ATLANTA — For the second straight year, the Ole Miss Rebels get the college football season started as they open their 2014 season in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against Boise State, with a kickoff set for 7 p.m. CT from Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.
Head coach Hugh Freeze has led Ole Miss to 15 wins over his first two years in Oxford, including six SEC victories, and two bowl wins. The 18th-ranked Rebels enter a highly anticipated 2014 season coming off consecutive winning campaigns for the first time since the 2008-09 seasons.
For Boise State, first-year head coach Bryan Harsin returns to his alma mater, where he coached from 2001-10, inheriting a program that has won 10 or more games in 10 of the last 12 years.
“Opening up with a team like Boise in the Georgia Dome on national TV is a great opportunity for both teams,” Freeze said. “Their teams have embraced this type of atmosphere in the past. We’ve witnessed that on film, and I saw it when it happened with them.
“They understand winning. They have for many years. Over the last 10 years, their program has the No. 2 winning percentage in college football. No question in my mind that they’ll be prepared and anxious for the opportunity to play us. Our kids will embrace it, also. They’re excited about the challenge and also about the opportunity.”
The Ole Miss offense finished last season with a school-record 6,153 total yards and ranked 21st nationally and fifth in the Southeastern Conference in total offense (473.3 yards per game). Record-setting signal caller Bo Wallace returns at quarterback and he’s as healthy and confident as he’s been in his Ole Miss career.
“I’m thrilled that we have him,” Freeze said. “I like the demeanor he has right now. I like the leadership he’s trying to show and the way he’s studying film. It’s his last chance and he has a chance to do something special, and when you talk about putting him in the arena of breaking records from a guy like Eli Manning that’s pretty lofty. He has those chances.”
“It definitely motivates me, but I feel like I have the guys around me if I just get them the ball,” said Wallace of school and SEC records. “Laquon (Treadwell)’s going to make big plays. Vince (Sanders), all of those guys are going to make big plays. One thing that no quarterback has ever done here is win an SEC Championship (Game). I want to be the first one to do that, and that’s the most important thing to me.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Rebels return nine starters, including all five starters in the secondary, led by senior free safety Cody Prewitt, the SEC’s only returning first-team All-American.
“With his maturity right now, I’d be shocked if he’s not yelling and screaming to get it right because he understands what we’re trying to do very, very well,” Freeze said. “We feel comfortable that he can help us on the back end. There’s a lot of motion shifts that Boise likes to throw at you. He’ll certainly have to be the leader back there to communicate all of those adjustments we have to make.”
Year three of the journey begins, and the expectation is to be competitive in every game and be relevant in the SEC Western Division, and Freeze feels they should be just that.
“Our kids are hungry,” Freeze said. “We’re excited about our plans. We like what we do. We like our kids. We like that we’re deeper at some places. Hate we lost Chief (Brown), Tee (Shepard) and Carlos (Davis) for the year. We have to next man up and get ready to play the next guy. There’s no question we’re definitely deeper.”
This is the first meeting between Ole Miss and Boise State. The Rebels are 88-26-5 in season openers and have won 15 of their last 18, including last year’s thrilling 39-35 win at Vanderbilt.