PARRISH ALFORD – Ole Miss: Optimism the theme

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

The new year actually arrived as expected on Jan. 1, and while the Mayans may have put a damper on the prediction business, here we go.
You won’t read in this space about aliens landing, as you might in a supermarket tabloid, but picking Ole Miss to reach a bowl game in 2012 would have been the first cousin of that prediction.
It’s not one that I made. I did pick the Rebels to win five games, which I thought was a stretch.
There is optimism for this program in 2013, based not only on the dominant showing in the last two games, against rival Mississippi State and Pittsburgh, but also from a recruiting class that could finish in the top 10.
I think the football program continues to grow in the coming year.
Here’s more of what I think for 2013:
Baseball
The baseball season opener is a little more than two weeks away.
Looking ahead, I see the quest for Omaha continuing on to 2014.
With Bobby Wahl and Mike Mayers the Rebels will be very good on the mound, but there’s no obvious “next big thing” to provide immediate help for an offense that ranked eighth in the league in runs and loses its top three RBI guys from 2012.
The Rebels need last year’s up-and-comers – Sikes Orvis, Auston Bousfield, Will Allen and others – to follow through in the growth process.
Basketball
In December, there was too much inconsistency to jump aboard the NCAA tournament express with this team.
Something changed after the Hawaii trip. Marshall Henderson became more of a complete player. Nick Williams starting hitting big shots. Jarvis Summers asserted himself offensively.
The momentum of six straight SEC wins is in question now with key players Williams and Aaron Jones lost to injury.
The Rebels have been described as resilient, and they showed flashes of that Tuesday night against Kentucky when they cut a 17-point deficit to one point.
They’re going to have to rely on that character trait – and keep Murphy Holloway and Reggie Buckner healthy and out of foul trouble – to keep the season on track.
Football
Hugh Freeze, rightfully, tempered expectations this year.
It appears he’s about to really elevate the talent level, but he’ll have to temper expectations again for those who believe the program has arrived. The journey continues, but the wilderness theme won’t work.
Ole Miss returns all of its most important players on both sides of the ball, but the league is changing. The Rebels have a very difficult opener at Vanderbilt on Aug. 31 and have road trips to Texas, Alabama and Auburn before they play their second home game on Oct. 12.
I’m going with seven wins.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs at InsideOleMissSports.com.