Back 4 x 4 Preview: Ole Miss

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4 x 4 Preview: Ole Miss

By Matt Smith
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Ole Miss' 2013 schedule is loaded with exciting games, making the Rebels one of the more intriguing teams in the conference.

4 Household Names

1. QB Bo Wallace (Jr.) – Wallace overcame some maturity issues early in his career to have a sophomore season that no one saw coming, leading the Rebels to a 7-6 record and a bowl victory. Now the challenge becomes can he build on his 2012 success? Almost all of his key parts return, but he can’t throw 17 interceptions again if Ole Miss hopes to climb in the SEC West standings.

2. RB Jeff Scott (Sr.) – An overachiever, Scott has gotten every ounce of potential out of his 5’7”, 170-pound frame. He’s helped by a mobile quarterback in Wallace, but the Rebels would like to see his number of carries drop a bit from the 197 he had last year. He’s better outside of the tackle box than inside and is also a receiving threat. We keep waiting for someone to overtake him, but it may never happen.

3. WR Donte Moncrief (Jr.) – Moncrief and Nickolas Brassell were expected to be the stars of the future for the Rebels when they arrived in 2011, but Brassell’s academics have all but ended his time in Oxford. Moncrief, on the other hand, has an outside chance to become the school’s all-time leading receiver in just three years. His 10 touchdowns a year ago were third in the SEC, second among players returning this fall.

4. DE Robert Nkemdiche (Fr.) – He’s yet to play a down, but the No. 1 recruit in the country rarely flies under the radar. While he won’t match the freshman season of 2011 No. 1 recruit Jadeveon Clowney, he’ll contribute early and often. Playing alongside his brother, sophomore linebacker Denzel, there should be a sense of comfort that sometimes just isn’t there with freshmen, even the most talented ones.

RELATED: Hugh Freeze has Created a Culture of Competition at Ole Miss

4 Relative Unknowns Who Will Become Household Names

1. WR Vince Sanders (Jr.) – Moncrief is the star of the unit, but Sanders has proven to be an excellent complement after amassing over 500 yards last season and four touchdowns. He may be the fastest of the bunch, and this could be a breakout year for him with Moncrief requiring so much attention. He came on late in 2012, with his two best games coming against Vanderbilt and Mississippi State where he topped 80 yards and had a touchdown in each.

2. DT Lavon Hooks (Jr.) – Head coach Hugh Freeze dipped into the junior college ranks to land Hooks, who should start immediately alongside promising sophomore Isaac Gross. With excellent speed for his size, he’ll be more than just a space eater at almost 300 pounds. Gross and Hooks could develop into the best pair of interior linemen in the conference.

3. LB Tony Connor (Fr.) – A product of famed football factory South Panola in Batesville, Miss., Connor chose to stay close to home despite a late push from Alabama. At 6’2” and 205 pounds, he’s an ideal fit for the Rebels’ “husky” position, their term for the hybrid linebacker/safety that has become so prominent in modern defensive schemes. Nkemdiche might have been the bigger get, but Connor will have the more immediate impact.

4. CB Senquez Golson (Jr.) – Charles Sawyer is the more heralded of the Rebels cornerback duo, but Golson may be the more important player against all of the deep receiving corps Ole Miss must face this season. Golson started six games last season, failing to record an interception. He’ll have a big test right out of the gate, when he’ll put his 5’9” frame to the test against Vanderbilt’s 6’4” wide receiver Chris Boyd.

4 Must-See Games

1. Aug. 29 at Vanderbilt – The first conference game of the SEC season has major implications for both teams. The Rebels let a 23-6 lead slip away last year against the Commodores. A fourth straight loss to Vanderbilt could be difficult to recover from with games at Texas, at Alabama and at Auburn all before the Rebels host their first FBS opponent on Oct. 12. Even though it’s a school night, let the kids stay up for this one.

2. Oct. 12 vs. Texas A&M – Ole Miss had Johnny Manziel and the Aggies on the ropes last season before a failed fourth-down attempt allowed Manziel to lead the game-winning touchdown drive. A scheduling quirk has the two teams squaring off in Oxford for a second straight season, giving the Rebels a chance to finally finish what they started last fall.

3. Oct. 19 vs. LSU – The Rebels catch LSU at a good time – the fifth of five straight SEC games for the Tigers without a bye. Like Texas A&M, LSU was nearly upset by Ole Miss last year, needing an 89-yard punt return to tie the game in the fourth quarter before ultimately winning. This will be the first October meeting in the series since 2001 – perhaps a welcome change for the Rebels after dropping nine of the past 11 games.

4. Nov. 28 at Mississippi State – The Egg Bowl returns to Thanksgiving Night for the first time in a decade. The rivalry has been marred by blowouts of late, with the last five games decided by an average of 22.4 points. The Bulldogs saw a three-year hold on the Golden Egg trophy end last year in Oxford and may need a win here to return to the postseason for the fourth straight year.

RELATED: Donte Moncrief will Attempt to Break Multiple Ole Miss Records

4 Bold Predictions

1. Ole Miss will avenge its narrow losses to Vanderbilt and LSU. It may be one of the most fun games of opening weekend, but the Rebels will end their recent struggles against the Commodores with a key win in Nashville. As we told you, the LSU game comes at an opportune time for Ole Miss. It’ll capitalize in front of a rowdy crowd at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium with its first big upset under Freeze.

2. Ole Miss won’t avenge its narrow loss to Texas A&M. The shoe will be on the other foot when the Aggies come to Oxford. They’ll have two weeks to prepare, while the Rebels will be off of road trips to Alabama and Auburn. There will be plenty of points, but Wallace won’t be able to keep up with Manziel for 60 minutes.

3. Moncrief will break Shay Hodge’s receiving record. It’ll take over 1,200 yards, but Moncrief should have 13 games in which to do it. His chemistry with Wallace was obvious a year ago, and it should only get better in their second year together in Freeze’s system. He’ll garner national attention after going for 140 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the upset win of LSU.

4. Ole Miss will play Tulsa in the Liberty Bowl. A short trip to Memphis may not be what they’re hoping for, but a tough loss to Mississippi State will drop the Rebels to 7-5 and likely take them out of New Year’s Day bowl contention. There they’ll face the best team in Conference USA in the Golden Hurricane, who will be in the game for a second straight season. Motivation can sometimes be an issue against non-BCS opponents, but a decidedly pro-Rebels crowd anxious to celebrate the new year on Beale Street should have them fired up.

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Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.