Bo Wallace will be the key if the Ole Miss Rebels hope to finally get over the hump in the SEC West. Yes, we heard this last year. And the year before when he was an unknown JUCO transfer with significant upside. For the third consecutive year, the Rebels will go only as far as their quarterback’s strong right arm and quick legs can carry them.
Ole Miss has a 15-11 record in two seasons under Hugh Freeze, largely due to Wallace’s play. He is also the SEC’s active leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns. When he has played well, the Rebels are among the best teams in the SEC. In wins against Vanderbilt, Texas and LSU, who combined for 27 victories in 2013, Wallace threw for 806 yards and two touchdowns, rushed for three touchdowns, and threw no interceptions. In close losses to Auburn, Texas A&M, Missouri and Mississippi State, the Ole Miss signal-caller tossed five touchdowns and seven interceptions and failed to rush for a score. While Wallace had a strong junior season, his occasional mental lapses proved costly, such as his overtime fumble into the endzone to lose the Egg Bowl.
Wallace must improve at working through his progressions while also remaining level-headed during a game's key moments. At times, it looked like Wallace was trying to win the game in one play rather than patiently guide the offense down the field. He has a strong arm, but he also has too much confidence in it. Wallace will have weapons all over the field, but he needs to hit his checkdowns rather than force passes into tight coverage. Most importantly, the Rebels' veteran quarterback must stay healthy. Wallace had surgery over a year ago on his right shoulder, but his arm strength certainly declined throughout the 2013 season. He looked to be at full strength during spring drills and Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said Wallace had more zip on his passes. Backups Ryan Buchanan and Devante Kincade are talented, but neither is ready for the spotlight.
The Rebels proved that they were capable of hanging with the top teams in the SEC and return a plethora of talent on both sides of the ball. The defense could be among the best in the conference with studs like Robert Nkemdiche, Cody Prewitt, and Tony Conner returning. With Prewitt, Conner, and Trae Elston in coverage and Nkemdiche and CJ Johnson chasing down quarterbacks, few teams will be able to successfully throw against Ole Miss. Wallace will have plenty of options in the backfield and at receiver to distribute the ball to. However, the Rebels need Wallace to show leadership and consistency for them to jump into the upper echelon of the SEC this year. Wallace’s play could be the difference between a 10-win season and a seven-win finish.