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ESPN's Aschoff talks Freeze, 2012 schedule and future of Ole Miss football

Football beat writer David Collier recently caught up with ESPN.com’s SEC blogger Edward Aschoff, who spoke about the Ole Miss football program and its eventful offseason.

David Collier: Talk about the hiring of Hugh Freeze and what you think it does for Ole Miss to make them a legitimate contender in the SEC West.

Edward Aschoff: I think patience is definitely going to be key, not only for Freeze but for the fan base. The recruiting has to be better. He was left a good bit of talent by Houston Nutt’s last class, but he struggled the last couple of years because his recruiting didn’t pan out the first couple of seasons he was there. A lot of guys didn’t qualify, and a lot of guys just didn’t pan out.

Freeze is definitely a solid recruiter. He knows the area around Mississippi. He’s going to be able to recruit that state. He has to win that first. He has to beat Dan Mullen in recruiting every year to get Ole Miss back. I think outside of getting athletes, he has to restore some sort of discipline. They struggled so much with discipline last season on and off the field. For a team that only won two games, there’s no way you can get any momentum if you have an attitude problem. I think that’s what Ole Miss has.

Freeze seems like a guy that can shape things up there. I think it will take him awhile; Ole Miss is definitely way behind in the SEC. It’s not going to be a quick fix. He’s going to need a few years. I don’t think it’s going to be two or three years before Ole Miss is really competing in the West. It’s going to be really tough coming off that first season. To play all those road games, to play a schedule like that, it’s going to be hard for him to keep momentum in his program.

I think attitude and patience (are) definitely going to be the keys for Freeze’s career at Ole Miss. It’s going to take a few years. Five years may be the time that we really start to see Ole Miss competing in the West. They’re really behind the eight ball right now. It’s going to take some time.

DC: Do you think Freeze was the right guy for Ole Miss?

EA: Time will tell. It’s always tough to say right off the bat if it was the right hire. A lot of big-name coaches don’t work out and some smaller coaches do, so I think it will take a couple of years before we find out. It’s kind of like recruiting, where everybody puts a lot of stock into where recruiting classes rank right after signing day, but what they should look at is where they are in four years.

I think it’ll take a couple of years before we figure out if Freeze was the right hire because look at Houston Nutt. A lot of people said that was a great hire, and he was gone after four years.

DC: Would you say it was a hire Ole Miss had to make to take a chance on a younger, unproven coach?

EA: Again, it’s kind of tough because there were a lot of big-name guys that I know were interested in Ole Miss. Getting a guy that knows the state of Mississippi, that is a great recruiter, that has had success at his last job and that’s an up-and-coming guy will add flare to the Ole Miss job.

You look at Urban Meyer. He was a hot, young coach. Freeze wasn’t on Urban’s level, but he’s a young coach that a lot of people have been talking about. I think getting him in and the fact that he knows Oxford and a lot of people there will help warm up the fan base to him. Right off the bat, it is definitely a good hire.

DC: Talk about the staff he has put together. A lot of the coaches have previously been recruiting coordinators. Do you think that will help or hurt Ole Miss in the future?

EA: It’s tough to say right now. Getting guys that are going to be able to get athletes on campus is always a good thing, but you definitely need people that know how to develop talent.

Going back to Houston Nutt, he was able to get a few really good players, but he just couldn’t develop them. Ed Orgeron had that problem. He brought in some really good recruiting classes, but they just couldn’t develop that talent.

I think, in the offseason, developing those attitudes, developing those personalities and whipping those guys into shape is going to be big for them. It doesn’t matter how good of a recruiter you are if you can’t develop those players both mentally and physically.

Like telling how good of a coach Freeze is going to be — time will tell with the assistant coaches.

DC: Talk about the schedule and some of the good and bad things for Ole Miss and how it compares to other schools around the SEC.

EA: For starters, I think Ole Miss, unfortunately, has the toughest schedule in the SEC next year. Their true road games are at Alabama, at Arkansas, at Georgia and at LSU. Then they have to play both Texas and Texas A&M. So I think it’s a really tough start for new coach Freeze in Oxford. It’s definitely going to be a learning experience.

I think the plus side of it is that Ole Miss is going to go through a lot of challenging games, and we’re going to learn about Freeze and about the resiliency of the team. It’s pretty tough. Your toughest games are always going to be on the road, but (especially) when you’re playing the best teams in the SEC all on the road in your first year.

DC: What games stick out in your mind that can build momentum for Freeze and the football program?

EA: I think it’s the last game. Beating Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl is huge. Houston Nutt did not beat Dan Mullen. It definitely gave Mississippi State momentum at the end of every year.

Mullen has been great in the post-season, and he’s been able to recruit really well. There’s that big billboard fight between Mississippi State and Ole Miss right now, so getting that win at the end of the season makes up for a lot.

You see Kentucky last year. They didn’t make a bowl game, but they beat Tennessee for the first time in 26 years. That’s huge for a program. It gives you momentum in the offseason. It helps you in recruiting. It helps your mindset going into the next year, especially after a bad year.

This is going to be a tough season for Freeze, but if he can get that win in Oxford over Mississippi State and bring the Egg Bowl back to Oxford, I think that will help him out a lot in recruiting and shape that discipline that he needs on his team to shift the momentum in that program.

DC: What is the best-case and worst-case scenario as far as record goes next season?

EA: I think the worst case is getting another two-win season. With all of those road games, I think it’s going to pile on at the end of the season, having to play at Arkansas, at Georgia and coming home to play a Vanderbilt team that I think is going to be pretty good just like they were last season. If they go another season of winning just two games, that’s really going to hurt heading into Freeze’s next season.

There’s a chance they can win three or four. I think the best-case scenario is winning four or five games next season. Like I said, it’s not going to be a quick fix. It’s going to be tough for them to get to the bowl-eligible mark or even to five wins because of how tough that road schedule is and having to play Texas at home as well.

I’m not sure about a prediction yet. I want to see what they do this offseason. How good does D.T. Shackelford come back? Can that offensive line rebound from last season? Is Jeff Scott ready to be the go-to back in that offense? Who is going to be the quarterback? I think that is a huge storyline in the offseason for this team. And who are going to be the playmakers for this team?

So, I’m not quite sure about a prediction yet, but I think worst case is two wins and best case four or five wins.

DC: What would you tell fans who are expecting the quick fix and a lot of big-time recruits to sign on such short time?

EA: I think a lot of patience has to be instilled in the Ole Miss fan base. I think a lot of people think that this is a program on Alabama’s level, on LSU’s level and on Arkansas’ level, but it’s just not true. Ole Miss is at the bottom of the SEC right now, and it’s going to take time.

To get those big-time recruits in the first (recruiting) class obviously helps build positive attitude. I know Freeze has his two guys ranked in the ESPN Top 150, and that’s good. He’s definitely hitting the recruiting trail hard, but it’s all about what these guys can do in their second and third years. Quick fixes don’t work in the SEC, and it won’t work with Ole Miss. The fans have to be patient with this coach.