Ole Miss didn't make the gigantic leap into SEC west contention in Year 2 under head coach Hugh Freeze, but the momentum of the program is still headed in the right direction.
After a few speed bumps along the way, of course.
The tastes from a three-game losing streak in the middle of the season and a two-game losing streak to close the season were wiped away on Monday afternoon, as the Rebels topped Georgia Tech, 25-17, in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.
Quarterback Bo Wallace completed 22-of-32 passes for 256 yards, 86 rushing yards and three total touchdowns.
In the process, he joined some rather prestigious Ole Miss company.
Bo Wallace sets Ole Miss school record for total yards in a season, eclipsing Eli Manning’s previous record set in 2003.— Ole Miss Football (@OleMissFB) December 30, 2013
It was a statement win for the Rebels.
Without second-leading rusher Jeff Scott, they sliced and diced the Yellow Jackets defense—which entered as the nation's 22nd-best in yards against—to the tune of 477 total yards.
On top of that, Ole Miss held the Jackets—which came in with the nation's fourth-best rushing offense (311.7 YPG)—to just 151 yards on the ground.
They're still building.
Wallace will be back at quarterback in 2014, as will wide receivers Laquon Treadwell and, perhaps, rising senior Donte Moncrief if he doesn't jump early. Sophomore running backs Jaylen Walton and I'Tavius Mathers gained plenty of experience this season when Scott was banged up; and that young and talented defense is only going to get better with another year of work.
Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche—who moved back and forth between defensive tackle and defensive end this season—will get a full offseason to focus on defensive tackle duties, safety Tony Conner came on strong during his true freshman season and linebacker Serderius Bryant should be back for his senior season in Oxford.
Plus, the SEC West is going to be up for grabs next season.
If nobody leaves early, Auburn will return all but one player on its offense next season; but lose five seniors off of its defense. Alabama and LSU will be hit hard by graduation and possibly the draft, and Texas A&M will likely have to replace the most dynamic player in college football when Johnny Football exits stage left.
Does that mean Ole Miss will be a favorite?
Of course not.
That would be a giant leap forward, not the logical next step.
But it took a small step forward this season—a season that included a home win over LSU. Another step forward next season gets them in the discussion, and for Ole Miss, that's a great place to be considering where they were towards the end of the Houston Nutt era.