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Rebels guarding against higher expectations

 

Matthew Stevens

 

HOOVER, Ala. -- University of Mississippi quarterback Bo Wallace was happy to answer any questions Tuesday afternoon at Southeastern Conference media days as long as the word expectation wasn't involved.  

 

"We kind of leave that to the fans and leave to the media to talk about," Wallace said. "We just control what we can in our building and know that we have the players to play in this league and play in the SEC West and control what we do every day in the building."  

 

Ole Miss coaches and players all figuratively walked on eggshells when asked about more wins and more immediate success just two seasons removed from a 2-10 campaign that saw coach Houston Nutt get fired and the Rebels program in a free fall.  

 

"I think last year at this time people thought we'd get beat by Central Arkansas and nobody thought anything about our program," Wallace said. "The attention isn't what we focus on because it's not real. It goes away the minute you get wrapped up in it." 

 

Coming off his first season in Oxford, which resulted in a surprising 7-6 season that included a Egg Bowl rivalry game victory against Mississippi State University, a BBVA Compass Bowl victory over the University of Pittsburgh, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze now knows his team will be expected by the fans in Oxford to capitalize on the momentum.  

 

Freeze and the Rebels staff even managed to surprise other coaches in the SEC including University of South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier. One year ago, Spurrier said he would rather play Ole Miss than some of the team on his schedule.  

 

"Well, last year at this time Ole Miss was 2-10, that's why I made that statement," Spurrier said with a smile. They had a good year. Hugh Freeze has done an excellent job there. You never know what team was bad one year that gets it going the next year." 

 

Freeze spent the entire media session in Hoover, Ala., Tuesday trying to downplay the immediacy of his program rebuild at Ole Miss. Despite having a Top 10 ranked recruiting class nationally by all the scouting services last February, Freeze stressed throughout Tuesday evening that his team continues to suffer from depth issues at several positions heading into the 2013 campaign. 

 

"I'm very careful with the expectations that are coming now with our program," Freeze said. "I tell our team quite often, that unrealistic expectations always produce frustration. I don't care in what area of life that you're in, if you have an unreal expectation and it does not come to pass, you get very frustrated." 

 

Freeze and the Rebel coaching staff welcome back 58 lettermen from last season, including 19 of 22 position starters, and look to speed up their tempo offense even more in 2013. 

 

"I think with our talent, I would say a disappointment," Wallace said of a possible six-win season in 2013. "We would like to win more than six games. We were very close last year. Those games that we lost real close -- with the guys that are becoming veterans -- we'd like to win those games." 

 

One of the key questions that needs to be answered is if Wallace, who is coming off shoulder surgery, can replicate his offensive numbers at East Mississippi Community College now that he's fully healthy for the first time since the third week of the 2012 season. Wallace said Tuesday his throwing motion was finally back to feeling normal since he was setting junior college records for the national championship Lions program under coach Buddy Stephens.  

 

"There hasn't been a single day this summer that I haven't seen him in the (indoor practice facility) working on his throws with us," Ole Miss senior receiver Donte Moncrief said. "He continues to work to get back on the field at 100 percent and we know he'll be better this season." 

 

Wallace passed for the third-most yards (2,994) and fourth-most touchdowns (22) in Ole Miss history last year en route to capturing the C Spire Conerly Trophy as the state's top collegiate player. The Pulaski, Tenn., native finished top five in the SEC in points, total offense and passing yards in his first season in Oxford. He said Tuesday he'll be "full-go" when practice opens up for Ole Miss in late July.  

 

Due to the Rebels' countless injuries in the spring, particularly along the offensive line, the competition wasn't at a typical high level that Freeze would've preferred and the lack of unknowns as several returning starters try to regain that competitive edge concerns him in 2013.  

 

"One of the things that keeps me awake at night is how will everyone, the C.J. Johnson's, Patrick Junen's, Aaron Morrises' come back from these surgeries," Freeze said. "All of those guys are very key to us. How will they prepare to come back and how will they be when camp starts is an unknown." 

 

The added attention has also brought a level of scrutiny to how Ole Miss has been able to transform the program under Freeze so quickly to score a Top 10 recruiting class and be in the mix for a possible New Year's Day bowl game this season. Some of the questions, speculation and interest hasn't always been people excited about the program's success.

 

 

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