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AFTER LANDING IN THE SEC BASEMENT LAST YEAR, OLE MISS cleaned house: Gone are coach Houston Nutt and all but one member of his staff. In Nutt's place is Hugh Freeze, a 42-year-old Mississippi native who, in his rookie FBS head-coaching season, won the Sun Belt Conference with Arkansas State in 2011.
The Rebels are hoping that what Freeze lacks in experience, he makes up for with his sharp offensive mind—and also in discipline. With a new regime comes an opportunity to wipe clean a slate marred in recent years by multiple suspensions and dismissals of players. "There's not a lot of room for gray area," Freeze says, alluding to his policy on abiding by team rules. "We're gonna be black and white for a while, because we have to establish a mind-set change."
Freeze is installing a no-huddle attack that will take advantage of a deep receiving corps. Last season's primary passer, Randall Mackey, is joining the wideouts, and the competition to replace him under center is between junior Barry Brunetti, a dual threat who started two games at quarterback in 2011, and sophomore transfer Bo Wallace, who set multiple national juco records en route to leading East Mississippi C.C. to the NJCAA title last year.
The quarterback who wins the job shouldn't expect much protection from a relatively inexperienced offensive line that, following the departure of tackles Bobby Massie and Bradley Sowell to the NFL, has yet to adjust to the new pace of the attack. "Some of them need to lose 30 pounds to be able to move at the tempo that we're asking of them," says Freeze of the men up front. "Some need to get more flexible."
The coach is more pleased with what he has seen on the other side of the ball, praising the spring performances of the interior defensive line. And with an athletic group of linebackers and corners, pass defense is likely to remain a rare bright spot in the Ole Miss landscape.
Although he took Arkansas State from 4--8 to 10--2, Freeze is realistic about the challenges facing the team, which hasn't won an SEC game since October 2010. For the Rebels, climbing out of the cellar will be a process. "The thing we have that's equal to everyone else in this conference is time," he says. "And so if we're winning each day, we have a chance."
COACH Hugh Freeze (1st year)
CO-OFFENSIVE COORDINATORS Matt Luke, Dan Werner