When Hugh Freeze took over at Ole Miss, his message was clear.
He talked about the process, getting out of the wilderness and doing the little things to get Ole Miss back to its winning ways. However, there was one goal Freeze had in mind that he never expressed publically.
Freeze, according to athletics director Ross Bjork, wanted to get the Rebels back to the Sugar Bowl. Afterall, Ole Miss hadn’t played in the Sugar Bowl since the 1969 season, and 46 years is a long time to wait.
Now four years into his tenure in Oxford, Miss., Freeze has accomplished his goal. But the trend says it’s only the beginning for the Rebels.
In each of Freeze’s first seasons, Ole Miss has improved its win total by one. For that to remain intact, the No. 12 Rebels will need to win the Sugar Bowl against No. 16 Oklahoma State. If that happens, Ole Miss fans will be in store for a fun few seasons.
But the future is hard to predict.
The Rebels may lose three underclassmen from their chronicled 2013 recruiting class. Offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and receiver Laquon Treadwell could all be selected in the first 10 picks of the 2016 NFL Draft in April. They’ll also lose a group of seniors who led the change in perception of Ole Miss football.
Can Freeze keep it going?
That will depend on recruiting, and if the current rankings are any indication, Freeze seems to be doing just fine.
Ole Miss currently has the 10th-best recruiting class in the country, according to 247Sports, and that ranking should only rise as Freeze looks to finish strong on National Signing Day. If the Rebels finish the way they hope, Freeze will prove 2013 was no fluke. And having three players go high in the first round of the NFL draft can’t hurt.
The point: Ole Miss football has staying power with the way Freeze has built his program.
This isn’t David Cutcliffe’s Rebels, who had no one ready to step in when Eli Manning’s days were done. It isn’t Houston Nutt’s Ole Miss team that thought it could coast by after two winning seasons.
Freeze has won a fair number of games without adequate SEC depth. On the recruiting trail he’s fixing those issues. He returns the SEC’s leading passer in 2016, and 5-star Shea Patterson looks like the obvious candidate to step up in 2017. He’s an offensive-minded coach who puts a great deal of emphasis on playing good defense.
So while Freeze has quickly pulled the Rebels out of the proverbial wilderness and onto the right path, something tells me Freeze has, or at least has since listed, bigger goals than just one Sugar Bowl appearance.
Because if Ole Miss keeps trending upward and beating Alabama in the process, you’d think the sky’s the limit for the Rebels. And there won’t be a 46-year gap between now and the next time Freeze takes Ole Miss to sights rarely seen.