Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze spent much of his media time before the Music City Bowl saying that winning or losing against Georgia Tech would not define his team.
He was partly correct.
No single game should define the progress made from a program that had reached the depths that Ole Miss football had when Freeze and his staff arrived.
More than games there are other progress indicators such as how a staff is handling attrition and recruiting.
Losing the Music City Bowl, however, would have carried some level of definition.
A loss would have left Ole Miss at 7-6 overall, just like it was at the end of Freeze’s debut season.
There would have been tangible proof of a program in neutral for those who don’t look beneath the surface.
Freeze would have been unable to so firmly grasp the progress argument in his journey discussion.
Now he can go recruiting and plant seeds as he did in his postgame press conference at LP Field when he spoke of 15 wins and two bowl victories in two seasons.
Houston Nutt won two bowl games in his first two seasons. After the second Cotton Bowl, there were serious questions about the future. Dexter McCluster was leaving. The Rebels – 18-8 in Nutt’s first two seasons – were losing their quarterback and key defensive players.
Freeze has won two lesser bowls, but – even with the possible early draft entry of wide receiver Donte Moncrief – will return most of his talent while he appears to be adding more.
He still wins the progress argument.
The definition of success, though, changes as a program builds.
Freeze inherited a team that had been outscored 110-13 in its last three games. There was coach transition then and a picture of “Who’s minding the store?” but things were not in a good way.
Now, the Rebels have gone 5-11 in SEC play over the last two seasons. That doesn’t define success at a lot of places, but it defines progress for a program that was 1-15 in league play the two seasons prior. It won’t definite it moving forward.
The Rebels were solid in their 25-17 win against Georgia Tech, running the football like they hadn’t run it against a BCS foe since September and on defense looking prepared and inspired to stop a difficult offensive scheme.
Had a few plays turned the other way, they could have lost a close game. The definition would have been different but only slightly.
Losing wouldn’t have blown up the progress made to this point, but winning makes the spring outlook feel a whole lot better.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Journal. He blogs daily at InsideOleMissSports.com.