Ole Miss

Hugh Freeze seeks to build depth for Ole Miss' challenging schedule

GULFPORT -- Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze and athletic director Ross Bjork came to the Gulfport Yacht Club on Monday evening on a wave of high energy and momentum.

After all, Ole Miss was able to display its three big trophies from their 10-3 season in 2015 - the Sugar Bowl trophy, the Egg Bowl trophy and the Magnolia Bowl trophy. They were emblematic -- in order -- of victories over Oklahoma State, Mississippi State and LSU.

Ole Miss recently completed spring football, and Freeze said it was a chance to develop the depth the Rebels will need to win the SEC West, the SEC -- and hopefully -- make the four-team college football playoff.

Ole Miss opens the 2016 season on Sept. 5 against Florida State in Orlando, Fla.

Building depth on roster

"I thought we had 15 good days," Freeze said. "We have obviously been one of the elite teams the last two years to be in two bowl games (Peach and Sugar) but the difference between being in those games and being in the playoffs is consistency throughout that 12- and 13-game season.

"I really think you need to have quality depth and I think we are getting there. That is what spring ball is for me is to develop that depth. When you do lose a C.J. Johnson, a Tony Conner, an Isaac Gross -- you have other guys prepared to play in this very difficult league.''

True freshman quarterback Shea Patterson, who enrolled early at Ole Miss, looked good during the spring. Freeze said it's too early to decide whether he will be redshirted with the return of senior quarterback Chad Kelly, who missed spring practice.

"I wouldn't be afraid to play him from what I saw this spring,'' Freeze said. "In my college coaching -- he is the most college-ready quarterback I've seen coming out of high school.''

Ole Miss has been in the hunt for the college football playoffs during the November stretch run the last two years, with losses to Auburn (2014) and Arkansas (2015) derailing a chance to win the SEC West and go to the SEC title game in Atlanta.

"The last two years we controlled our own destiny well into it," Freeze said. "Had it not been for a fumble when Laquon (Treadwell) broke his leg (against Auburn), there is a good chance we win it and go to Atlanta that year. And a fourth-and-25 (against Arkansas) kept us from Atlanta this year. So we are really close. We just have to find consistency others have found."

Ole Miss has to replace three guys who are projected to be in first round of the NFL Draft -- offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, wide receiver Treadwell and defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche.

Bjork and Freeze joined a packed house at the GYC, the third stop of the BancorpSouth Rebel Road Trip. They opened the road tour at Atlanta and Mobile before coming to Gulfport.

"There is a ton of momentum right now and it is our job to keep it going,'' Bjork said, "whether it is a facility project, more resources, or on-the-field or on-the-court success.

"Obviously football captures the (attention) of the entire state and the Ole Miss family. We will have more seats to work with in an expanded football stadium, with the natural grass, and we will be ready for the first game.''

Ole Miss has home games with Wofford, Alabama and Georgia in September after the FSU contest. Other home games are with Memphis, Auburn, Georgia Southern and Mississippi State. The Rebels travel to Arkansas and LSU back-to-back in October.

"I saw where our schedule is ranked either No. 1 or 2 as hardest in the nation,'' Freeze said. "That's a great challenge for us. They are games that people will be excited to watch and will measure us.''

And Freeze likes the fact that Ole Miss is back in the mix as a challenger in the SEC.

"That was our goal when we came here,'' he said. "The thing that keeps you up at night is how do you keep it there. It is not easy in this conference. I think we've been in on the right guys (in recruiting). We just have to continue to recruit at that level to be an elite team.''