By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – While Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze continued his message of managing expectations at the Rebels’ campus media day Friday, not all of his players want to slow things down completely.
With 19 returning starters from a surprising 7-6 team that peaked at the end of the season Ole Miss has been a trendy pick as an SEC team to watch.
SEC Media put the Rebels No. 4 in the SEC West in Hoover, Ala., in mid-July. One CBS analyst has Ole Miss second in the division.
Some fans believe that nine wins or more can automatically follow a seven-win season.
“I will not identify an expectation other than to become more relevant in the SEC West,” Freeze said.
Freeze tries to keep his players grounded, and they didn’t talk like a group with heads in the clouds.
The Rebels will be on the practice field today at 9:30 a.m. as coaches continue to identify which players in a top 10 signing class can help fill depth needs.
From the players’ perspective, the August talk now is a lot better than it was a year ago.
“Oh yeah, there ain’t no doubt about it,” junior cornerback Senquez Golson said. “The record we had my freshman year to now … we came a long way, but we still have a ways to go.”
“We’ve definitely raised the expectations from last year,” junior defensive end C.J. Johnson said.
The Rebels carried a 14-game SEC losing streak into the 2012 season and extended it two more games before snapping the skid in a 41-20 win over Auburn.
While Ole Miss players feel they are taking the necessary strides toward relevance, they know other programs aren’t sitting still.
That same Auburn team expects to be much improved this year under new coach Gus Malzahn, and Ole Miss will play at Auburn on Oct. 5 to cap an opening stretch with four of five games on the road.
The only home game for Ole Miss in the month of September will be in Week 2 against Southeast Missouri. The Rebels open on the road at Vanderbilt on Aug. 29. The Rebels are at Texas on Sept. 14 and at Alabama on Sept. 28.
Last year Ole Miss eased into the season with home dates against Central Arkansas and UTEP. This time the Rebels must be not just a good team but a good road team right out of the gate.
“It’s fun to be relevant,” sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche said.
Senior offensive tackle Emmanuel McCray shares that sentiment.
“I appreciate it, … but it’s up to us to go out and do better,” he said.