Can Ole Miss win the SEC West with a healthy Laquon Treadwell?

It took a while before Laquon Treadwell could actually look at the video. It was just too painful on way too many levels.

It was Nov. 1, 2014 and Ole Miss, ranked No. 4 in the first College Football Playoff rankings, was hosting No. 3 Auburn. The Rebels had already beaten No. 1 Alabama in October but had lost to LSU the week before. The winner would stay alive for the playoffs. The loser would go home. It was a big-time, heavyweight game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and it did not disappoint.

Ole Miss trailed 35-31 with less than two minutes left but was driving for a potential winning score. Treadwell caught a pass near the Auburn 22-yard lne, weaved his way through the defense and appeared to be pulling defenders into the end zone. But at the one-yard line Treadwell was bent backwards by Auburn linebacker Kris Frost. Treadwell’s leg snapped, his ankle dislocated and the ball came out before it crossed the plane of the goal line. It was a gruesome sight.

Warning: This video is not for the squeamish:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BxTep82fShc

Auburn recovered the loose ball and video replays confirmed that Treadwell did not score. Ole Miss not only lost the game and a possible shot at the playoffs, but Treadwell’s injuries were so serious that his future football career was in doubt.

“Horrible. Just horrible,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said when we talked earlier this spring. “It was one of the most devastating losses any of my teams have ever had. I didn’t know if we could come back from that one. We were so worried about Laquon.”

Laquon Treadwell and I talked on the phone recently and, by his count, he’s now watched the video “about 30 times.” He never thinks about the physical pain, which was considerable. He’s focused on the pain of what Ole Miss lost that night in Oxford. He always looks closely at the video to see if there is something else he could have done to get the ball into the end zone and give his team a chance to win the game.

“Each time I look at it (the video) I keep thinking that this time I’m going to score,” said Treadwell, who had 48 catches for 632 yards before the injury. “But I never do and we always lose the game. Maybe if I had run a little harder or lowered my shoulder a little more. Maybe I fall into the end zone instead of getting pulled down from behind. It’s just tough to watch.”

But Treadwell has decided that the best way to cope with such deeply-rooted pain is to get back onto the field in 2015 and to help his teammates pursue an SEC West championship. He’s not running at 100 percent just yet but he has come back quicker than a lot of people thought he would.

“He could have done a lot more in spring practice but we just decided not to risk it,” said Freeze. “All I can tell you is what the doctors tell me. They believe that he is going to be ready to go when we open summer camp in August.”

“Yeah, there is still some pain when I run but it’s not anything I can’t handle,” said Treadwell. “Each time out I get a little more confident. I’ll be ready.”

Treadwell’s readiness is a big factor that will determine whether or not Ole Miss will be a contender in the SEC West as 58 lettermen and 16 starters (9 offense, 7 defense) return.

There are a bunch of future pros on this team. All of those great freshmen in that top five recruiting class of 2013 are now juniors. With players like Robert Neimdeche and C.J Johnson (24 career tackles for loss) returning, the Rebels could have the best and deepest defensive line in college football. Safety Tony Conner led the team with nine tackles for loss last season. He is big time.

On offense nine starters return but three pressing questions loom:

**–Can Treadwell get back to at least being close to his former speed and skill level?

**–Can left tackle Laremy Tunsil, who suffered a broken leg in the Peach Bowl loss to TCU, recover in time to start the season? Tunsil’s rehab is on schedule, said Freeze.

**–Who is going to replace Bo Wallace at quarterback? The candidates are JUCO transfer Chad Kelly, who played at Clemson before throwing for 3,906 yards at East Mississippi Community College, and sophomores DeVante Kincaid and Ryan Buchanan. All three played pretty well in the spring game.

Freeze says he doesn’t feel compelled to name a starter before the first game if the competition remains this close. That could be sorted out during the Rebels’ first two games with Tennessee-Martin and Fresno State, which are both at home. But he sure wants to have somebody in place by the time Ole Miss goes to Alabama on Sept. 19.

In just the third year under Freeze, Ole Miss won nine games, its highest victory total since Eli Manning’s senior season (10-3) in 2003. The 23-17 win over No. 1 Alabama was one of the biggest home victories in the history of the school. Despite losing three straight SEC games down the stretch, Ole Miss ended the regular season with a 31-17 win over arch rival Mississippi State, which was ranked No. 1 for three weeks and was No. 4 when the Rebels beat the Bulldogs in Oxford.

Ole Miss has gone from seven wins, to eight wins, and to nine wins in three years. Four of the nine victories last season were against teams with 10 or more wins. The Rebels were ranked as high as No. 4. In short, they appear to be right on schedule as Freeze begins his fourth season.

“I’ve always been a glass half full kind of guy,” said Freeze. “I thought it would take 3-4 recruiting classes to get the depth chart right and we’re on schedule there. We beat No. 1 Alabama and they have been the gold standard in our conference. We beat our rival in the Egg Bowl and that team was also No. 1.

“Our bottom line is that Ole Miss is again relevant. We had some down moments but we will take the positives and build on them. Some things have to fall into place but I think we’re going to have a quality team that is going to be a difficult win for other teams.”

UP NEXT: MISSISSIPPI STATE.

Can Ole Miss win the SEC West with a healthy Laquon Treadwell?

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About The Author
- Tony Barnhart, known as "Mr. College Football," is an analyst for The SEC Network.