**Note: This was a print-only story**
The Crimson White spoke to Daily Mississippian sports editor David Collier in Oxford, Miss., to get his take on Ole Miss’s current expectations, quarterback Bo Wallace’s improved play and building on last season’s game against Alabama.
Crimson White: Ole Miss generated a lot of buzz this offseason with its surprisingly successful recruiting class. Now that we have a feel of what the Rebels are made of this season, what kind of expectations does the team have right now moving forward?
David Collier: Going into the season, most fans were expecting a small step forward from last year’s 7-6 record and looking at seven or eight wins to be a good mark to build on. After starting the year 3-0, those expectations have risen a bit, but the schedule is about to get rough. After this weekend’s battle with Alabama, Ole Miss travels to Auburn and hosts Texas A&M and LSU.
Hugh Freeze has said over and over that he wants his team to fight for 60 minutes and see what the scoreboard says. While that likely won’t be enough against the Crimson Tide, it’s good enough for a couple more wins this season.
CW: Through three games this season, Bo Wallace looks like a much improved quarterback from a year ago. Comparing last season to this season, what would you say are the reason(s) behind his success so far this season?
DC: The biggest different is his decision making, which can be attributed to several things. First of all, it’s his second year running the show, and there’s a sense of familiarity with the offense. Then, you look at his health.
Wallace played most of last season with an injured throwing shoulder, which contributed to at least a couple of his interceptions. He missed spring ball while rehabbing the shoulder, and I think that helped him mentally. He became more of a student of the game, and so far, it’s paid off.
CW: Alabama’s offense has struggled a bit to find an identity so far in 2013. Who are some players on the Ole Miss defense that could continue Alabama’s struggles?
DC: It’s all going to start with the defensive line. Defensive end C.J. Johnson is the biggest playmaker on the front four, so he’ll have to have a big game for Ole Miss to slow Alabama down. Nose tackle Issac Gross will also be someone to watch because his quick first step can disrupt things in the middle. Gross has been hampered by a groin injury dating back to last season, but he looked more comfortable against Texas.
Another big issue to look at is the secondary. The Rebels have had problems making plays against the pass, but defensive back Mike Hilton was moved from Huskie (hybrid safety/linebacker) to corner and had a solid game against Texas. If he can man down the second corner spot along with Charles Sawyer, who is coming off an injury and suspension, Ole Miss won’t have as many worries at the backend of the defense.
CW: The Rebels were one of the few teams to give Alabama a decent game last season. In your opinion, what do they need to do to build on last season’s game at Bryant-Denny Stadium?
DC: Play with passion. It sounds cliché, but it’s that simple. Unlike last year, Ole Miss has confidence heading into Tuscaloosa, but how will they respond? They should come out loose since there’s nothing to lose, and Bo Wallace and company have experienced a year in tough environments.
CW: What’s your final score and why?
DC: I’m going to say Alabama wins it 38-28. Unless Alabama’s defense makes adjustments to up-tempo offenses, I think Ole Miss will move the ball and put points on the board, but the Crimson Tide have too many weapons offensively for the Rebels to stop.
Hugh Freeze has said Ole Miss is two or three more good recruiting classes away from having SEC depth, and I think that’ll be the biggest difference in Alabama coming away with the win.