On the heels of Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze inking an epic recruiting class, must the Ole Miss Rebels immediately win an SEC championship and play in a BCS bowl to maintain momentum?
To quote ESPN's Lee Corso, "Not so fast, my friends."
Yes, Hugh Freeze hauled in an incredibly talented group of young players in 2013.
However, some casual football fans across the country now think Freeze's Rebels must immediately turn water into wine. It simply doesn't happen that way, especially in the daunting SEC West.
That being said, some level of improvement upon Ole Miss' 7-6 campaign last season should absolutely be expected in Oxford. What Hugh Freeze did at Ole Miss last year, not to mention the recruiting work he accomplished in 2013, was nothing short of miraculous.
In fact, divine intervention may have been at play.
Seriously though, Ole Miss does have the necessary firepower to show improvement in 2013. Between the number of starters returning and the number of talented true freshmen expected to see playing time early, the Rebels should easily win more than six regular-season games this fall.
One such game the Rebels hope to win will be their season opener against Vanderbilt.
The game will provide Ole Miss with an initial opportunity to show improvement upon several second-half collapses that took place last season, including a letdown against Vanderbilt.
Coach James Franklin's Commodores finished the 2012 season with an impressive 9-4 record. Not only did they notch nine wins, Vanderbilt won its final six games of the season before posting another win in the Music City Bowl against N.C. State. That's right, Franklin's club is coming off a seven-game win streak entering the upcoming season.
In front of the red and blue faithful at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford last season, Ole Miss appeared to be well on its way to a convincing win against Vanderbilt, as they led 23-6 early in the third quarter. Then, things went south quickly for the Rebels. With 52 seconds remaining in the game, Commodore QB Jordan Rodgers hooked up with WR Chris Boyd for a 26-yard touchdown and eventual 27-26 victory.
It was a loss that hurt Ole Miss, losing in a similar style to the way it did earlier in the year.
Against Texas A&M, the Rebels gave up a double-digit fourth-quarter lead to Johnny Football and the Aggies before going on to lose 30-27. Talk about a win that would have looked impressive, Ole Miss.
The week following the Vanderbilt loss, Hugh Freeze led his team into Baton Rouge for a tilt with the LSU Tigers. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Rebels again found themselves with the lead against an extremely talented team. Ahead 28-20 after the third quarter, LSU charged back against the Rebels to win 41-35. It had happened again, another second-half letdown.
More than anything for the 2013 Ole Miss Rebels, Hugh Freeze and the rest of the the country should expect a team that has more gas in the tank late in games. Just how many additional wins that translates into in 2013 will be the big question entering the upcoming season.
However, the perfect opportunity for Freeze's Rebels to show they're ready to take things to the next level will be to defeat the Commodores after four full quarters, not just for a half or three quarters.
Last season, the Rebels were conditioned and talented enough to hang around late in games against average teams. However, against upper-echelon teams like Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and LSU, Hugh Freeze simply didn't have enough firepower on his team to close out games.
With another year under their belts to train and better understand the offensive and defensive philosophies, not to mention the talent expected to see playing time from the 2013 recruiting class, the Rebels should be primed to come out on the winning side of more games against top competition.
For Ole Miss fans, they'll learn a great deal about the Rebels when they play Vanderbilt on August 31 in Nashville. Further, the meeting is rumored to ultimately be moved to Thursday night for ESPN's prime-time slot. Talk about a big stage to begin the season.
There will be no better time or opportunity for Ole Miss to show it can play four solid quarters of football in 2013 than on the road against a solid Vanderbilt team.