle is between juco transfer Bo Wallace (MSU was hot after him) and Barry Brunetti, who played some last season. These are two guys who were very highly recruited (Brunetti out of high school, Wallace out of junior college), and so they have done some outstanding work in the past.

But SEC defenses feast on “potential” and often will expose it to be nothing more than false advertising. I’m a little surprised Wallace hasn’t been good enough to win the job, but Freeze is supposed to be good with quarterbacks, and the two were together briefly at Arkansas State before Wallace transferred to East Mississippi CC.

The receivers aren’t a bad lot, with Donte Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan returning. Moncrief had team highs with 31 catches for 454 yards and four touchdowns last season as a freshman. Vincent Sanders, a third-year sophomore, has had a good camp and should be a factor. Tobias Singleton, a high school All-American who did next to nothing in his two years at Ole Miss, recently transferred to Jackson State.

Jeff Scott is back at tailback after rushing for 529 yards and six TDs last fall. Behind him, well, it gets sorta thin. They’ve moved Randall Mackey to tailback, and also in the mix are senior Devin Thomas and sophomore Nick Parker, neither of whom has produced much.

The offensive line looks to be a big trouble spot, especially after the offseason departure of starting guard Matt Hall.

Defensively, there’s a lot to shore up. Last year the Rebels ranked last in the SEC in scoring (32.1 ppg), rushing (224.9 ypg) and total defense (419.3 ypg). Gone are defensive linemen Kentrell Lockett and Justin Smith, but coaches are hopeful that converted linebacker C.J. Johnson, a 2011 signee, can make the move to defensive end. Freshman Channing Ward has finally been cleared by the NCAA, but how effective can he be this year?

Ole Miss is running a 4-2-5 scheme under new coordinator Dave Wommack, and you can expect to see Mike Marry and Aaron Garbutt as starters. Wommack does have a standard 4-3 up his sleeve if he needs it.

Y’all remember Senquez Golson, don’t you? Trent Richardson doesn’t, because he wasn’t actually trying to fake out Golson, he was practicing dance moves to fight off boredom and noticed no one trying to tackle him. But anyway, Golson’s back at cornerback. Safety Charles Sawyer, who’s been out since early in camp with a torn quad but could be back for the opener, is the leader of the secondary.

This team will struggle, no doubt. The jury is out on Freeze, a former girls high school basketball coach who has done quite well as a college head coach so far – at Lambuth and Arkansas State. Others have come from the lower levels and won big, but this is an awfully steep hill he’s having to climb.