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Mississippi, Freeze trying to continue rise in loaded SEC West

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HOOVER, Alabama — Mississippi has slowly improved for three straight seasons, becoming a legitimate factor in the Southeastern Conference Western Division last season.

The Rebels hope a little more experience — and a talented junior class — can push them to the top.

"We know what success tastes like coming out 7-0 (last season), but we're ready to take that next step and hopefully get to the SEC championship and national championship," Ole Miss defensive back Mike Hilton said. "We just have to make sure we play every game like it's our last and hopefully we stay injury-free."

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said on Thursday during SEC Media Days that he's a "big picture guy" and feels the Rebels are still moving in the right direction despite a blowout loss to TCU in last year's Peach Bowl.

The Rebels have steadily improved over the last three seasons and finished with a 9-4 record last season.

A big reason for that improvement: The program's big-name recruiting class from 2013 that has improved each season.

Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, receiver Laquon Treadwell, offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and defensive back Tony Connor were all from that 2013 class and are considered some of the league's elite players.

PHOTO: Mississippi tight end Evan Engram speaks to the media at the Southeastern Conference NCAA college football media days, Thursday, July 16, 2015, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Mississippi tight end Evan Engram speaks to the media at the Southeastern Conference NCAA college football media days, Thursday, July 16, 2015, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Treadwell and Tunsil are coming off serious leg injuries from last season. Treadwell's injury — which was a broken lower leg and dislocated ankle — was particularly gruesome and well-publicized because it came during a crucial juncture of a loss to Auburn.

"All signs point to him being fully recovered," Freeze said. "He even looks a little different. I think he lost a little weight, feels a little more explosive. I'm anxious to get pads on him and see how he responds when the ball's a little high and in traffic."

Ole Miss is also dealing with off-the-field issues concerning Tunsil.

Freeze said there was "very little to report" regarding Tunsil's status. The Rebels' starting left tackle was arrested in June and charged with misdemeanor domestic violence following a fight with his stepfather.

The school also acknowledged it is looking into allegations from that stepfather that Tunsil had improper contact with football agents. Freeze said Tunsil would be eligible if the season started today.

OIe Miss will also have to sort out a three-man quarterback race during preseason camp between transfer Chad Kelly and returns Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade. Freeze said competition for the job could last into the regular season.

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