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Can Ole Miss Football Dominate Mississippi?

(Article originally printed in Rebel Nation Magazine – July/August 2016 edition  – www.rebelnationmagazine.com)

Walter Payton, Brett Favre and Jerry Rice are just a few of the many amazing athletes to come from Mississippi that did not play their college ball at Ole Miss. There are plenty of iconic athletes that did wear the red and blue but it is safe to say, not everyone can play in Oxford.  With the many different college options for high school athletes in this state, what will it take for Ole Miss to be the first option in Mississippi?  Let me offer it could happen in less than ten years.

Most of the SEC states are dominated by one major university.  LSU, Georgia, Arkansas, even Tennessee essentially dominates the state in football as Vanderbilt doesn’t pose too big of a threat.

Alabama can support two SEC teams with their larger population base and the long-term success of Auburn and Alabama, but Mississippi is the odd man out in the SEC equation.  A state with less than 3 million residents would be one of the smaller in the SEC to support one SEC school, but we have to support two.  It makes the margins razor thin when competing in the conference.

2016 marks the 50th anniversary of Tulane’s ill-advised decision to leave the SEC, fully placing LSU as the premier University in Louisiana.  Tulane was arguably at least as good as LSU when the SEC began in the 1930’s culminating with an SEC conference championship in 1949, but Paul Dietzel and LSU’s success in the 50’s along with Tulane’s southern ivy league aspirations led to Tulane leaving the SEC.

It was a bad idea, but no one could conceive of the money the SEC would garner 50 years later.  In fact several schools left the SEC with hopes of greener pastures.  Georgia Tech left the SEC in protest of Bear Bryant’s Alabama squad and their brutal rivalry.

However, the biggest factors in New Orleans and Atlanta were the emergence of the NFL which siphoned off the fan base’s and regulated Tulane and Georgia Tech to the back seat.

Today we have another paradigm shift taking place in college athletics which has already shaken up the conferences and promises to do so in the future: CFB playoffs and television rights contracts.

ESPN and its competitors are writing huge checks to conferences for the rights to carry games and secure the advertising blocks of air time.  All major conferences are getting into the game but the SEC is garnering the top dollar and in order to continue to be the top dog will have to add (or potentially subtract) conference teams.

The SEC is now in a unique position to re-write the college landscape. If and when they choose to expand to 16 or possibly 24 teams, it will be an offer most teams would be smart to accept.

The most recent expansions saw the SEC venture into the larger television markets of Houston and Saint Louis. The driving force in the next round could be based on strictly match ups.

I know there is already a Florida team in the SEC, and I understand there are a lot of tv sets in the Washington DC area, but what would fans rather watch? The Gators blow out Virginia Tech or a knock down drag out game versus Florida State?  If the SEC wants to continue to be the premier national conference they must have the premier teams with national appeal.

Texas has shown they cannot survive on their own as the Big 12 and the Longhorn network are dying a slow death. They should be begging to get into the SEC and play nice.  Oklahoma’s AD and president should already be fired for not jumping into the SEC when Texas A&M made the smart move.

Florida State and Miami have to be mighty jealous of the checks Ole Miss and State are cashing at the end of the year.

super sec graphic 2

The next round of TV contracts will end in 2023-2024 and you should expect every team in the nation to be lobbying to be a part of a potential SEC super conference. Teams like Vanderbilt, Kentucky and MSU haven’t won a SEC football title since Kentucky last won in 1950.

If Ole Miss wants a chance to knock out MSU for good, this is their chance.

Hugh Freeze has established Ole Miss as a national team in recruiting and it is hard to say that he would take 20 kids a year from Mississippi even if he could. Unfortunately with all the talent in MS we do suffer with getting our kids eligible academically.

If you have a chance to sign the top wide receiver in Texas or the top wide receiver in Mississippi which one do you chase as a head coach? Dominating recruiting in Mississippi is a feather in the cap but honestly it may not win you the most games.

MSU has signed 20 more MS players than Ole Miss over the last four years. Both teams have won 34 games in the last four years but Ole Miss is 3-1 over State head to head.  MSU reached a top six bowl game in 2014’s Orange bowl but comparatively, Ole Miss has reached two top six bowl games.

If Ole Miss wants to truly dominate the home state, they just need to continue on their current path. Ole Miss is a top 10-15 team for 2016 while MSU is entering a re-building period with the graduation of Dak Prescott.  Ole Miss has some of the best facilities in the SEC and is one of the top national recruiters that will keep them on top.

By winning consistently, Ole Miss will be in the best position to survive the next round of expansion and possibly see MSU moved to a lower tier.

Photo Via:Thomas Wells (djournal.com)

2016 Ole Miss Baseball Preview

I can almost smell it…

The first pitch, the first hit, the first 7th inning stretch, the first playing of Sweet Caroline….

BASEBALL SEASON IS ALMOST HERE REBEL FANS!!!!

Now that that is out of the way, I found it appropriate to dive head first into previewing the 2016 version of the Diamond Rebs. Enjoy!

Ole Miss Baseball preseason ranking: #24 – Baseball America

Coach Mike Bianco Record: 687-417-1 (587-347-1 at OleMiss)14 Regionals, 5 Super Regionals, 1 CWS appearance.

Bianco has never had a losing season with the Rebels, missing the postseason in Oxford only twice.  Bianco has fully established the Rebels as a yearly postseason player.

Opening Game: 2-19 vs FIU 4:00 PM. Swayze Field (for full schedule)

Player to watch: Colby Bortles- With 7 homeruns and a .281 batting average last season as a Sophomore, Bortles will be a consistent threat for the opposing teams and has out of the park ability at any time. Third year in the program, expect a huge year from the Florida native.

Wildcard player: Sean Johnson, the junior from Durango Colorado, missed last season due to Tommy John surgery. Prior to that, he was 10-1 Iowa Western CC with 88 k’s and 16 bb’s according to his biography per olemisssports.com. If he comes back healthy and 100 percent, he could be a signifcant contributor for the 2016 program.

Weekend of interest: Louisville Cardinals February 26-28

Louisville coach Dan Mcdonell is a former Mike Bianco understudy at OleMiss with a record of 406-177 and has turned Louisville into a national power as Bianco has done in Oxford. This would be a great chance at a signature RPI boost and momentum grab going into March and into SEC play.

What to expect: The Rebels junior nucleus of JB Woodman, Errol Robinson, Colby Bortles, Wyatt Short etc. should be of great benefit. Hosting a Regional at Swayze Field is not farfetched. 38 wins going into the SEC tournament sounds about right at this point. Hotty Toddy Rebel fans! See you at Swayze!

Photos via Ole Miss Media Relations

Band of Brothers: Ole Miss’ Family Legacy

Mississippi is a State of small towns and close knit communities. Family, for most of us is the most important thing in our lives. Where we go to college or play college sports is also largely based on family ties. We tend to follow our parents or older siblings up to Oxford; because Ole Miss is also a large part of our family.

(This article originally printed in RebelNationMagazine)

We are blessed to have followed and cheered for some outstanding football families at Ole Miss which make up our own “Band of Brothers,” and if you are lucky enough to have played beside your brother at any level you know how special of an occurance it is for those families.

Today we have the Nkemdiche brothers and the Moore twins on the team but we have enjoyed watching standout brothers play together at Ole Miss for at least 80 years.

One of the most famous lines of siblings to ever play at Ole Miss was one of the first. The Poole brothers of Amite County, Mississippi. Buster Poole only began playing football his senior year in high school when he transferred to Natchez High School in the mid-1930’s.

Buster’s obvious natural talents were quickly recognized and he was introduced to the game of football. He soon began teaching his brother’s in the back yard and thus began a family legacy that has so far resulted in over 50 athletic letters to family members of the Poole’s with the most recent member in 2004’s Rob Robertson.

Don’t forget about one of Ole Miss’ first All-American’s with Bruiser Kinard (35-37) and his brothers Henry and George; the great running back Merle Hapes (39-41) and his brothers Clarence and Ray, who can be found still in the record books for punt and kick returns. The Mannings, I don’t have to say any more than that.

I could fill this entire magazine with stories about Ole Miss athletic families but I had the chance to talk to three guys in particular that shared some insight into their time at Ole Miss with their brothers.

Belton Johnson hails from the very small town of Coffeeville MS and arrived at Ole Miss as a walk-on in Tuberville’s last year. After some hard work and a coaching change he was rewarded with a scholarship and in 2002 his brother Marcus was able to join him on the field.

belton marcus johnson

Belton and Marcus not only played together they played right beside each other and that brotherly connection helped make both of them better players that resulted in two pro careers.

“It’s one thing thing to be on the same team as your brother but how many people can say they played side by side with their sibling? My brother and I can. Marcus and I are so close to each other to this day, even though he’s coaching the offensive line at Duke and I’m living in Regina, SK, Canada. We Face-Time at least 2-3 times a week and text on a daily basis. Even before he got to Oxford, Marcus would always encourage me to never give up and I would always push him to be great. Marcus and I truly had and still have a unique bond. My mom (Glenda Smith) was so happy to have both her boys playing so close to home as it was only a 30 minute drive from Coffeeville to Oxford. Little did my mom know, we were happy to be close to home too, as mom would often feed the offensive line either at our place in Oxford or home in Coffeeville. LOL!!! Big grocery bills!”

John Fourcade was a read-option QB before there was such a thing and is still one of the top five Rebels in touchdowns in his career with 22. The Gretna Louisiana native was at Ole Miss from 1978 to 1981 along with his linebacker brother Keith (79-82).

To John, having his brother at Ole Miss was very important factor during his recruiting.

“When I was being recruited, for me to go to Ole Miss, my brother would have to get a scholarship. We played together in high school and I wanted him to get a big time scholarship. Having him on the team with me and as my roommate for a year was special, so our family could see us both play together.

fourcades

Keith made a name for himself up at Ole Miss; he was the leader in tackles one season. Being able to have your brother play with me for three years, made it easier for me to play. I knew on offense I would be the leader and on defense he would lead.

It was just a dream come true to watch him on defense and for him to watch me do my thing on offense.”

It is hard to find a family outside of the Manning’s that contribute more to the Oxford area than previous Oxford Mayoral candidate Todd Wade and his brother Justin.

Todd Wade, Romaro Miller, Belton Johnson and Justin Wade

Todd Wade, Romaro Miller, Belton Johnson and Justin Wade

The Wade’s played high school ball at Jackson Prep. Todd was an All-American offensive lineman from 1996 to 1999 and Justin was a linebacker from (00 to 03). Justin lets us in on some special moments of playing with Todd.

“Having a brother who had already played (for a while) on the collegiate level gave me great insight on what to expect when I arrived from the get-go. Just seeing how hard Todd worked at his craft was a great learning experience even when I was still in high school because he would workout consistently even when he was in Jackson for the holidays.

I really tried to duplicate what he did, but pretty quickly in two-a-days it was apparent I would be redshirting. He told me to work hard that first year but enjoy yourself. It didn’t take him long to come back to me and say, ‘Whooo! I didn’t mean for you to have that much fun!’

We went against each other a few times in practice but I was low on the totem pole. There is an unwritten rule that a younger brother should find his own way a bit and not get shielded by his brother.

You have to ultimately stand on your own and earn the respect of your teammates. The seniors that year (Todd included) planned a big hazing ritual which they had to endure as freshman by running down sorority row in only our jock straps! We were a little freaked out, this was not like (standing up and singing) karaoke, this was sorority row in my underwear! There was no doubt I was going to do it. I would never back down, but luckily Coach Cutcliffe caught wind of it and put an end to the idea. That was the best news I had ever heard!

Having the opportunity to play with and share those times with your brother was an incredible experience and I will always appreciate what I gained from it.”

 

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Dabo Swinney and Hugh Freeze: Christian College Coaches Under Fire

No matter your personal beliefs, America’s founding values allow us to worship and share our individual faith. It was so important to our founding fathers, it was the first amendment to the Constitution that makes up the Bill of Rights.

Our nation was founded in part due to the persecution and harassment of English people that refused to follow the “Church of England.” Catholics and other traditional protestants were labeled as traitors and criminal laws were enacted against Puritan worship services.

So, religious persecution is nothing new in the world and it continues even today. Even in the world of college football.

Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney will be facing off against the Alabama Crimson Tide on January 11th with the national title on the line.

While both Coach Swinney and Saban are obviously great football coaches, Clemson’s Swinney expresses a personal faith that has put a bullseye on his back.

The Freedom From Religon Foundation has threatned lawsuit against Clemson due to Swinney’s out spoken Christianity.

According to the “Foundation,” Swinney has promoted a culture in the program that promotes Christianity and violates constitutional guidelines of the separation of church and state as stipulated in the Establishment Clause of the first amendment.

The Foundation is essentially saying that Swinney’s personal views as a high profile employee of the University borders on the official views of the University.

This is not a new fight or discussion. While the concept of a separation of Church and State is not expressly written in those exact words that was the intent of founding father Thomas Jefferson as a way to more easily explain the first amendment.

The key argument on both sides of this age old battle is do the kids or staff under Swinney’s control have the freedom to worship or not worship in their own personal way? And does Swinney’s faith and his expression of that faith somehow infringe on those under his control?

While I won’t be able to settle that argument here in this article, I do want to make the point that Swinney does have the personal constitutional right to express his faith. His right to do so should be supported by all Americans who enjoy the same right.

In the Deep South, high school football coaches are notorious for preaching in the locker room and using bible verses and biblical narratives in their motivational speeches.

If you have ever played high school football you probably had at least one coach like that and certainly in Mississippi, that is the rule rather than the exception.

But for some reason the idea of a college coach using these same lessons and stories of faith and struggle and perservance is seen as heresy or even hypocritical.

Ole Miss’ Coach Hugh Freeze is one of those preacher type high school coaches that happened to make the quantum leap to become a SEC head coach.

Photo by Kevin Cox - Getty Images

Photo by Kevin Cox – Getty Images

Freeze coached at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis for 13 years and is the son of one of those preacher type head coaches as Danny Freeze coached at Independence and Senatobia High schools in Mississippi. The younger Freeze no doubt grew up in that environment, learning from his father and other coaches and continues that model.

For Freeze, his faith is more than a model, it is even more important than football itself. He has said that football is just the platform, the opportunity, to impact the lives of people in the program.  Freeze said in a Washington Post article in 2014 that, “When my life comes to an end, how much does that scoreboard really matter?”

Given the fact that Freeze hold many of the same thoughts we all do as football fans in the South, why does his words cause so much concern.

I am willing to bet if anyone else said that same sentence, you would absolutely agree. But because a college football coach says it, there is some hidden sinister agenda behind his words.

As you would expect, rival fan bases and blog posts highlight this minority opinion.

Sage writer “DawgSmack” posts this gem from Maroon and White Nation that says Hugh Freeze’s Gospel is actually a Gospel of Hate.

The manager of MSU fan blog 3rdand57 had some interesting twitter posts recently that I think really highlights this thought that somehow big time college football coaches are not allowed or are incapable of having “core values” without lying or fabricating their faith.

beastman freeze faith invert

I understand rival fans are irrational but wow, when you stand back from a distance, it is really disheartening that fellow Christians can stand by and toss accusations like this without recognizing that we all struggle with faith.

We all fall short of the ideal. We are all hypocrites in that way and saying someone else is not perfect is holding a football coach up to a weirdly high standard that they wouldn’t hold themselves to.

Will Hugh Freeze make mistakes in his life, of course. Will God help Dabo Swinney beat the “evil” Nick Saban Alabama empire?  I hope my God has more to do on that Monday.

We need to stand with other men who are brave enough to take a stand and in the heat of the national media spotlight make their beliefs known.  Why would anyone work for a boss that only cares about winning and winning only?

Because at the end of our days, the scoreboard and the color of our jacket wont matter.

You don’t have to be a fan of Ole Miss or Clemson to appreciate men like Hugh Freeze and Dabo Swinney.

LJ Scott - Joe Robbins Getty Images

COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF PREVIEW: Michigan State Spartans

Two years ago, Michigan State took down Ohio State and QB Braxton Miller in the Big 10 Championship 34-24, ruining Ohio State’s BCS National Championship hopes and allowing Auburn to sneak in.

After winning the 2013 Rose Bowl over Stanford, MSU would fail to reach the same mark in 2014, losing the conference championship and watched as Ohio State make it to the first College Football Playoff.

SEASON IN A SNAPSHOT

This season, Michigan State had with one thing on their mind; Revenge. They had the schedule to do it too.  Playing Oregon at home without Mariota, saw the Spartans win 31-28 after holding off a late rally by Vernon Davis.

Then a late season game against Ohio State, on the road.  The odds were already stacked against them and Connor Cook wasn’t able to play that game due to a shoulder injury.  MSU was able to overcome the injury and beat Ohio State 17-14.

In the conference championship against an undefeated Iowa, Sparty’s one loss team won a tough game, 16-13. With 14:49 left on the clock and down by 4 points, MSU milked the clock to inside the last minute before punching it in with freshman RB L.J. Scott to secure a spot in the CFP.

TEAM STRENGTHS

This team with a healthy Connor Cook can use the play action better than anyone in the nation and the pass rush is a force to be reckoned with.

TEAM WEAKNESSES

The pass defense of the Spartans are not on par with the other CFP teams and if Cook is banged up, the offense suffers as well.

PLAYOFF FORECAST

This team can look very average at times and has had trouble scoring points, as in the Nebraska loss. But if they get in a rhythm they have shown they can be as good as Ohio State was last year.

I personally think they can win it all due to the depth at running back and at wide out.

Well that’s all for the CFP previews! Stay tuned for the National Championship preview!