Published on January 5th, 2016 | by Alex Thiel0
Looking Back On The Ole Miss Rebels’ Season and Sugar Bowl Win
Oxford, Miss. – Well, well. Here we are, another January in Oxford. Another football season come and gone. The town’s empty. The excitement’s died down. Now we’re left with the familiar feeling of counting down the days until the next opening kickoff, when maybe–just maybe–it’ll finally be our year.
Except… not. This January feels completely different. The town’s abuzz. The excitement surrounding the Rebels is at an all-time high. This year, in a lot of ways, was the year we’ve all been waiting for since Archie last hung up his cleats.
They beat Bama. They took it to LSU. They pummeled Mississippi State. And as a finale, they completely obliterated Oklahoma State in the program’s first Sugar Bowl in 46 years. I have no reservations in saying that the 2015 Ole Miss Rebels were the best football team that Oxford’s seen since Johnny Vaught was roaming the sidelines – and certainly the best of my young lifetime.
The Rebs may not have been crowned SEC champs, but they beat the champions and were a 4th-and-25 away from making the elusive trip to Atlanta. Conference champions or not, these Rebels had everything: excitement and explosiveness on offense, speed and physicality on defense, and bona fide star power on either side of the ball.
Although a trio of 5-star recruits (OT Laremy Tunsil, DT Robert Nkemdiche and WR Laquon Treadwell) have all declared for the NFL draft a year early, they have left their mark on Ole Miss football in meaningful ways. Consecutive wins over college football’s premier program, consecutive New Year’s Six bowls, top-5 recruiting classes lined up at the door… the list goes on. Programs often talk about plans to “change the culture,” but rarely in college athletics do we see the hunters turn into the hunted to the degree that these Rebels have.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an Ole Miss football season without wondering what might have been, had things gone slightly differently. What if Arkansas had choked on the aforementioned 4th down try? What if Laremy Tunsil had been available in the first half of the season? What if injuries hadn’t derailed Tony Conner’s productivity in a sometimes-lackluster secondary? What if Alabama had lost just one more game somewhere along the way?
The Rebs would have had a chance to play for a national title, that’s what. It’s not hyperbolic Homerism. It’s nationally-accepted fact.
The point is this: the stakes were raised in 2015, and Ole Miss football appears to have reached something resembling “elite” status. Hugh Freeze has proven in his short tenure that he can attract top-tier talent to Oxford and put it in position to contend against anybody and everybody on the schedule. We’re no longer concerned strictly with winning parties; we want crystal footballs to match the stemware.