Wed May 30 10:30am EDT
Newcomers began college coursework on Tuesday, while veterans returned to campus.
The offseason program has kicked off. Hugh Freeze made his Southeastern Conference spring meetings debut in Destin, Fla.
In other words, despite the fact that the season opener is some 100 days (give or take a day; I don't feel like doing the math) away, it's time to talk expectations.
What's realistic? One poster, 1williamreb, posted that he believes six wins in 2012 is realistic. He drew some ridicule from said post, but rest assured, he's far from alone. Optimism rules in the offseason, even when said optimism isn't grounded by logic or facts.
So what's realistic? Here's one guy's opinion:
1. Expect a better prepared team. I won't turn this into a Houston Nutt bashing session, but I think it's fair to say Ole Miss wasn't exactly ready to go on multiple Saturdays last season. Freeze appears to have an eye for detail, a reservoir of energy and a passionate commitment to the job at hand. I believe Ole Miss will play with a better tempo. I think the Rebels will appear more organized. Timeouts will be better utilized. Substitutions will likely seem more seamless. You get the picture. Will that result in wins? Well, probably not, at least not immediately. But it should make the product more appealing to fans (and recruits). If he can maintain that energy and commitment, players (both current and future) and fans will buy in. Eventually, it stands to reason, results will follow.
2. Expect better effort. If you've followed my work for any length of time, you know I hate using the word quit if that word isn't in quotes. So I won't say Ole Miss quit last season. But boy, it's tempting. Ole Miss didn't just lose to Louisiana Tech, LSU and Mississippi State down the stretch. The Rebels rolled over and played dead. The effort, let's just say, was lacking. I suspect Freeze won't tolerate that. I expect to see an Ole Miss team that fights the good fight from kickoff to the final gun/buzzer. Does that mean the Rebels go from losing by seven touchdowns to Alabama to winning in Tuscaloosa? No, but it should mean Rebel fans walking out of Bryant-Denny Stadium leave with more hope and less embarrassment.
3. Expect a team that handles adversity. What was the turning point in 2011? If you ask me, it was Nick Brassell's dropping of a touchdown pass from Zack Stoudt, one that likely would have given the Rebels a win over Brigham Young, essentially marked the end of hope inside the program. That happened in the third quarter of the season opener. From that point forward, at least in this opinion, Ole Miss seemed to wait for bad things to happen, and then disaster struck in spades. That was a sign of a lack of mental toughness. The Rebels were 2-10 last season. It stands to reason they won't improve to the point of having no adversity. How will they handle it this season? I expect a dramatic improvement in that category, and if I'm right, it will be something fans can cling to during some otherwise depressing Saturdays.
Other than that, any other expectations are unrealistic. Fans love to do win-loss projections. I understand. It's part of the fan DNA. Ole Miss should beat Central Arkansas and Tulane. It should win at home against UTEP, though that's not going to be the breezy walk in the park some make it out to be. Other than those three games, there are no guarantees. The Rebels could beat Vanderbilt at home. They could beat Mississippi State. Auburn and Texas A&M, at home, could be vulnerable. Ole Miss could lose all of those games, too.
Ole Miss doesn't have an established quarterback. It has no depth at running back, not nearly enough at wide receiver, unproven commodities at both offensive tackle spots, not enough depth up front, question marks at defensive end and a lack of depth in the defensive secondary, all trying to learn new schemes while playing a brutal schedule. Other than that, it's all peaches, cream and championships.
Six wins would mean the Rebels won the aforementioned three games and either beat Texas in Oxford or won three SEC games. Six wins next season would be borderline miraculous. Miracles aren't likely in a league where talent rules. Incremental improvement, however, is the stuff that fuels a turnaround.
Freeze faces a challenge this season. He is charged with rejuvenating a beaten-down program, getting kids who haven't had real success in the SEC to believe again. He must convince kids to fight through adversity, likely in games that deep down they know they can't and won't win. In other words, he has to lay the foundation for future success. That can be a difficult sales job.
Can Ole Miss win six games? Sure, but it would require breaks and probably a dose or two of luck. In my opinion, the 2012 season shouldn't be judged by the win-loss column. It should be judged by your eyes and your gut.