When you think of the potentially great secondaries in the SEC, Florida is likely the first unit that comes to mind, with LSU and Alabama not far behind thanks to their upside.
A team you probably won't find on that list is Ole Miss. That's a shame, because by season's end Ole Miss' secondary could be the surprise unit of the SEC.
Yes, the same Ole Miss secondary that finished eighth in the SEC in pass defense (215.5 YPG) and yards per attempt (7.0) last year.
Because for the most part, it's the same—and getting deeper.
AP All-American Cody Prewitt is back at free safety and will be joined by fellow returning starters Trae Elston and Tony Conner at "Rover" and the hybrid "Husky" spot, respectively. That trio can cover, can run and can hit—and, more importantly for head coach Hugh Freeze, provides the Rebels options.
Prewitt has already established himself as one of the top safeties in the game, but could drop down to linebacker in certain situations against certain teams.
"If we feel like we can get into an eight-man front against some of the offenses that we're running against, then he will be that guy," Freeze told B/R in March. "I do feel his future, if he continues to mature, is as an outside linebacker for the next level. But he's a pretty good safety, too. You'll see him roll down some, but he won't do it full time."
If that happens, it could be up to C.J. Hampton—a 4-star safety in the class of 2014—to take on a heavier workload in the back end of the secondary. He was listed as the 36th-most-important Rebel this year by Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion-Ledger of Jacksonville, Mississippi, due to his work this spring, ability in coverage and big-play ability.
At corner, Senquez Golson has enjoyed quite a career in Oxford. The senior has six career interceptions and 93 tackles over the last three seasons and, despite a 5'9" frame, plays tough against bigger receivers and sticks to them like glue downfield.
He was arrested over the weekend for disorderly conduct, according to USA Today. While that's not ideal, the report states that the school will handle the matter internally. Unless something else coincided with the disorderly conduct, it's unlikely to cost Golson a big chunk of the seasons.
Mike Hilton and Derrick Jones give the Rebels two experienced options at the other cornerback spot and provide depth if they have to move pieces around on the fly.
That experience, coupled with a fierce pass rush, should pay huge dividends in 2014.
Robert Nkemdiche will move full time to defensive tackle this year, after playing both tackle and end (and a little running back) during his true freshman campaign. At 6'4", 277 pounds, he has the strength of an interior lineman but the speed and quickness of an end, which will force opposing offensive lines to focus on him. That means plenty of opportunities to create pressure for Woodrow Hamilton and, potentially, senior Lavon Hooks inside and C.J. Johnson outside.
Ole Miss' defensive line is deep, talented and versatile, which means they'll create pressure with four routinely and give the back end of the defense plenty of opportunities to capitalize on mistakes.
Don't sleep on the Rebels' secondary. It has the experience and the supporting cast to be one of the biggest surprises in the SEC in 2014.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.com.
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