Rebels looking to improve

Published 7:00 am Saturday, July 19, 2014

HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Bo Wallace’s career passing numbers are drastically higher than any other returning quarterback in the Southeastern Conference.

Yet on Thursday, Mississippi’s senior learned the media had selected him for the All-SEC preseason third team, putting Auburn’s Nick Marshall on the first team and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott on the second team.

He wasn’t happy about it.

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Wallace said the perceived slight “adds another chip on my shoulder that I play with anyway.” Mississippi has 15 starters returning, including nine on defense, from a team that finished 8-5 last season.

Now third-year coach Hugh Freeze said he expects the Rebels to be “very relevant in the SEC West.” Ole Miss has never been to the SEC championship game since the league split to two divisions in 1992.

Wallace is a big reason why the Rebels are so confident in their chances this year. He threw for 3,346 yards and 18 touchdowns last season despite dealing with a surgically-repaired throwing shoulder that he says wasn’t always 100 percent during the season.

Wallace said he wasn’t surprised Marshall was named first-team All-SEC because he led Auburn to an SEC championship and the national title game. But Prescott’s placement on the second team — especially considering he plays for the rival Bulldogs — was a big surprise.

Mississippi State beat Ole Miss 17-10 in overtime in the Egg Bowl last season when a banged-up Prescott returned to lead the Bulldogs. A Wallace fumble ended the game. He has no doubt that’s part of the reason some view Prescott as the superior quarterback.

“I think about it every day,” Wallace said. “I work every day to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Wallace has at least one big fan: his coach. Freeze said Wallace is maturing and should have a good senior season. He is back throwing a football the way he was always remembered being able to throw one — with plenty of zip. An offseason full of rest and rehabilitation has the quarterback’s throwing shoulder as strong as it’s ever been during his time at Ole Miss. The renewed strength has come just in time for his senior season.

“The guy has a chance to own every passing record in Ole Miss history before he leaves,” Freeze said. “Like I’ve said in many interviews, there’s no way we win two bowl games without him the past two seasons.”

Wallace should also get some help from his defense, which returns several key contributors from last season. All-American safety Cody Prewitt led the SEC with six interceptions while linebacker Serderius Bryant had 78 tackles, including 12½ for a loss.

Ole Miss opens the season with a high-profile game against Boise State on Aug. 28 in Atlanta.

Freeze said it’s a chance for the Rebels to elevate their profile and prove they’re ready to contend in the SEC.

“We’re excited and hopefully can embrace the opportunity and the magnitude it will have on expanding our brand nationally,” Freeze said. “You certainly know that could help.”

• Also, eight Ole Miss Rebels were named to one of three preseason All-SEC teams voted on by league media at the 2014 Southeastern Conference Media Days on Thursday.

Senior safety Cody Prewitt (Bay Springs) and sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche (Loganville, Georgia) were selected to the first-team defense, while sophomore offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (Lake City, Florida) made the first-team offense.

Second-team selections were sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell (Crete, Illinois), junior linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche (Loganville, Georgia) and sophomore safety Tony Conner (Batesville).

Third-team picks were senior quarterback Bo Wallace (Pulaski, Tennessee) and senior linebacker Serderius Bryant (Sanford, Florida).

Ole Miss was chosen to finish fourth in the SEC West behind Alabama, Auburn and LSU. The Rebels were picked ahead of Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Arkansas.

Miss. State: Four Mississippi State players were selected to the preseason All-Southeastern Conference team that was announced Thursday at the end of the 2014 SEC Media Days.

Quarterback Dak Prescott, defensive lineman Chris Jones and linebacker Benardrick McKinney were selected to the All-SEC second team. Jameon Lewis was voted a third-team wide receiver.

In addition, an order of finish was unveiled by the over 1,200 media members who voted. MSU was predicted to finish fifth in the SEC Western Division with 890 points.

Prescott, the most valuable player of the 2013 Liberty Bowl, enters his junior season having thrown for 2,134 yards and 14 touchdowns. Prescott has accounted for 17 rushing touchdowns in his career, which is tops among all returning SEC quarterbacks. He is a candidate for the Maxwell Award and the Davey O’Brien Award.

Jones is coming off a tremendous true freshman season in which he registered 32 total tackles, including seven for loss and three sacks. McKinney is considered one of the top linebackers in the nation. The junior was the Bulldogs’ leading tackler a year ago with 71. McKinney and Jones tied for the team lead in tackles for loss.

Lewis finished his junior year with 923 receiving yards on 64 receptions. The 64 catches ranked second all-time in MSU single-season annals.