It is funny how cyclical college football can be in the state of Mississippi, especially when it comes down to the two SEC teams.
The great rivals, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, are always in contention between each other whether it is in the recruiting spectrum or in between the white lines of a football field. The year of 2012 and the 2012-2013 season, Ole Miss definitely had the upper hand on-and-off the field. With the hiring of new Head Coach Hugh Freeze, winning the Egg Bowl, and a bowl game victory, the Rebels and their fans feel that they are on cloud nine.
The “Hugh Freeze” era in Oxford has been an absolute jolt to the university, fan base, and town. Though Freeze’s only true head coaching experience is drawn from Briarcrest Christian Academy, Lambuth University, and Arkansas State which are small potatoes compared to Ole Miss and the SEC, Hugh has been a breath of fresh air for the Rebel faithful. After two failed coaching tenures from Ed Orgeron and Houston Nutt, Ole Miss believes that they may have found their next Johnny Vaught. Freeze is truly a Mississippi-boy born in Oxford and raised in Senatobia, Freeze coaches and inspires his group of young men with fire in his belly similar to the first few years of Dan Mullen at Mississippi State. Also his offensive style fits in perfectly with the Rebel roster he has been handed. Freeze is definitely a commodity many people are starting to buy stock in. The Ole Miss faithful are currently hoping Freeze will remain in Oxford for a while.
The 2012-2013 season was a definite success for the Rebels as a whole. Even though they were thumped by Texas at home, the amount of publicity and excitement built around that single game was enough for the Ole Miss fan base to get behind their team. Riding the wave of enthusiasm, the Rebels competed the full sixty minutes even in Southeastern Conference (SEC) losses to Alabama, Georgia, and LSU. Ole Miss even was able to end a 16-game SEC losing skid which had started under Coach Nutt in 2010. The Rebels then were able to finally become bowl eligible after defeating their arch-rival Mississippi State in Oxford.
Maybe one of the most excited fan bases outside of Alabama and Notre Dame, Ole Miss traveled to Birmingham, Alabama and filled Legion Field with red and blue. The BBVA Compass Bowl was the site for the Ole Miss and the Pitt Panthers as two 6-6 teams looked to finish the season with a winning record. The Panthers stood little chance as the neutral bowl site turned into a sea of red and seemingly looked like Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. An announced attendance of 59,135 people, the BBVA Compass Bowl’s crowd was larger than the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta and Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. A great start in the first quarter catapulted Ole Miss past Pitt and twenty-second bowl victory 38-17.
The Mississippi football cycle is definitely in full effect. It seems like yesterday when Mullen revitalized a disgusted and faltering State fan base with wins, bulletin board jabs at Ole Miss, and exciting game experiences. Ole Miss has entered the same honeymoon period with Freeze and will hope it will last forever. But as everyone knows with the current state of collegiate football that the pressure to win after successful seasons can be very difficult on any coach especially in the SEC. Coach Freeze will need to continue his successful habits to please a fan base with very high expectations that is used to a history of success during the 60’s and 70’s. It will be very interesting to see in the next three years how Freeze’s tenure at Ole Miss plays out and where the Rebel football program is sitting in the college football landscape in 2016.