Juco All-American from SB Nation's Ole Miss blog Red Cup Rebellion was kind enough to answer some questions about the Rebels before the game this Saturday.
1. Tell us about the legend that is "The Grove". What makes it so magical? Why is it a college sports bucket list item?
The Grove is a beautiful snapshot of genteel Southern culture mixed with copious amounts of bourbon and short sundresses. The women are breathtaking. The hospitality is that of legend. And then there's the day drinking... ah the day drinking. There's nothing better than an excuse to drink bourbon all day and have no one judge you. Really, it's a chance to meet with friends you haven't seen in some time. For one day, all your friends from college who you lived with and saw every day are all in one place drinking and socializing as though you had never left. It's just a great experience that makes Ole Miss' tailgating tradition unique. But yeah... the women.
2. Break down this miraculous recruiting class Ole Miss put together. How did all of these pieces fall into place? What are your expectations of this class going forward?
The class is probably even better than Ole Miss fans imagined. All four of the five-stars are playing good football. Laremy Tunsil starts at left tackle (having stolen the job from a fifth year senior incumbent) and has allowed one sack all year. He's going to be a top ten pick after three years in Oxford. Laquon Treadwell is third on the team in receiving yards, having already set every single receiving record among freshmen in Ole Miss history. He's big, likes to block, annd can do a lot after the catch. Tony Conner starts at the "husky" position (our safety/linebacker hybrid) and could potentially be the best defensive player on our team already. Robert Nkemdiche had an injury that hurt his production (since he had to miss several games), but at times he looks amazing. He's often double or triple teams at the line of scrimmage, opening things up for others. Then there are the players who were kind of unknowns at a time.
When Ole Miss signed three-star prospects Evan Engram and Derrick Jones, it seemed like filler. Then Engram took the starting tight end role and was playing like a freshman all-american until a season-ending injury derailed his campaign. Derrick Jones was recruited as a wide receiver, moved to safety, and then moved to corner when we had a lot of injuries at the position. Having played cornerback for three weeks of his life, he held Texas A&M's Mike Evans to a low yardage total and was vital in the Rebels' win over LSU. He's 6'2" and looks good at corner. His future is bright.
There's also Austin Golson, a four-star offensive lineman who is overshadowed by Tunsil. Golson has been slowly stealing snaps from the Ole Miss guards and looks to kick out to the vacated right tackle position in the offseason.
How'd this class come to be? That is something that can be discussed at length and in detail, but what's really important is that, once it became apparent that Robert Nkemdiche would commit, a whole lot of other guys became very interested in Ole Miss. Also, as evidenced by their production this year, our coaches were able to credibly offer them early playing time, which I think is a huge selling point for a lot of recruits. There are a lot of other freshmen who have made their mark on this team as well. Needless to say, things look good.
3. What has Hugh Freeze done to make Ole Miss a team on the rise in the SEC?
For one, he brought a strong system to Ole Miss. The Rebels had made the mistake in the past (for many, many years) of trying to just outmuscle their opponents. That doesn't work against teams like Alabama or LSU. You have to figure out ways to get around the fact that they're going to be more talented than you are. Freeze's offense gets the ball to players in space and gives them a chance to make something happen when they have mismatches.
He also puts tremendous value in recruiting. Freeze's staff works non-stop to try to find connections with good players around the country and get them to visit Oxford. If they visit, he feels like he has a chance, and a cursory comparison of the Ole Miss visit lists and commitment lists from last season would support that. Freeze inherited a huge mess and won seven games his first year (breaking a 16 game SEC losing streak) and has already won seven this year. It's just nuts. He is passionate about the sport and the school, and it's reflected in the team he puts out there every week.
4. Tell us a bit about the history of Ole Miss and the football program. As the new guys to the SEC, what should we know about your school?
We haven't been consistently good in a long time, but there was an era when Ole Miss football was fantastic. We claim three national titles, though it's difficult to really flesh out who the national champions were back when there were tons of polls. Also, Archie and Eli Manning were pretty good quarterbacks. The most important thing to know about Ole Miss is that the team violently swings the pendulum every few years. Many teams slowly build or break down. Ole Miss will go to the Cotton bowl one year and then win two games the next. It happens all the time. Seriously.
5. Ole Miss has been a tough out for just about everyone they've played this year. What makes you confident about putting up a fight with our Tigers, what is your major concern, and how do you see this one ending up?
Well, I certainly think Ole Miss will come out fighting. Freeze's teams only come out with low energy when they're playing opponents they know they're going to beat. It's crazy how well the teams show up for games even when everyone in the stadium knows they will lose. I think that specifically, this Ole Miss team will find some success through the air. The offensive line isn't all that good, but if they can stop your crazy defensive line even a little bit, the receivers can make things happen, and Bo Wallace can get them the ball. Our running game may not be clicking since I think the offensive line will have its hands full, so hopefully the passing game comes around. I think Missouri will pull this one out, and I'll actually follow suit with your 38-31 prediction. I could see it being a 10 or 14 point win for Missouri as well, though there's also a chance Ole Miss wins it. I'll be there, and it should be a great game to watch.