Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Column: New Beginnings Ole Miss Football

By Chase Partridge
IMC Student

I remember Hugh Freeze being hired late in 2011 and thinking maybe there would be a new era in the SEC behind this offensive-minded coach.

Since the end of the 2009 season, Ole Miss fans really had not had much to be excited about. Our team was very average in a conference endeared by multiple national powerhouse opponents, and I just hoped that maybe Freeze would give us a breath of fresh air.

Freeze did just that, posting winning seasons in each of his first two seasons, going 7-6 in 2012 and 8-5 in 2013. I remember going to the games in 2014 and the atmosphere was absolutely electric. There was just a feeling of inevitable victory looming in The Grove every Saturday.

No such day was more exciting than when No. 11 Ole Miss had a date with No. 3 Alabama on October 4, 2014. The Rebels were a heavy underdog in this fight against the national superpower, but if you were in The Grove that afternoon, you would have believed that Ole Miss was picked to win by 14 points.

The Rebels played a near-perfect game and stunned the Alabama Crimson Tide 23-17 after being down 14-3 at the half. Following the victory, I remember watching the goalposts being stripped out of the ground and thinking, “We are a national powerhouse, actually one of the best teams in the country.”

The feeling was just simply exhilarating knowing that our team here in Oxford, Mississippi, could compete with any team in the country. The Rebels went on to earn a Peach Bowl berth that season, finishing with a record of 9-4.

Freeze followed up the 2014 season with a sensational 2015 season where his team accomplished many things in the SEC and nationally. The Rebels went on to defeat the Alabama Crimson Tide again, something that just does not happen against Nick Saban led teams. To finish off the successful 10-win season, the Ole Miss Rebels won the Allstate Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma State.

The Rebels were actually two fluke losses away from playing for the SEC championship in a rematch against Florida for a chance to go to the College Football Playoffs. We were right there in 2014, just on the fringe of a national championship berth in 2015, and surely with quarterback Chad Kelly coming back, the Rebels could make some noise again.

Unfortunately, my prediction was far off and my excitement was erased as my Rebels were absolutely plagued with injuries in the 2016 season and ended with a 5-7 record. This also seemed to be the end of an era for the Rebels as they were slapped with some serious NCAA sanctions. Ever since that time, we have been sent back to square one, back to where we were in 2010 and 2011.

Ole Miss football has been on life support ever since Hugh Freeze left after the 2016 season, failing to record a winning season since. Ole Miss needed a jolt, something or someone to breathe new life into this once nationally renowned football program.

And now there is Lane Kiffin, the offensive-minded savior that Ole Miss needed to revitalize the Rebels program. People have not been this excited in Oxford for the football season since the height of Freeze’s reign. Lane showed up at the perfect time to lead the Rebels back into the national spotlight.

Kiffin will be able to use young weapons like Jerrion Ealy and John Rhys Plumlee to expose opposing SEC teams. He is the perfect man for the job, and I believe he will take Ole Miss to new heights, even surpassing Hugh Freeze.

The future of football in Oxford looks bright for the Rebels, and the excitement of the fans is unrivaled. Hopefully, there will be a season, an exciting one, and the Rebels will show us that we still do have something special here in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.