Ole Miss leads teams with staying power

Win or lose (close) Saturday, this could be an important week in the arc of Ole Miss football. Playing No. 1 Alabama has the upstart Rebels in the spotlight. Instead of “next victim,” as they often have been in the series, the 3-0 Rebs now have the appearance of “next contender.”

How popular is Hugh Freeze these days? I asked his publicists earlier this week if I could get him on the phone for a few minutes to talk about the idea of sustainability in the SEC. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem, but this week he has a full dance card.

Win this game, and that could become the new norm in Oxford.

Most coaches I talked to said that, given the program’s direction on the field -- and off it in terms of recruiting -- Ole Miss could at least be moving toward the top tier of the very tough SEC West division.

Are the Rebels ready, however, to play with Bama?

Elsewhere in the country, Baylor, with an explosive offense and improving defense, is becoming a more popular Big 12 pick. And UCLA has already shown it can win the Pac-12 South.

The Bears and Bruins join the Rebels in our look at rising programs with staying power.

Ole Miss Rebels

As I’ve written for months, other coaches are aware of the mojo Freeze has working. It started with a strong finish to the 2012 season, continued through signing day, and Ole Miss is still climbing after September road wins at Vanderbilt and Texas.