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FIRST GLANCE: The season opener

Though Ole Miss is expected to be favored in its Sept. 1 home opener versus FCS member Central Arkansas, the Rebels will need to illustrate complete focus in their first steps into the Freeze Era.

The Rebels open the 2012 season on Sept. 1 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium versus Central Arkansas.

After a 2-10 season in 2011, it’s evident that the Rebels must take one game at a time, not overlooking any opponent.

In 2011, the Central Arkansas Bears compiled a 9-4 record, losing in the second round of the NCAA FCS Playoffs. As the 2012 season rolls around, they’re projected to finish third in the Southland Conference.

The Bears have nine players named to the preseason All-SLC Team; three of which are first team selections in running back Jackie Hinton, linebacker Seth Allison and offensive lineman Dominique Allen.

Last year Hinton rushed for 705 yards with four touchdowns. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry. Hinton also had another 165 yards receiving for UCA.

A year ago, the Bears’ passing game was explosive, cumulating 3,650 yards through the air with 34 touchdowns. However, starting quarterback and All-American Nathan Dick has now graduated, leaving either junior Wynrick Smothers, sophomore Ryan Howard or redshirt freshman Trey Taylor at the helm.

Wynrick is the most experienced quarterback on the Bears team. Wynrick completed 29 of 59 passes for 374 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions last season.

Then again, Taylor had the best spring game of all the quarterbacks. He went 9 of 15 passing for 187 yards and three touchdowns in the UCA spring game.

It’s expected the Bears, much like the Rebels, will begin the fall with a quarterback battle, uncertain of whom their starter might be.

The Bears’ leading receiver is a name most Rebel fans are familiar with. Senior Jesse Grandy, a former Ole Miss Rebel, led the team in 2011 with 788 yards receiving. Grandy had nine receiving touchdowns while averaging over 60 yards receiving a game.

On the defensive side of the football, the Bears will expect first team All-SLC linebacker Seth Allison to pursue the football and make tackles in the open field.

Allison caused complete chaos and havoc last year for the Bears, totaling 110 tackles, forcing two fumbles, intercepting two balls and accounting for 15 ½ tackles for loss.

Central Arkansas head coach Clint Conque will be heading into this 13th season at Central Arkansas.

Conque holds a record of 80-47 in his tenure with the Bears. In an interview that took place this summer on the Central Arkansas athletics website, Conque said he realizes the challenges his team will face when they step foot on the campus of Ole Miss.

“We have come a long way. It will be electric for our players and staff to represent our university at Vaught Hemingway Stadium in front of 65,000 people. We have a tremendous respect for Ole Miss and the Southeastern Conference. This will without question be the greatest challenge in the history of our program, but we have a wonderful opportunity to showcase our team in this game. Our preparation will not change.”

While Conque said the Ole Miss game was the “greatest challenge” they’d ever faced, he felt the Bears had played in similar situations before.

“Certainly, we are aware of the environment we will encounter in Oxford. In 2011, we faced a similar environment in Montana. Our players are excited about the challenge and are anxious to start camp. It is my hope that several thousand fans from the Bear Nation will show up in purple to support this team. Those that attend will have an opportunity to experience “The Grove” and the best tailgating atmosphere in college football.”

The Rebels and Bears kickoff is set for 6 p.m. at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

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