Wrapping up the season for each of the SEC teams, starting with those who missed the postseason
It's hard to say that Ole Miss didn't meet expectations this year, largely because there were so few expectations to begin with. The Rebel Black Bear Ackbars were pretty clear back-runners for the SEC West in the preseason, with only Phil Steele and something called the Matrix picking someone else for the final slot in the division standings.
But even the most objective and / or pessimistic observer had to be a bit surprised at just how far Houston Nutt's team fell. There was no loss to an FCS team this year, but there weren't many wins -- period. Two, in fact -- one against an FCS team and one against a Fresno State team that later fired the coach. Yes, that's right, the only FBS win for Ole Miss came against a WAC team bad enough to get the second-winningest coach in program history fired. At least it was on the road.
It was also the last win for Ole Miss, which then embarked on a month-and-a-half-long march in total futility. It's hard to tell when the players gave up -- during the 52-7 annihilation against Alabama that proved a boost to Trent Richardson's Heisman campaign; after the second-half comeback by Arkansas that doused Nutt's chances against his old team; or perhaps in the loss to Louisiana Tech as part of the WAC schedule -- but most observers sensed by the end that the entire program simply quit somewhere in a string of games that seemed to get worse by the week.
Sometimes, you can say that a team was better on paper than it was on the field, or that the statistics show that a team was not as bad as its records look. Ole Miss was not one of those teams. In fact, Ole Miss was just as bad as you would expect it to be statistically, and maybe even a touch worse. The Rebels were ranked better than tenth in the SEC in three of the categories tracked by the NCAA -- punt returns, net punting and pass defense. And the Rebels ranked eighth in that last category -- which is a higher ranking than Ole Miss might have gotten had several of the teams on their schedule been trying to score in the second half.
So while getting the offense keyed up is certainly one of the main concerns for new head coach Hugh Freeze, it is certainly not the only thing he and his staff have to be worried about. On a per-play basis, the Rebels were the worst team in the SEC at defending the run and the pass. Ole Miss was the only team in the conference to give up more than five yards a carry. Perhaps not surprisingly, they were also the only defense that yielded more than six yards average on every play, run or pass.
And the Rebels gave up a jaw-dropping 47 percent conversion rate on third-down. And ... and ...
You don't need too many numbers to come to the pretty obvious conclusion that this was a bad team. If Hugh Freeze can manage to turn the team around in the next couple of years, his hiring could be the only positive thing to come out of a lost season for Ole Miss.