Congratulations to the ’15 Rebels

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, January 6, 2016

In early November, I wrote a column about the Ole Miss football program under the direction of head coach Hugh Freeze and the course this team would take after a gut-wrenching 53-52 loss to Arkansas in overtime.

Fast-forward to last weekend’s victory over Oklahoma State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and my questions were answered. The Mercedes-Benz Superdome, with 72,117 in attendance, was a sea of red as Rebel fans from all over converged to celebrate the New Year in New Orleans. This Ole Miss team finished the year 10-3 and should earn a top 10 ranking in the final polls.

Ole Miss football in Oxford is one of the major economic engines that fuels our economy. Everyone who has lived in Oxford realizes the real estate market, retail stores, restaurants and hotels all thrive when the program is winning. People want to see a winning program, and that is exactly what this Ole Miss football coaching staff and team has delivered to our L-O-U community and the Rebel Nation.

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Since inheriting a 2-10 team from former coach Huston Nutt, Freeze has done a remarkable job. He led his first team to a 7-6 record, followed by an 8-5 team. Following the unbelievable recruiting class of 2013, Ole Miss went 9-4 the following year and participated in a New Year’s Six bowl game. This was the first 10-win season for Ole Miss since 2003 and the second straight appearance in a New Year’s Six Bowl.

Freeze, when he inherited this program five years ago, had a vision that almost no one else in their right mind could see. This man was a former girls’ basketball coach and high school football coach. Obviously, Archie Manning and Mike Glenn, two of the people assigned to the search committee to find the next head coach at Ole Miss, saw something they liked with his vision.

This season’s football team, led by that talented recruiting class of 2013, produced wins over Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Mississippi State in the same year. This group of Rebels won the Magnolia Bowl, Egg Bowl and the Allstate Sugar Bowl trophies all in the same year.

These wins were possible by a 2015 senior class that posted its 34th win over the last four years. This is the most wins by a senior class since freshman eligibility in the early-1970s.

Ole Miss also finished with single-season records in scoring, touchdowns, yards, first downs, passing yards, passing touchdowns, PATs, 50-plus point games and 600-plus-yard games.

Rebel fans know that defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Laquon Treadwell — oh how we hoped last Friday’s chants of “One More Year” to Laquon at the Superdome would sway him to stay — are gone to the NFL as probable first-round draft picks. Quarterback Chad Kelly has also been rumored to consider going but hopefully will stay for one more year.

Ole Miss will have Evan Engram, Tony Conner and a lot of other position players back next year and, with the commitments that Freeze has with the 2016 class, the future certainly looks bright for the Rebels.

Next year, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium will have a complete bowl look, as the north end zone will be bowled in. Work has progressed rapidly to complete this construction before the 2016 season begins, and that will be a special setting to have this successful program continue its run.

I congratulate Freeze, the Ole Miss players, Athletics Director Ross Bjork, and the assistant coaches and all of the support personnel on an unbelievable season and thank them for the excitement they have created for Ole Miss fans.

Without question, the 2015 season will be one to remember for a long, long time.

Tim Phillips is publisher of The Oxford EAGLE.
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