OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — First-year Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze promises his offense will play fast.
Winning, that might be a little more difficult for the Rebels.
"What I do know is that we will compete with passion and intensity for 60 minutes every time we're on the field," Freeze said. "How does that translate into wins and losses? I'm not completely sure. Nobody is. The Southeastern Conference is incredibly talented and competitive and we're going to have to earn everything we get."
Ole Miss has already lived through two dreadful football seasons that produced just six total victories, a 1-15 Southeastern Conference record and an embarrassing loss to a Football Championship Subdivision program. That led to the firing of coach Houston Nutt and the hiring of Freeze, whose meteoric rise through the coaching ranks has led him to Oxford, which is just 50 miles from his hometown in Independence, Miss.
Less than 10 years ago, Freeze was coaching high school football. Now he's charged with leading the Rebels to the top of the brutal SEC Western Division.
Freeze has already turned around programs at NAIA-level Lambuth (Tenn.) and at Arkansas State. But Ole Miss will likely prove to be his toughest challenge.
"There's going to be some times we're going to rejoice this year and there will be some difficult times," Freeze said. "... I think those are times we'll have to lean on our core values. Hopefully we'll pull a few surprises that will sustain us."
The Rebels will build around a nucleus of young players. Jeff Scott rushed for a team-high 529 yards last season and six touchdowns. He'll be joined in the backfield by converted quarterback Randall Mackey, who threw for 1,112 yards and rushed for 180 yards last season.
"It feels natural for me in the backfield," Mackey said. "You've got the same view of the defense like at quarterback and it's been really easy picking up the plays since I had to know where everyone was going when I was the quarterback. I just want to help us win. If that's at running back, receiver or quarterback, I'm fine with it."
The quarterback race is down to two — junior Barry Brunetti and junior college transfer Bo Wallace. Freeze has said the race could last well into September, and it might take a few games to figure out which quarterback performs the best under pressure.
The 6-foot, 215-pound Brunetti played in five games last season, completing 19 of 35 passes for 144 yards. He also rushed for 110 yards. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound Wallace was an All-American at East Mississippi Community College last season, where he threw for 4,604 yards and 53 touchdowns.
Whoever wins the job will lead an up-tempo offense. Freeze's Arkansas State offense averaged 32.5 points and nearly 300 passing yards per game last season.
The Rebels do have a group of talented, young receivers. Sophomore Donte Moncrief led the team with 31 receptions for 454 yards and four touchdowns last season. Ja-Mes Logan, Vincent Sanders and Tobias Singleton are also highly regarded.
Freeze said he became enamored with the no-huddle offense during his days as a high school coach in Memphis, Tenn., and cobbled together a philosophy by watching tapes of hundreds of games.
"I did it from studying various people and various offenses at every level and putting it to my personality," the coach said. "If you were to ask me three years ago who I'd study, it would be Oklahoma State, Oregon and Oklahoma. I think we are a mixture of all of them, really."
On defense, the Rebels will lean on cornerback Charles Sawyer and linebacker Mike Marry to lead a turnaround after giving up more than 32 points per game last season.
Marry led Ole Miss with 81 tackles last season while Sawyer was right behind him with 70 tackles and a team-leading four interceptions.
"I do believe wholeheartedly you can get it done here and I refuse to think any other way," Freeze said. "The guys that I have with me believe that also. Recruiting, that is going to help. You have got to recruit better and get guys that fit with you. But, in the meantime, we are not going to sit here and allow someone to not buy in and be a vital part of this team."