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DAVID MAGEE: Rebel fan support high for 2017 season

Did you hear the one about Ole Miss football?

Season tickets are near a sellout.

And some thought a losing 2016 season, including a blowout loss at home to rival Mississippi State, and a one year bowl ban would get Rebel fans down.

So far, so good. Sure, it’s not yet a hard sellout like the previous year. Almost 3,000 tickets remained as of last week, not counting student tickets. But for those keeping score, that’s a big number.

Most every school has a drop off in sales after a losing season. Most every school would face a drop off in sales with a bowl ban. And, make no mistake, Ole Miss has experienced a drop off, but, it is slight.

That’s a testament to the foundation being built in athletics by Ross Bjork and team and a sign that head coach Hugh Freeze still has considerable fan support. Consider only that not too many years in our past getting to within 10,000 tickets of a sellout before the season began was a big deal.

Similar anecdotes are being told around town regarding home and condo rentals, popular on football game weekends. Those pump hundreds of thousands into Oxford homeowner pockets, and some were a bit nervous after last season.

But a quick glance through popular sites including VRBO and AIRBNB combined with reports from the field suggest that rentals are strong once again, particularly for the biggest home games, including Texas A&M, LSU and Arkansas.

There’s no denying the challenges to come. That’s what Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze will undoubtedly be asked about this week during SEC football media days in Birmingham. The NCAA cloud has hurt recruiting and the losing season did not help.

Another losing season would be a hard blow.

But Freeze does well in the underdog role and he’s got a stellar quarterback in Shea Patterson and improvement on the defensive side, so, while nobody expects the Rebels to rank in the Top 10, there could be some fun if not head-turning wins along the way.

That means this year will be a bit more like Freeze’s first and second at Ole Miss, when little was expected but some big surprises were delivered.

The key to it all will be keeping fans, and players, engaged. Last season’s losing became contagious and the defense looked at times to have thrown in the proverbial towel. Freeze can’t afford a repeat of that.

It will be interesting to see how it all turns out this year, but one thing we know: Rebels fans will be there for the action.

Sellout crowds are not a thing of the past, and neither are full-house Oxford weekends when every rental has a crowd.

David Magee is Publisher of The Oxford Eagle. He can be reached at david.magee@oxfordeagle.com.