Mississippi finished its 2012 season with a dominating bowl win over Pittsburgh, and now the Rebels enter the 2013 campaign with nineteen returning starters and one of the best recruiting classes in the country. Head coach Hugh Freeze has exceeded all expectations as no one envisioned Mississippi playing a bowl game in his first year on the sidelines in Oxford. Freeze has indicated on several occasions that the Rebels are still a few years away from having the requisite depth to contend in the SEC, but I am calling for a 10-win season for Mississippi and a potential run for the SEC West crown.
- If starting quarterback Bo Wallace can limit turnovers (17 interceptions last year), he has the potential of being one of the most improved signal-callers in college football. Wallace threw for 2,994 yards in 2012 (63.9%), but his pedestrian 22-17 ratio left a lot to be desired. Wallace also possesses very good speed as he was the team’s second-leading rusher with 390 yards.
- Wallace us supported by an outstanding receiving corp. that is led by Donte Moncrief, who led the team with 979 yards on 14.8 yards per catch. Moncrief also tied the school’s single-season record with ten touchdown receptions. Ja-Mes Logan, who garnered 490 yards on 11.4 yards per catch and Vince Sanders, who compiled 502 yards on 12.9 yards per catch, complete a dynamic unit for the Rebels.
- Mississippi returns 82 career starts on the offensive line and should once again improve upon last year’s numbers. The Rebels’ offensive line improved from a sack rate of 10.9% in 2011 to 8.3% last year.
- Mississippi welcomes back two of its top tacklers from last year’s defensive line that allowed just 129 yards per rush attempt (3.5 yards per carry). The defensive line’s improvement was best illustrated by the fact that it nearly tripled the number of sacks (38) from the previous year. The Rebels field one of the best defensive fronts in the nation.
- Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack also gets to work with an elite group of linebackers led by Mike Marry and Denzel Nkemdiche. Interestingly, Nkemdiche was a true freshman last year and led the team in tackles with 82, including 13 for a loss.
- Offenses will also find it difficult to pass on Mississippi’s secondary that returns seven of its top 8 performers from last season. The Rebels will finish the 2013 campaign with a secondary ranked in the Top 20 nationally.
Nineteen returning starters, together with increased familiarity with coach Freeze’s systems on both sides of the ball make Mississippi legitimate contenders in the SEC West. The key will be whether the Rebels can secure home wins over both Texas A&M and LSU; if so, Freeze & Co. could find themselves with double-digit wins in 2013.