As the days without football linger on, RebelGrove.com will break down Ole Miss' 15 most important players heading into 2012. A new spot will be revealed each weekday leading up to the first practice.
At times, we'll cheat and combine a couple names into one spot, but it's our list, so we'll do what we want. The list focuses just on the upcoming season - not future career performance.
We continue the countdown with a running back that is clearly a necessity at his position.
Name: Jeff Scott
Hometown: Miami, Fla.
Position: Running Back
Career Stats: 958 yards rushing, 124 yards receiving, 22.9 yards per kickoff return, 17.3 yards per punt return, 10 total touchdowns
2011 Stats: 10 games, 529 yards rushing, 99 yards receiving, 17.7 yards per kickoff return, 17.3 yards per punt return, seven total touchdowns
Other than the quarterback, no player is more important to Ole Miss than running back Jeff Scott. With Brandon Bolden gone and a depth chart that doesn't feature any other notable experience beyond Scott and sparse snaps from Devin Thomas, Scott's health and performance must both be positives for the Rebels this season. He'll have the opportunity to prove he can be an every-down back in the Southeastern Conference.
Ole Miss was 10th in the SEC in rushing offense in 2011, averaging 129.6 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry. The yards per carry were just better than Tennessee inside the league. Nick Parker has made efforts to become a tailback, and there's optimism around freshmen I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton, but the onus is clearly on Scott this season.
Scott was a 5.5 three-star prospect in the 2010 class out of Archbishop Carroll High School. He committed to the Rebels just before his senior prep season over offers from Colorado State, Florida International, Troy and Northern Illinois and interest from South Florida and Tennessee. He officially visited Ole Miss in January and took a hometown official visit to FIU just before National Signing Day. He flirted with the Panthers but ultimately kept his commitment to Ole Miss.
As a freshman, Scott played in 10 games and drew six starts. He finished third on the team in rushing yards (42.9) and all-purpose yardage (87.0) and ranked third in the SEC in kickoff returns (27.7 per return). In his first career start, against Fresno State, Scott ran for 74 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. He rushed for 134 yards against eventual national champion Auburn, including a freshman school record 83-yard touchdown run.
He also played in 10 games as a sophomore, tying for 10th in the SEC with seven touchdowns and eighth in all-purpose yardage. He led Ole Miss with 529 rushing yards. Against Southern Illinois, he scored three rushing touchdowns and four total touchdowns. Scott was suspended the final two games of the season for a violation of team rules.
While Hugh Freeze's spread attack is up-tempo, he still likes to run the football. Arkansas State had 516 rushes last season and 500 pass attempts, though starting quarterback Ryan Aplin was the Red Wolves' leading rusher with 588 yards on 161 carries. As a team, ASU ran for more than 2,000 yards, so Freeze wants to spread it around and keep his running backs involved. Scott is the standout, and he'll need help from some of the players mentioned above.
Scott can also be electric in the return game, but Freeze will likely have to balance that with keeping the junior healthy. Until another running back emerges, Scott may need to be handled with care. He's best out in space and outside the tackles. While his inside game has improved, Parker, Thomas and Mathers need to quickly help shoulder the load.
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