CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 17 Ole Miss

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2013 record: 8-5 overall, 3-5 in SEC (T-5th in SEC West)
2013 postseason: Music City Bowl vs. Georgia Tech (25-17 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: unranked/unranked
Head coach: Hugh Freeze (45-18 overall; 15-11 in two years at Ole Miss)
Offensive coordinator: Matt Luke (third season); Dan Werner (third season)
2013 offensive rankings: 42nd rushing offense (109 ypg); 23rd passing offense (283.3 ypg); 21st total offense (473.3 ypg); 57th scoring offense (30 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: Five
Defensive coordinator: Dave Wommack (third season); Jason Jones (second season)
2013 defensive rankings: 51st rushing defense (154.9 ypg); 36th passing defense (215.5 ypg); 38th total defense (370.5 ypg); 37th scoring defense (23.7 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: Nine
Location: Oxford, Miss.
Stadium: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (60,580; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 1963

THE GOOD
Unbelievably, with Bo Wallace under center, Ole Miss will enter the 2014 season with the most experienced quarterback in the conference.  While that might give some cause for pause, Wallace was actually, quietly, a very solid quarterback in 2013.  While the Rebels lost its leading receiver yardage-wise in Donte Moncrief, they have a handful of talented players who can help replace the lost production.  The running game is a productive two-headed creature, while the defense returns nine starters from what was one of the more solid defenses in the defensive-minded SEC.  The schedule sets up somewhat favorably as well, with two of the four road games consisting of trips to Vanderbilt (9-4, but with a new head coach) and Arkansas (3-9 overall, 0-8 in SEC play).  But, then again…

THE BAD
Believe it or not, there’s not a whole heck of a lot bad going on down in Oxford.  Freeze has the Rebels rounding into a very nice football program, one capable of peeling off eight or nine wins a year and one that looks, based on recruiting, capable of reeling in the ofttimes elusive sustainability.  The offense will be one of the best in the SEC year-in and year-out, while the defense is vastly underrated.  The biggest bad for Ole Miss?  The division in which they reside, over which they have no control.  At the moment, they simply can’t consistently compete with West compatriots Alabama, Auburn and LSU.  Texas A&M, despite the attrition they’ve suffered in the offseason, are in this for the long haul as evidenced by the money they’re pouring into the football program, so there’s that College Station hurdle as well.  Since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012, the Rebels are just 2-6 against those four programs — a three-point home win against LSU last season and a win in 2012 against an Auburn team that would ultimately win three games and fire its head coach.  And that’s without even mentioning that Ole Miss has lost four of the last five Egg Bowls against in-state rival — and divisional foe — Mississippi State.  Ole Miss has a tough row to hoe if they’re looking to climb to elite status; if they’re just looking for eight-ish wins a year plus a nice bowl bid, then they’re set.

THE UNKNOWN
While nine starters on the defensive side of ball return, just five do so on offense.  Included in the attrition are three starters along the offensive line along with, as previously mentioned, one of the most productive receivers in school history.  With a neutral-site game against a very good Boise State team with what should prove to be an improved — and disruptive defense — leading off the 2014 schedule, it’s imperative that Freeze and his offensive coaching staff quickly identify the line replacements and give them plenty of work as a unit in summer camp.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at Texas A&M, Oct. 11
There’s a fairly decent chance that, heading into this game, the Rebels will be 4-1, with the lone loss coming the week before against powerhouse Alabama.  This could be viewed as a swing game for Ole Miss, with A&M serving as the second game of a gauntlet that goes Alabama/Texas A&M/LSU/Auburn in a span of five weeks.  If the Rebels can come out of that meat grinder 1-3 at worst, they’re set up for a perhaps a nine-win season that would likely launch them into one of the better bowl games to which the SEC is attached.  If they can somehow manage that beast of a four-game stretch at 2-2?   The Rebels could be staring their first 10-win season since 2003 square in the face.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: Quarterback Bo Wallace
This is one of those no-brainer kind of things.  And, as jarring as it may be, Wallace possesses the most impressive pedigree of all the returning quarterbacks in the SEC.  The stats, though, show Wallace has quietly put together a nice career.  Last season, he completed nearly 65 percent of his passes for over 3,300 yards and 18 touchdowns.  He added six touchdowns on the ground for good measure.  The 10 interceptions might be a bit of a cause for concern, but considering they came in the midst of 437 pass attempts the concern it’s somewhat mitigated.  Any off-the-radar Heisman candidacy that hopes to get on the radar will be determined by how Wallace — and his team — performs in that brutal four-game midseason stretch.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Lincoln Riley suggests there is a competition for QB that nobody should believe

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It’s a standard procedure for a head coach to suggest there is an open competition for any number of positions on a football team, but nobody seems to be buying the idea there is a competition at Oklahoma to replace Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield. And when one of the players supposedly in the running for the job has a lucrative baseball career on the table, the idea is a little more comical.

Kyler Murray was drafted by the Oakland A’s with the No. 9 overall pick in the recent amateur MLB amateur draft. His contract with the A’s guarantees him $5 million and still allows for him to play one more year of football, which Murray has stated is his plan at Oklahoma. Still, Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley addressed the quarterback situation at Big 12 media days on Monday and suggested Murray will have to win the job against redshirt sophomore Austin Kendall.

“Kyler’s not the quarterback yet,” Riley said when asked how the offense will change with Riley at the position following the departure of No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Mayfield to Cleveland. “There’s a really good competition going on and Kyler’s gonna have to fight like crazy to win this job.”

Sure. OK. Whatever you say, Riley.

It is worth noting Murray appeared in seven games for the Sooners last season with 18-of-21 for 359 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in backup duty for Mayfield. Kendall redshirted last season and was named one of the team’s Offensive Scout Team Players of the Year. Kendall did make appearances in two games in 2016 in a back-up role. While Kendall may have a bright future in Norman, few are willing to accept Oklahoma is welcoming back Murray to potentially be a back-up quarterback when he could jump right into his pro baseball career right now.

But this could just be nothing more than the latest example of a coach simply setting the tone for the offseason and holding the bar high for even the most talented of players on the roster. Riley may be blowing smoke, but it could also pay off in the long run of the 2018 season.

Tennessee DL Ryan Thaxton suspended, charged with domestic assault

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Tennessee defensive lineman Ryan Thaxton has been suspended by the football program after being arrested and charged for an alleged domestic assault of his girlfriend. The incident leading to the arrest and charge occurred over the weekend.

According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, Thaxton was arrested Sunday night and charged with domestic assault and false imprisonment. According to police records, Thaxton is accused of pushing his girlfriend to his dorm room while she refused to follow him. It is reported Thaxton than carried the unidentified woman to his dorm room and blocked the door so she could not leave as an argument continued inside the room.

“We are aware of the incident,” a statement from Tennessee read. “The student-athlete has been suspended from all team activities while law enforcement and the university investigates.”

Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt is scheduled to address the media at SEC Media Days on Wednesday.

SEC Media Days will return to Hoover, AL in 2019, could explore new options in 2020

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After years of holding its annual media day extravaganza in Hoover, Alabama, the SEC set up shop in Atlanta at the College Football Hall of Fame this week for the 2018 media day event. The SEC will head back to Alabama next year, however, and the conference may evaluate moving the media day fun around the region in the years after that.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey announced the plan is to hold the SEC Media Day event in Hoover, Alabama next summer. After that is anybody’s guess. Tony Barnhart of SEC Network suggested there will be a “serious discussion” about where to hold the event after that.

The SEC certainly has plenty of worthy options to consider if the conference seriously considers moving the event around a bit. Atlanta figures to be a popular destination option, of course. But the SEC could also capitalize on other locations around the SEC with desirable options in Florida, Tennessee, and Texas just for starters. SEC Media Days in Nashville? Memphis? Houston?

New Orleans?

The possibilities are quite interesting and moving the event to different locations could allow for more fans to get a taste of the media day fun, which this year included a fan fest the day prior to the official start of the media day schedule.

SEC Network making its way to more viewers in… New York?

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One of the main attractions the Big Ten saw in adding Rutgers as a member during its most recent expansion was the ability to bring the Big Ten Network to more viewers in the New York metropolitan area. Now, the SEC is looking to get a slice of the Big Apple pie.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey announced on Monday at SEC media day the SEC Network will be coming to cable provider Altice in the New York metro viewing area. That is a nice addition for the SEC Network, as it will make its way to more than 3 million potential viewers. According to subscriber data from Statista, Altice had 3.38 million subscribers in the first quarter of 2018. Of course, as many cable providers have come to realize, the subscriber total has been on the decline since 2016.

What makes this even more significant of a development for the SEC is the addition of Altice to the distribution map will bring the SEC Network to every major television provider in the United States. (Take THAT, Pac-12 Network).

The SEC Network first went on the air in 2014 and it has quickly paid dividends for the entire conference. This may also be encouraging news for ACC fans, as the conference inches closer to launching its own conference-branded network with the assistance of ESPN. The ACC Network figures to take advantage of many of the same distribution plans as the SEC NEtwork, especially on the east coast as it initially goes on the air. With more of a footprint in the northeast, the future also looks optimistic for the ACC Network.