GAMEDAY PREVIEW: No. 11 Ole Miss vs. No. 4 Florida State
Sept. 5, 2016

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TV Network: ESPNOle Miss Radio Network: (Sirius 145, XM 190)


By Dylan Edwards,

ORLANDO, Fla. - Eight months ago, Ole Miss celebrated a comfortable win against Oklahoma State in New Orleans, claiming the program's first Sugar Bowl win in over four decades. Finally, it's gameday again.

The Camping World Kickoff featuring the anticipated showdown between the No. 11 Rebels and No. 4 Seminoles will be the center of the sports world at 7 p.m. CT on Labor Day.

"It is tremendous opportunity," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. "We love knowing that all eyes of the nation will be on us. It is a chance to take another step in expanding the brand of Ole Miss and represent our great conference and university."

Ole Miss is led into the season opener by senior quarterback Chad Kelly, who broke numerous school records in his first season as the signal caller for Freeze's potent offense.

However, the Rebels offense faces a stingy Seminole defense that ranked in the top-five nationally last season is yards allowed per pass attempt. They allowed only two quarterbacks to break the 300-yard mark through the air, Miami's Brad Kaaya and Louisville's Lamar Jackson. Kelly threw for more than 300 yards eight times last season. Florida State is led defensively by playmaking safety Derwin James.

"There are not many guys like him. He is special talent,' Freeze said. "To have that size and speed is pretty special. He is arguably one of the best in the nation."

Ole Miss and Kelly counter Florida State's talented defense with arguably the deepest receiving group in school history, despite losing first-round pick Laquon Treadwell.

"They have great players (at cornerback), but I love our receivers," Freeze said. "I like them any week we play against anybody; I think we have a chance on any play to win a one-on-one."

The opposite side of the ball also showcases a matchup of each team's strength. Florida State will look to get their game-breaking running back Dalvin Cook going against Ole Miss' talented defensive front.

Cook averaged more than 140 yards rushing per game last season. Ole Miss was stingy against ground attacks, allowing 3.3 yards per rush to rank No. 12 nationally. No running back over the past two seasons has reached Cook's average of 140 yards on the ground in a game against Ole Miss.

Florida State's offense is more than Dalvin Cook, though. Freshman quarterback Deondre Francois is making his first start, but the `Noles return a wealth of experience.

"They have a lot of returners on both sides of the football," Freeze said. "Offensively, tailback is a special, special player, (Dalvin) Cook is really, really good, (Travis) Rudolph and (Jesus) Wilson and (Kermit) Whitfield are all returners that caught, I think, over 50 balls each. They've got balance and good players all around."

Ole Miss has one player returning that is as vital as anyone to its defense. The Landsharks are bolstered by the return of senior defensive back Tony Conner. After he left the Alabama game last season with a knee injury, the Rebels lacked a vital piece on defense.

"Having him back changes us. There is no doubt," Freeze said. "It took us three games last year to figure out how to play without him and C.J. (Hampton), Issac (Gross). He is a leader, he understands the game, he is physical, he's just a football player so I think him at 90 percent makes us a lot better."

Ole Miss against Florida State has been previewed and analyzed countless times over the summer months leading into the season. It seemed gameday would never arrive. It has now. Now, it's finally time to #RiseUp.






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