With the Ole Miss Rebels (3-3, 1-3 SEC) narrowly falling to No. 9 Texas A&M (5-1, 2-1 SEC), Hugh Freeze's young club has now dropped three in a row—with each loss coming against fellow SEC West clubs (Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M).
With No. 10 LSU up next, many Rebel fans wonder how Ole Miss will fare the rest of the season?
Up until a 25-0 letdown at Alabama, the then previously undefeated Ole Miss team was a hot topic of conversation in college football circles. But now mired in a three-game losing streak, despite having given Texas A&M all it bargained for, the 2013 Rebels are being questioned by many—both inside and outside of Oxford.
However, that shouldn't be the case.
In fact, folks, it's not even close to the time to press the panic button.
With the exception of losing on the Plains to Auburn in a game the Rebels really should have won, Ole Miss has lost to teams with a combined record of 16-2. Furthermore, the two losses were an Auburn loss to LSU and an A&M loss to Alabama. That's simply called the SEC West.
The bottom line: Freeze has the Rebels right where they should be right now.
Tempering Expectations, Still on Target
Despite the fact that Freeze helped turn a two-win team in 2011 into a seven-win bowl winner last year, the Freeze-led Ole Miss Rebels are still a project under construction.
The program is being built slowly, but surely.
Freeze, in his second year as Ole Miss' head man, has urged those around the program to temper expectations this fall. After the loss at Auburn, Freeze again noted:
We’re playing in a very difficult league with a difficult schedule, and unfortunately people want to create expectations in a short amount of time in our society. That’s not just in football. They want return. They want it now. The product that our kids are giving them – again, we’re all disappointed we didn’t win. We want to win every one of them, but we want to continue to walk in victory daily in our mindset. When you have a negative mindset that creeps in because you’ve lost a few games in the early stages of a building process, it’s frustrating that your kids have to hear that.
The head coach is spot on.
Having picked up road wins at both Vanderbilt and Texas, the Rebels came out of a brutal road swing about as well as could have been realistically expected.
With each passing week, younger players are gaining experience and a better understanding of Freeze's schemes. Experience is the best teacher in life, and that's certainly the case for 18- and 19-year-old kids jumping right into the nation's toughest college football conference.
A Tale of Two Seasons
Next Saturday (Oct. 19), the Rebels host the LSU Tigers to kick off the second half of the season.
From that point forward, the schedule will become considerably less difficult for Ole Miss.
Oct. 26 Idaho (1-6)
Nov. 2 Open
Nov. 9 Arkansas (3-4)
Nov. 16 Troy (4-3)
Nov. 23 Missouri (6-0)
Nov. 28 at Mississippi State (3-3)
Based upon opponent records and the fact that Ole Miss won't leave Oxford until the Egg Bowl, the Rebels should be favorites in every contest after the LSU game (except for possibly the Missouri game).
Working under the assumption that Ole Miss loses to LSU and defeats Idaho the following week (although LSU should be on upset alert), the Rebels would be 4-4 with four games remaining. Again, just about where they should be.
How Many Regular-Season Wins Will the Rebels Finish With?
From there, they should be able to get past both Arkansas and Troy to improve to 6-4 and become bowl-eligible for the second consecutive season under Freeze. Not bad for a team that won a combined six games over the two seasons prior to Freeze's arrival.
If the Rebels are able to beat the Trojans and Razorbacks, Missouri and Mississippi State become games that will ultimately determine the Rebels' bowl destination in 2013.
Win both games to finish 8-4, and they'll likely head to the Gator Bowl. Split the two to finish 7-5, and the Rebels likely head to the Music City Bowl.
Lose both to finish 6-6, and Freeze heads to familiar turf in Memphis to play in the Liberty Bowl.
What It All Means
Let's just assume the Rebels finish the regular season at 7-5, although 8-4 is highly possible. If that turns out to be the case, Ole Miss would improve its regular-season win total over 2012 by one.
Additionally, the Rebels would likely find themselves playing in the Music City Bowl against an ACC opponent, which is a major step up from the BBVA Compass Bowl.
From the day he was hired, Freeze cautioned everyone that it would take time to get the Rebels where he planned to take them: to Atlanta to compete for an SEC crown.
Slowly, but surely, that's exactly what he's doing—bettering the program one season at a time.