COLUMN: It’s a splendid month of incredulity around Oxford. Football fans embittered by Houston Nutt’s implosion are still rational enough to know how irrational they’re sounding: Are we really talking about bowl eligibility for the Ole Miss Rebels?
Did the same team that went two years without a SEC win just take two in a row?
How is Hugh Freeze winning games in the SEC — or at all — with less overall talent than other conference foes?
Is Hugh Freeze the SEC coach of the year?
That last question is asked of me a good bit now, and I’m not entirely sure how to answer. With a few crucial games remaining for Ole Miss, and the shadow of playing in the most dominant conference in the game, it’s still a speculative call at best. But here’s the closest thing to a roadmap I can provide.
What he’s already done:
1. The aforementioned two SEC wins. Granted, they’ll come against the two last place teams in the Western Division when it’s all over, but by comparison to Nutt’s last two teams, it’s huge regardless.
2. Five total wins. That exceeds both previous seasons’ win totals.
3. Competitiveness out of nowhere. Short of a defensive meltdown against Texas (and how bad do Rebel fans wish that game was being played this weekend instead of in September?), Ole Miss has aggressively competed in every game this season after all but visibly laying down in 2011.
That’s probably not enough, not yet. You have to consider the following names as frontrunners:
1. Dan Mullen. Hate him or not, he’s guided MSU to uncharted waters. If State finishes the year 10-2, it’s hard to ignore that mark — regardless of the strength of schedule — coming out of Starkville.
2. Nick Saban. He’s probably going to win another national championship, so there’s that.
3. Kevin Sumlin. The newcomer is not only winning in the SEC — he has two conference road wins already — but doing it his way: With a lot of points and little regard to the state of “how things are done” in the mighty SEC.
Even with stiff competition — Saban especially — it’s hard to argue against Freeze if the following happens, and that’s even if the Tide go undefeated and win another BCS title. After all, they’re supposed to do that, and Ole Miss was supposed to limp along to a respectable 4-win season under a former girls basketball coach. Remember?
1. Become bowl eligible. This is a must. Be it in an upset of UGA or by getting the Vanderbilt monkey off their back, Ole Miss must win six.
2. Score an upset win. To me this seems like the best way for Freeze to be considered the coach of the year — by combining the attitude and culture renovation with the ability to beat lesser opponents and topping it off with a shocker moment. That means beating Georgia or LSU. Both are road games. Both seem like asking too much from a thin Rebel team.
3. Win the Egg Bowl. It’s the last game of the year, and regardless of a coaching award, will be a huge swing for either coach in terms of in-state recruiting.
(Steven Godfrey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @38Godfrey.) (November 1, 2012, Page 9)