OXFORD - No. 3 no more, Ole Miss isn't elite right now, but that doesn't mean the Rebels won't be this season.
Coaches and players say issues that led to a 38-10 loss to Florida can be corrected.
Ole Miss dropped eleven spots to No. 14 in the latest Associated Press top 25. The Rebels should have more of a chance to focus internally this week. They're favored by more than 40 points against New Mexico State which visits Saturday morning.
"We're not elite right now. Do we have the potential to be much better than we played the other night? I think we've shown that we do," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. "I believe this team will respond, no question, and we have the ability to be one of the best teams in the country."
Getting there will require greater proficiency in the red zone, more success on third-down defense and improved health.
Maybe more focus too.
"We've just got to worry about ourselves," safety Trae Elston said. "I think we let the media hype us up a little bit. I think that got into our heads."
Freeze praised the skill and quickness of Florida's defensive line at his regular press conference a week ago.
The Gators toyed with the Rebels' offensive line on game day limiting Ole Miss to 2.1 yards per rush with four sacks and 11 tackles for loss.
Ole Miss reached the 1-yard line with a first down but had to kick a short field goal.
"Some people, Florida, when we went to practicing all their stuff we didn't think they'd be that special," offensive tackle Fahn Cooper said.
Cooper says the team has the maturity to re-focus and rebound from its first loss of the season.
"I think we will have a very good chance of being in one of those four (playoff) spots at the end of the season. With the attitude that most guys have this season I think we, more than most teams, should have a legitimate shot."
Ole Miss is still trying to figure out its best lineup without nickel back Tony Conner.
This week that will include Mike Hilton moving from Rover to Huskie and Trae Elston from free safety to Rover.
Sophomore C.J. Hampton will enter the lineup at free safety. A.J. Moore, also a sophomore, had started the last two weeks at Huskie in place of Conner, a junior and projected early-round NFL draft pick.
Weekly Tunsil update
Freeze remains "hopeful" that he'll add offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil to the mix soon.
Tunsil remains unavailable while the NCAA looks into claims that he received improper benefits, most notably extended use of a loaner car from a local dealership.
The possibility of Tunsil missing the entire season has never been ruled out.
"I don't let my mind go there. From what I know, which is limited, I would think he'll be back with us at some time," Freeze said.
Walton could be out this week
Senior running back Jaylen Walton didn't finish the Florida game with an ankle issue. His availability for this week's game against New Mexico State is unknown.
"He's kind of day to day right now. We'll see. If he can't we'll have some other guys that are ready to go," Freeze said. "We'll see what his health status is later this week."