This time last year, Hugh Freeze was coaching Arkansas State, Bo Wallace was quarterbacking at East Mississippi Community College and Jeff Scott was an Ole Miss tailback whose days in Oxford appeared to be numbered.
An unlikely blend reminiscent of the Island of Misfit Toys, all three now are thriving.
Freeze has guided Ole Miss to a 4-3 record through seven games, already doubling the victory total compiled by Houston Nutt's Rebels last season. Leading the way have been Wallace, who was with Freeze at Arkansas State before taking his junior college detour, and Scott, who has been under Freeze's microscope since December.
"I couldn't be more pleased with the progress that Bo and Jeff are making," Freeze said this week. "They both have matured quite significantly in different areas, because their struggles weren't the same, but they both have certainly made better decisions and are maturing quite nicely. I hope it continues."
The Rebels have five regular-season games remaining against teams that defeated them a year ago, beginning with this week's game at Arkansas. They need two more victories to attain bowl eligibility for the first time since 2009, but Ole Miss already has surpassed even the most optimistic projections.
With Freeze's hurry-up spread offense, the Rebels have scored 229 points after tallying 193 all of last season. They have amassed more than 450 yards in five of seven games after going over 400 just once a year ago.
"I think it is opening up defenses," Scott said. "I'm running into open spaces, so I think it's been pretty good for me."
Scott, a 5-foot-7, 175-pound junior from Miami, has rushed for 562 yards and is averaging 6.1 per carry. He rushed for 529 yards and 4.6 yards per carry last year, when he was suspended for season-ending rivalry games against LSU and Mississippi State for violating team rules.
Ole Miss lost to the Tigers and the Bulldogs by a combined 83-6, and Scott had to change his ways or be dismissed by a new coach looking to clean up a mess.
"It has been a journey, and I'm proud to say he's much better today than he once was," Freeze said. "I think he would even confess to you that he's not all the way there in my eyes, and he probably agrees that he's not there in his eyes, also. For Jeff to be the type of player that he wants to be, he had to get an understanding about the discipline that was required.
"We had to sit him a couple of quarters earlier in the year for various things, but his attitude has continued to get better."
Scott has been rewarded with 21 carries each of the past two games, and he compiled 207 all-purpose yards in the 41-20 rout of Auburn on Oct. 13 that ended a 16-game SEC losing streak. He put the Tigers away with a 55-yard touchdown reception.
"Obviously we had some problems off the field last year," Scott said. "Coach Freeze told me when he first got here that he would grind on me. He let us know that he loved us and that in the end he wanted us to leave with discipline and a degree."
Wallace signed with Arkansas State in 2010, when Freeze was the offensive coordinator for the Indians, and redshirted that year. Freeze refers to the 6-foot-5, 210-pounder as an "immature knucklehead" when he came out of Giles County High School in Pulaski, Tenn.
The descriptions are kinder these days, especially after Wallace completed 17 of 22 passes for 226 yards against Auburn and became the first Rebels player to score via pass, run and catch in the same game.
"When I got this job in December, I knew one of the things that immediately needed to be addressed was the quarterback room with the situation we had here," Freeze said. "We knew about the phenomenal year he had in junior college, and he was the best available at the midyear for us. Bo's season has been a little up and down, but these last two games he's played his best football for us.
"He's taken care of the football and played within the system and the structure and the game plan."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.