Donte Moncrief

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)

Tide’s Sunseri one of record 98 players declaring for draft

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A draft-eligible Alabama rumored to be headed to the NFL — or not — will indeed be a part of a record-breaking pool this May.

Tide defensive back Vinnie Sunseri was one of 98 players included on the NFL’s official list, released Sunday, of players “who have been granted special eligibility” for the upcoming draft.  It was reported a week ago that the safety was leaning toward making the early leap into the NFL, although there was some vacillation as the redshirt junior waited until right up until the Jan. 15 deadline — plus the three additional days allotted to reconsider, provided there’s no signing with an agent — before making his final decision.

Sunseri is still rehabbing a torn ACL, which he suffered in a mid-October win over Arkansas.

The 98 players granted special eligibility by the NFL is a record, shattering and/or obliterating the old mark of 73 set just last year.  That standard broke the record of 65 set the year before that.  In 2004, just 43 players with eligibility remaining left school early.

For the second consecutive year, LSU led all schools with seven early entrants.  In 2013, the Tigers saw 10 players leave early.  Sunseri gave the Tide five players leaving early, the same number as USC and one-win Cal (?).  Florida, Florida State, Notre Dame and South Carolina each saw four players take the early jump into the NFL.

2014 marks the sixth consecutive year that the number of early entrants has increased.

The number could have actually topped the century mark as four players who have left school early but have already graduated were not included in the NFL’s official count: Southern California defensive back Dion Bailey, Arizona State linebacker Carl Bradford, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Alabama linebacker Adrian Hubbard.

You can view the complete, official list of early entrants into the NFL draft:

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An unofficial list of underclassmen who declared for the NFL draft

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The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft is upon us. It looks like we’ll have a record 92 (at minimum) declarations this year, easily topping last year’s record of 73. This draft should be among the most talent-laden in recent history.

Why the sudden exodus? Blame the new rookie wage scale, which rewards less money to first round draft picks and delays the big payout until a player’s second contract. That means the more time spent in the league, the better. A lot of these players want to get moving on proving themselves, even if they are a late round pick at the start.

Here’s the unofficial list of early entries as of the Jan. 15 deadline. The NFL will have an official list on Jan. 19:

Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
George Atkinson III, RB, Notre Dame
Dion Bailey, S, USC
Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU
Kapri Bibbs, RB, Colorado State
Brendan Bigelow, RB, California
Russell Bodine, C, North Carolina
Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Chris Boyd, WR, Vanderbilt
Carl Bradford, DE/OLB, Arizona State
Bashaud Breeland, DB, Clemson
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, DB, Alabama
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
Isaiah Crowell, RB, Alabama State
Jonathan Dowling, S, Western Kentucky
Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Dominique Easley, DT, Florida
Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU
Mike Flacco, TE, New Haven
Cameron Fleming, OT, Stanford
Khairi Fortt, LB, California
Austin Franklin, WR, New Mexico State
Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State
Xavier Grimble, TE, USC
Vic Hampton, CB, South Carolina
Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU
Adrian Hubbard, LB, Alabama
Kameron Jackson, CB, California
Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
Storm Johnson, RB, UCF
Henry Josey, RB, Missouri
Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
A.C. Leonard, TE, Tennessee State
Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon
Aaron Lynch, DE, USF
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Marcus Martin, C, USC
Tre Mason, RB, Auburn
Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon
Viliami Moala, DT, California
Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss
Adam Muema, RB, San Diego State
Jake Murphy, TE, Utah
Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Jeoffrey Pagan, DL, Alabama
Ronald Powell, LB, Florida
Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
Kelcy Quarles, DL, South Carolina
Darrin Reaves, RB, UAB
Ed Reynolds, FS, Stanford
Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Richard Rodgers, TE California
Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Yawin Smallwood, LB, UConn
Brett Smith, QB, Wyoming
Jerome Smith, RB, Syracuse
Willie Snead, WR, Ball State
Josh Stewart, WR, Oklahoma State
Xavier Su’a-Filo, OL, UCLA
De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Trai Turner, OG, LSU
George Uko, DL, USC
Pierre Warren, FS, Jacksonville State
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Terrance West, RB, Towson
James Wilder Jr., RB, Florida State
David Yankey, OL, Stanford

Sneak Peek: 2013 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

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WHO: 7-5 Ole Miss (SEC) vs. 7-5 Georgia Tech (ACC)

WHAT: Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (15th Year)

WHERE: LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee

WHEN: Dec. 30 at 3:15 p.m. ET

WHY: One of the up-and-coming teams in the SEC gets a chance to end their season of progress on a high note. Ole Miss has thrived on some youthful energy this season to follow-up a stellar recruiting season and now has a chance to win the sixth straight bowl game for the program, although that is over a span of 12 years if they pull off a win against Georgia Tech.

Ole Miss will be looking to shrug aside a two-game losing streak to end the regular season, including a heartbreaker in the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State, when quarterback Bo Wallace had a sure-touchdown simply fall out of his hand on the way to the end zone. Wallace also threw three interceptions in that game, but that should not overshadow what has been a fine season for Wallace. This season Wallace passed for 3,090 yards and 17 touchdowns. Having targets like Donte Moncrief and Laquon Treadwell certainly helps.

On defense Ole Miss will be given the task of finding a way to avoid allowing Georgia Tech’s triple-option to run wild. This is easier said than done for most, but the Rebels have some players who can make some big plays. In addition to Class of 2013 stud Robert Nkemdiche, linebacker Mike Marry has a knack for knocking footballs loose and defensive back Cody Prewitt is one of the best in the SEC and intercepting passes. Of course, Georgia Tech will not be likely to take to the air too often. Paul Johnson’s coaching style will see running back David Sims lead the ground game and quarterback Vad Lee always willing to take off and run. Georgia Tech’s fourth-ranked rushing offense should have a solid day against the nation’s 55th ranked defense, but the Rebels may not wear down as easily as some of the Georgia Tech’s opponents this season.

PREDICTION: Ole Miss 32, Georgia Tech 23

Coaches name Aaron Murray All-SEC over Johnny Manziel

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The SEC coaches have spoken, and apparently they don’t expect Johnny Football to top his Heisman-winning 2012 season.

The conference released its preseason All-SEC teams Thursday afternoon, and there was what some would consider a surprise at the quarterback position.  The 14 coaches, who can’t vote for their own players, tabbed Georgia’s Aaron Murray as the first-team SEC quarterback over Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel (second-team) and Alabama’s AJ McCarron (third-team).

The media voted Manziel first-team All-SEC last month.

After the 2012 regular season, the conference quarterback pecking order was Manziel on the first-team and McCarron on the second-team.

Per the conference, Alabama placed a league-high 16 players on the three teams.  The Tide’s five first-team selections were also tops in the conference.  Georgia and LSU had eight selections apiece, followed by Florida and Tennessee with seven each.

Florida, Georgia, LSU and Vanderbilt all placed three players on the first-team, while Arkansas, South Carolina and Tennessee had two apiece.  All told, 11 of the 14 SEC teams placed players on the first-team squad.

OFFENSE
First-Team
QB – Aaron Murray, Georgia
RB – Todd Gurley, Georgia
RB – T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
WR – Amari Cooper, Alabama
WR – Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
TE – Arthur Lynch, Georgia
OL – Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
OL – Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
OL – Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
OL – Antonio Richardson, Tennessee
C – Travis Swanson, Arkansas

Second-Team
QB – Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
RB – LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State
RB – Tre Mason, Auburn
WR – Mike Evans, Texas A&M
WR – Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss
TE – Rory Anderson, South Carolina
OL – Anthony Steen, Alabama
OL – Ja’Wuan James, Tennessee
OL – Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt
OL – *A.J. Cann, South Carolina
OL – *Chris Burnette, Georgia
OL – *Zach Fulton, Tennessee
OL – *Jon Halapio, Florida
C – Reese Dismukes, Auburn

Third-Team
QB – AJ McCarron, Alabama
RB – Alfred Blue, LSU
RB – Keith Marshall, Georgia
WR – *Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
WR – *Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia
WR – *Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri
TE – *Brian Vogler, Alabama
TE – *C.J. Uzomah, Auburn
OL – La’el Collins, LSU
OL – David Hurd, Arkansas
OL – Justin Britt, Missouri
OL – Aaron Morris, Ole Miss
C – James Stone, Tennessee

DEFENSE
First-Team

DL – Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
DL – Dominique Easley, Florida
DL – Anthony Johnson, LSU
DL – Chris Smith, Arkansas
LB – C.J. Mosley, Alabama
LB – A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
LB – Denzel Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
DB – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
DB – Craig Loston, LSU
DB – Andre Hal, Vanderbilt
DB – Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida

Second-Team
DL – Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
DL – Daniel McCullers, Tennessee
DL – *Ed Stinson, Alabama
DL – *Xzavier Dickson, Alabama
DL – *Jeoffrey Pagan, Alabama
LB – Lamin Barrow, LSU
LB – Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
LB – Adrian Hubbard, Alabama
DB – Damian Swann, Georgia
DB – Marcus Roberson, Florida
DB – E.J. Gaines, Missouri
DB – Deion Belue, Alabama

Third-Team
DL – *Dee Ford, Auburn
DL – *C.J. Johnson, Ole Miss
DL – *Ronald Powell, Florida
DL – *Alvin Dupree, Kentucky
DL – *Denico Autry, Mississippi State
LB – Avery Williamson, Kentucky
LB – Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
LB – *Ronald Powell, Florida
LB – *Trey DePriest, Alabama
DB – Deshazor Everett, Texas A&M
DB – Nickoe Whitley, Mississippi State
DB – Vinnie Sunseri, Alabama
DB – Charles Sawyer, Ole Miss

SPECIALISTS
First-Team
PK – Carey Spear, Vanderbilt
P – Kyle Christy, Florida
RS – Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
AP – Bruce Ellington, South Carolina

Second-Team
PK – Cody Parkey, Auburn
P – *Tyler Campbell, Ole Miss
P – *Cody Mandell, Alabama
P – *Steven Clark, Auburn
RS – Marcus Murphy, Missouri
AP – Odell Beckham Jr., LSU

Third-Team
PK – *Andrew Baggett, Missouri
PK – *Zach Hocker, Arkansas
P – Michael Palardy, Tennessee
RS – Bruce Ellington, South Carolina
AP – LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State