That unmistakable harbinger of doom sneakily tagging along as that creepy, uninvited plus-one when Ole Miss football arrives at our door each year.
This year’s brand of foreboding takes the shape of Central Arkansas, a rather nondescript FCS opponent that a Rebel program neck-deep in a massive rebuilding campaign should be thanking their lucky stars ended up as their opening opponent. This is not the season for a BYU (2011), Vanderbilt (2003) or Boise State (2014).
Yet fans are terrified that a Jacksonville State scenario (see 2010, as if you’ve forgotten) could occur on Saturday, despite the strides made by new head coach Hugh Freeze inside a still-smoldering Houston Nutt shaped crater.
I don’t think Ole Miss loses this Saturday, but eventually they will. This team has patchwork depth and is spotty all over in terms of “SEC quality.” Multiple years of recruiting gaffes and nonexistent player development have left a program normally fighting uphill in the SEC West years from contention.
The 2012 season could be a long campaign littered with frequent reminders that fans must stay patient. That won’t do much to keep the natives calm, but it’s the right course of action. It doesn’t matter if Ole Miss finishes with only four wins, loses the Egg Bowl (again) and gets blown out by the usual national title contending suspects. With what Hugh Freeze has had to work with, he’s already won the offseason, to paraphrase his favorite mantra.
An estimated 30 or so members of this football team were in dire straits academically. Freeze’s count on this matter varied greatly from December on, but I can confirm that at least 30-40 players were in serious academic trouble when classes began in January. Now? Grades have claimed the bare minimum of that number. Sure, Nickolas Brassell won’t be dressing out Saturday, but his struggles went far beyond just a wretched GPA.
Freeze managed a respectable (albeit small) signing class that could turn out to be underdogs done good four years from now. He rewrote the rules on conditioning, nutrition, player conduct and Rebel branding, assisted by a new regime in the athletic department and a clean slate in marketing. And yes; while it’s worthless in terms of wins and losses now and forever more, he genuinely cares for Ole Miss in a way I rarely see at the BCS level of coaching. That doesn’t score points or land five-stars, but in these thin times it’s hard not to admire.
This year, wins and losses won’t matter much in terms of evaluating Freeze. No sane, informed fan can ignore the overwhelming litany of misfortunes and messes he’s tasked with correcting in short order. And I’ll be the first to line up and pick apart his decision come 2013, but for now, he deserves the mulligan just for signing up.
I won’t lie by implying that’s an exciting prospect for fans, but it’s the truth, something else Freeze has provided. Compared to previous years and previous regimes, Freeze deserves a “W” from fans for that alone.
(Steven Godfrey can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter: @38Godfrey.) (August 30, 2012, Page 9)