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January 1, 2013

Ten key dates during 2013

This time a year ago, Ole Miss fans were probably fine with the calendar creating a new beginning, as 2011 wasn't the best year for Rebel athletics, but 2012 was good to Ole Miss, as Hugh Freeze and Ross Bjork have helped reignite the Rebels and create momentum moving forward. Here are 10 dates that could be key in 2013.

Jan. 5, 2013:: Bowl games don't make or break programs, but if you're going to play in it, then you might as well win the thing. Ole Miss faces Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl at noon, and the Rebels are looking for their first winning season since 2009. With all the recent developments on the recruiting front the Ole Miss can use whatever added benefit the perception of 7-6 brings versus 6-7. Is it a lot? Nah, probably not, but considering all that Freeze's staff has had to overcome in year one, a winning season is a heck of an accomplishment. Also, Ole Miss historically does well in bowl games, having won four in a row dating back to the 2000 Music City Bowl, its last loss in the postseason.

Jan. 15, 2013: Ole Miss heads to the Music City for a basketball date with Vanderbilt, and while Memorial Coliseum is normally a tricky place to play, the Rebels need this one during the early part of the league schedule. The Commodores are just 5-6 on the season, and the SEC is bad, so the opportunity is there. Ole Miss' first three conference games -- at Tennessee, against Missouri and at Vandy -- could be the toughest three-game stretch of the season, so if Ole Miss could be 2-1 after those three, the Rebels would have a chance to post a really solid number -- something that is imperative considering the expected league RPI. Ole Miss plays Kentucky and Florida in the same week and closes with a pillow soft final portion of league play, but it's impossible those first three contests will set the tone one way or another.

Feb. 6, 2013: This doesn't need a lot of explanation. It's National Signing Day, as Ole Miss hopes to have a class ranked in the top 10-12 nationally when the ink is dry on all the national letter of intents. The Rebels are currently No. 19 in the Rivals.com team rankings, but Ole Miss remains in on four of the top 11 players nationally -- Robert Nkemdiche, Carl Lawson, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil -- and leads for two of them, Nkemdiche and Treadwell. With a month to go, Ole Miss has to close strong, but this has the very real chance to be the best signing class in school history. The timing for such couldn't be better with some depth and talent issues on the current roster.

March 17, 2013: Is this the year Andy Kennedy's basketball program finally makes the Big Dance? This is the date we all find out. Ole Miss is currently 10-2 on the year and not playing bad basketball but recently missed an RPI opportunity in the Diamondhead Classic, falling to Indiana State and getting sent to the weaker side of the bracket. There's plenty of season left and opportunities exist, but it will take some notable wins to move to the right side of the bubble. With the roster assembled, all things point to Ole Miss needing to make the next step this season.

May 26, 2013: This is the final day of the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament, but Ole Miss playing in the championship has nothing to do with the date. Earlier in the day, the NCAA will release the 16 host sites for regional play, and Ole Miss needs to move back into that group for the first time since 2009. With All-SEC candidates Bobby Wahl and Mike Mayers returning as starting pitchers and school saves leader Brett Huber back as closer, the Rebels should set up well each weekend. Ole Miss hosted regionals in five of six seasons from 2004 to 2009 but have only hosted once in the last five years. The Rebels played in the regional final in College Station, Texas, last season and remain a viable threat, but for competitive and economic reasons it's important for Mike Bianco's program to play postseason baseball at Swayze Field.

July 12, 2013: The MLB Draft signing deadline has become one of the most important dates for college baseball. The Draft is in early June, but every player drafted has to decide on college or pro by 5 p.m. on this day. Two years ago, Ole Miss got nine of 11 drafted incoming players to campus but lost three first round picks -- Gavin Cecchini, Stryker Trahan and Ty Hensley -- in 2012. Every reputable team faces the dilemma of drafting too well, and Ole Miss will again be in that group in 2013. Dalton Dulin, Cheyne Bickel, Evan Anderson, JB Woodman, Errol Robinson and Carlos Williams are the main names to watch for this summer. Ole Miss' 2013 incoming class is ranked 11th nationally by Perfect Game.

August 29, 2013: Ole Miss' season opener against Vanderbilt is set for August 31 on the schedule, but most believe it will eventually be moved to the Thursday before to serve as the ESPN college football season opener. Other than the exposure of that time slot, this sets up as a huge game between two up-and-coming programs looking for a significant conference win in week one. Ole Miss has struggled against the Commodores in recent years, but the Rebels need this one to help take the next step in the evolution of the program. With four of Ole Miss first five games on the road, a head-above-water start would give the real possibility of building up momentum during the second half of the season. For the second time on this list, the game in Nashville is one Ole Miss needs to win.

September 14, 2013: Two weeks later, Ole Miss is traveling again, this time to the Texas state capital to face the Longhorns in the final game of the home-and-home series. Ole Miss was admittedly shook by the atmosphere and the moment in the 2012 game between the two teams, a Texas victory, but the Rebels have grown up since then, and Texas is in some amount of turmoil after spiraling at times this season. The trip to Austin seems like a realistic opportunity for Ole Miss to snag a marquee televised nonconference win and hand Mack Brown a loss that he may not be able to afford. This one isn't about bowl eligibility, as Freeze has seemingly moved his program past that already. The visit to Texas is a good chance to turn some heads and move up a tier in the bowl pecking order if improvements are made as expected.

Nov. 30, 2013: The season finale may not always be on this list, but it is for the second straight year. In 2012 it was about stopping the negative momentum and reaching bowl eligibility, but in a year, it'll be about keeping the positive surge going against the Rebels' in-state rivals. This past Egg Bowl felt like a clear indication of two programs moving in opposite ways, and we'll obviously have a clearer picture of that in 11 months. Also, for whatever it is worth, Mississippi should rebound with a lot of talent in the 2014 recruiting class. From the early look at things, there will be more Ole Miss-MSU recruiting battles than the past couple years. Also, stating the obvious, a final win does wonder for bowl placement. One extra win in 2012 would have likely had Ole Miss headed to the Gator Bowl or at worst the Music City Bowl.

?? ??, 2013?: Ole Miss is expected to break ground on a new basketball arena at some point during this calendar year. It'll provide significant help to the program that has quite the challenge of recruiting to the current facility. It's also another step in showing the country Ole Miss is committed to basketball. The practice facility was a start, but the arena is a key part of the equation. Will Ole Miss suddenly land tons of top 50 talent because of it? No, but it's a necessity to make an effort and keep up in the SEC facility race. Staying status quo isn't an option in this league.

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