First-year coach Hugh Freeze has a huge challenge ahead at Ole Miss

Yahoo! Sports Staff
Yahoo! Sports

Hugh Freeze's first season as a FBS head coach went exceptionally well. His second looks as if it will be much tougher.

Freeze was coach at Arkansas State last season and led the Red Wolves to the Sun Belt title in his first – and only – season at the school. Ole Miss hired Freeze, a former Rebels assistant, after Houston Nutt was fired, and he takes over a program coming off the worst season in its history.

Ole Miss has struggled for much of the past four decades – it has been to just 13 bowls in the past 40 years and is the only program in the SEC West never to have made it to the league championship game – but last season was epically bad. The Rebels went 2-10 overall and 0-8 in the SEC; it was the first season of double-digit losses in school history.

First-year coach Hugh Freeze's biggest challenge this spring may be changing the mindset at Ole Miss.

Ole Miss at-a-glance

Coach: Hugh Freeze (1st season)
Last season: 2-10, 0-8 SEC
Spring practice dates: March 23-April 21
Returning starters
(minimum 7 starts last season):
Offense (6): TE Ferbia Allen, G Matt Hall, WR Dante Moncrief, TE Jamal Mosley, RB Jeff Scott, C Evan Swindall
Defense (7): T Bryon Bennett, S/LB Aaron Garbutt, T/E Uriah Grant, LB Joel Kight, LB Mike Marry, CB Wesley Pendleton, FS Charles Sawyer
Special teams (2): P Tyler Campbell, K Bryson Rose

Other than a 29-24 loss to Arkansas in which the Rebels blew numerous chances to win, they didn't come close in their SEC games. They lost to Kentucky by 17 in UK's only SEC win and scored just 26 points in their final four games, which included a 20-point loss to WAC member Louisiana Tech.

[ Related: Mark Richt faces high expectations at Georgia ]

The offense was atrocious. The Rebels used three starting quarterbacks but none are SEC-caliber. There are two or three receivers with promise, but the offensive line has to be rebuilt and the Rebels also need to establish a pecking order at tailback.

All three quarterbacks from last season return: Barry Brunetti, Randall Mackey and Zack Stoudt. In addition, JC transfer Bo Wallace, who signed with Arkansas State when Freeze was the offensive coordinator there, enrolled in January and will go through spring ball.

Ole Miss was solid against the pass last season, but one reason for that is that the run defense was so pitiful (26 rushing TDs surrendered) that there was no reason to take to the air. The defensive line has to be rebuilt, and some playmakers need to emerge at linebacker.

The secondary returns two full-time starters and there are some promising youngsters as well. FS Charles Sawyer, who could move to cornerback, is the headliner in the secondary, and he has all-league potential.

K Bryson Rose and P Tyler Campbell return. Campbell is one of the best in the nation; that's good news for Freeze, as Campbell likely will see a ton of work this season.

Part of Freeze's task this season will be changing the Rebels' mindset. Ole Miss has won a total of six games in the past two seasons and is the only league school not to receive a bowl bid in either of the past two seasons.

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