Last shot for Bo Wallace to spurn doubters, get Ole Miss to new heights
HOOVER, Ala. -- The reporters at SEC Media Days haven't gotten much correct when predicting the conference's finish in recent years. They have accurately forecasted the SEC champion just four times in the last 22 years. That run of futility includes five straight misses heading into this fall.
That trend of failed prognostication sits just fine with Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace. On Thursday, the Rebels' senior, who is the league's leading returning passer, was voted to the preseason All-SEC third team by the media. The Pulaski, Tenn., native is one of the more laid-back players in the conference, with a relatively humble, down-home attitude. But the media's slight didn't sit well with Wallace in the corner of a Hyatt Regency ballroom.
"I learned about it on the way over here, and I wasn’t happy about it," Wallace said. "It just adds another chip on my shoulder that I play with anyway."
For the record, Auburn's Nick Marshall landed first-team accolades, while Mississippi State's Dak Prescott was slotted on the second team. It's difficult to accurately place Wallace in the SEC quarterback hierarchy, especially given the recent exodus of proven talent at the position. That's why Wallace is embracing the opportunity to write his own storyline in 2014.
|Aug. 28||Boise State (in Atlanta)|
|Sept. 6||at Vanderbilt|
|Oct. 11||at Texas A&M|
|Oct. 25||at LSU|
|Nov. 22||at Arkansas|
|Nov. 29||Mississippi State|
Wallace spent much of the offseason recovering from a banged-up shoulder, something he now admits hindered him late last fall. The Rebels closed out the 2013 regular season with a road loss to eventual SEC East champion Missouri and a heartbreaking 17-10 overtime defeat at Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. Against the Bulldogs, Wallace fumbled in the end zone on a potential game-tying possession, a turnover that sealed the result.
"If we win that game at Mississippi State, the voting’s going to be a lot different," Wallace said. "The hype is going to be a lot different."
There's a sense that Wallace hasn't fully reached his peak, and, as a senior, he has one final chance to flourish. Wallace is already a leader among his teammates, even if he's not the vocal type. Defensive end C.J. Johnson said Wallace carries himself like a professional on and off the field. "That's Bo being Bo," Johnson said.
"There's no way we win two bowl games without him the past two seasons."
– Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze
Third-year coach Hugh Freeze already has the program on an upward trajectory -- he said the Rebels are ahead of schedule in rebuilding -- and Wallace is on track to break a host of individual school passing records. He enters the season ranked second in program history in passing yards (6,340), and he set records for total offense (3,701 yards) and completions (283) in 2013. Yet Wallace's name doesn't typically come up in conversations about the SEC's great recent quarterbacks.
Freeze said Wallace's relative anonymity shouldn't diminish what he has been able to accomplish.
"He's just been overshadowed by some really good players," Freeze said. "[He just needs to] continue to cut down on his turnovers, make sure he's making smart plays most of the time. The guy has a chance to own every passing record in Ole Miss history before he leaves there. Like I've said in many interviews, there's no way we win two bowl games without him the past two seasons."
The numbers aren't what concern Wallace at this juncture. More pressing is making a run at Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. The Rebels have never won an SEC title in the Georgia Dome, as their last conference crown came in 1963. Ole Miss' schedule sets up favorably this year: It gets Auburn, Alabama and Mississippi State at home, and it draw Tennessee and Vanderbilt as cross-division opponents.
Playing on the SEC's biggest stage is Wallace's goal right now. With a trip to the Georgia Dome in December, maybe the quarterback can make the media eat their words again.
"That cements your legacy forever as being the first one to be able to go do it," Wallace said of reaching Atlanta. "I know I’m going to put up the numbers, just because coach Freeze’s offense is built for the quarterback to put up numbers. I know I can do that. But it would be priceless to take this team to Atlanta."