When he took over at Ole Miss this season, Hugh Freeze inherited a lethargic offense, one that would have ranked last in the country among BCS conference teams in 2011 if not for Kentucky.
So, it seemed a bit strange to hear Alabama coach Nick Saban talking about his respect for that offense Wednesday ahead of Saturday's meeting in Tuscaloosa. It's a matchup that produced a 52-7 Alabama win last year.
"Their hurry-up offense is something that gets defensive players out of their comfort zone," Saban said. "We're trying hard to get a picture of that and work on that. It's difficult to get a picture in practice you'd like to get, but they have some pretty good players doing some of this stuff."
Ole Miss (3-1) was 116th in the country in scoring offense last season with an average of 16.1 points and 114th in total offense with 281 yards per game. Through four games, the Rebels have improved to 28th (36.7 ppg) and 24th (488 ypg).
Granted, their wins have come against Central Arkansas, Texas-El Paso and Tulane. But the Rebels also posted 31 points and 399 yards against Texas. The problem in that game was their defense.
Freeze is eager to unleash his offense against some of the better SEC defenses to see where it stands.
"It motivates you," he said of that anticipation. "It motivates our coaching staff. You always want to prove that you can do a job. ... It's a combination of having players that can do it, coaches and people buying in. I do think we're on our way."
Maybe most amazing is that Ole Miss leads the SEC in rushing with 260 yards per game. Freeze has relied on numerous ball carriers, led by Jeff Scott, who averages 8.6 yards per carry.
Quarterback Bo Wallace has thrown for 717 yards and seven touchdowns and is the team's second-leading rusher. Wallace is suffering from a shoulder injury but Freeze is confident he will be ready to face Alabama.
Gators on the rise
Florida has generated some traction with a 4-0 start, which launched the Gators to a No. 11 ranking this week, their highest spot since 2010. They are coming off of two disappointing seasons after winning the 2006 and '08 national championships.
The Gators were 7-6 last season when coach Will Muschamp said that 70 percent of his players were freshmen and sophomores. He said this year's team is improved in many ways.
"It's several things — experience, maturity and depth on both lines of scrimmage," he said. "And I think we're a stronger team. We're a more physical bunch because we've been able to practice a little different because of our depth."
Now the Gators have to prove they can sustain the momentum, something that didn't happen the past two years. In 2011 they peaked at No. 12 and finished out of the rankings. In 2010 they started at No. 4 and did a nosedive.
A world of hurt
When Kentucky coach Joker Phillips called the Wildcats "a beat-up, battered young football team," he wasn't exaggerating. As if a 38-0 thrashing at Florida wasn't bad enough, Kentucky returned home to prepare for South Carolina with a growing list of ailments.
Quarterback Maxwell Smith hopes to return after missing the Florida game with an injured shoulder. Three other starters missed the trip. And the Wildcats came home with safety Ashely Lowery (concussion), tackles Darrian Miller and Kevin Mitchell (ankles) and tight end Tyler Robinson (back) hurting.
Arkansas ad backs coach
Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long isn't giving up on coach John L. Smith or the season just yet.
Long said that he is committed to Smith for this season, despite the program's difficult 1-3 start, and is also committed to the rest of the coaching staff, which remained intact after former coach Bobby Petrino's firing in April.
"Supporting this team is the best course of action for the short- and long-term," Long said. "I will fulfill my commitment to the players and coaches for this season and I will not abandon them. I'm confident they will work hard and win games."
Associated Press contributed to this report.