HOOVER, Ala. — Mississippi is coming off an impressive 10-win season, returns arguably the league’s best quarterback and recently had three of its top players selected in the first round of the NFL draft.
Not many people wanted to talk about that at Southeastern Conference media days.
Instead, the majority of questions focused around the school’s long-running NCAA investigation into the football program that’s approaching four years. Coach Hugh Freeze said on Thursday that he couldn’t discuss details of the case and had no timetable for its resolution, but defended the program’s reputation.
“I have zero interest in cutting corners to be successful, and our staff knows that very well,” Freeze said. “I have a lot of things that I’m not very good at, but that is not a temptation.”
The university has already self-imposed some penalties for football, including scholarship reductions and three years of probation. The NCAA can accept or add to those penalties.
The case could drag on for several more months. Ole Miss has asked to delay a hearing before the Committee on Infractions while it looks into draft-night allegations involving former left tackle Laremy Tunsil, who acknowledged following on NFL draft night that he accepted money from a coach while he was at Ole Miss.
Freeze said he “can’t comment on anything that’s ongoing with the NCAA.”
“There will come a day where we get to stand before the committee on infractions, which are the ones that matter, and we will be held accountable for any wrongdoing that is found, and that’s the way it should be,” Freeze said.
On the field, Ole Miss is expected to be a contender in the SEC’s Western Division, especially if it can navigate an extremely difficult September. The Rebels open the season against Florida State and then host Alabama and Georgia in the season’s first four weeks.
The Rebels have beaten Alabama two straight seasons.
One reason Ole Miss has high expectations is the return of quarterback Chad Kelly. The nephew of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly threw for 4,042 yards, 31 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season while completing about 65 percent of his passes.
His top receiver from last year — Laquon Treadwell — is off to the NFL, but he still has several experienced targets returning, including receivers Damore’ea Stringfellow and Quincy Adeboyejo, along with tight end Evan Engram.
Engram, the former Hillgrove High School star, said all of the NCAA investigation talk hasn’t been a problem inside the locker room.
“It doesn’t matter, we have people taking care of that,” Engram said. “We just worry about football. We show up to work every day to get better and work toward our goals, which are winning in Atlanta and competing for a national championship.”