HOOVER, Ala. — En route to the Hyatt Regency hotel, Bo Wallace learned to what All-Southeastern Conference preseason team he was selected: the third.
“It’s another chip,” the Ole Miss quarterback said, “on my shoulder.”
There are a lot of them.
Wallace’s appearance at SEC media days on Thursday — the final of the four-day event in this Birmingham suburb — centered on revenge, vengeance and retribution.
His shoulder is full of chips — maybe the least of which came when media members pegged him below two other quarterbacks in the conference in All-SEC voting.
Wallace assumed he would make the second team behind first-teamer Nick Marshall, Auburn’s dual-threat QB.
He dropped another rung.
It gets juicier. The second-team quarterback is Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, a speedy junior who hasn’t yet played a full season as a starter and competes for Ole Miss’ bitter rival.
“I didn’t think I was going to be third,” Wallace said.
It’s one in a list of issues for the former junior college star from Tennessee.
There’s his performance in Ole Miss’ game last season against Mississippi State in which he lost a fumble in overtime to seal the Rebels’ defeat. He calls that outing the worst of his career.
More troubling was the reemergence of a shoulder injury that greatly affected his velocity over the last month of the season — a second shoulder injury in two years.
Also, Ole Miss was picked to finish fourth in the SEC West by media members. And did we mention that 17-10 loss to Mississippi State?
More than a half-dozen times in a 20-minute chat with reporters, Wallace, unprompted, brought up the regular-season defeat.
“If we win that game, the hype is going to be different,” he said of the Rebels in preseason.
“I think we’re not even having this discussion if that didn’t happen,” he said later about the loss.
Wallace called it a “state tragedy” to lose that game.
His fumble in overtime still burns at the QB, but teammate Cody Prewitt said Wallace is using it as motivation — as if he didn’t have enough of that with all of the issues.
“I remember Bo caught a lot of flack in social media,” Prewitt said of the fumble at Mississippi State. “You’ve got to be a strong player to see that and turn it into a positive.”
Wallace enters this season as the SEC’s top returning player in total offense, passing yards a game, completion percentage and total passing yards.
He threw for 3,346 yards and 18 touchdowns last season in leading Ole Miss to a second straight bowl game. Wallace is on the cusp of breaking a half-dozen school passing records, too.
Combine those facts with all of that motivation, and coach Hugh Freeze sees good things.
“Like I’ve said in many interviews, there’s no way we win two bowl games without him the past two seasons,” Freeze said. “I think he’s matured quite nicely in the way he leads our team, the way he goes about our business. He feels finally healthy and confident. I really think he’s at a point where he certainly has every avenue right now to step in and be one of the guys in this conference.”
After all, all of the other guys are gone.
The theme at media days this go around was clear: the departure of a half-dozen talented and veteran starting quarterbacks.
Wallace, despite that third-team selection, is the most experienced returner the league has.
That’s a good thing for Freeze and his rebuilding effort in Oxford, Mississippi. This is Year 3 under the coach, and Ole Miss is ahead of schedule in the process, Freeze said.
Still, he admits the Rebels aren’t there yet.
“I think most fans that are close to our program realize that we’re still maybe a year or two away of looking like a total SEC team in the depth chart,” he said.
At the top, Wallace, his squad looks very SEC — despite Thursday’s snub.
“He should be first team,” Prewitt said. “Everybody’s going to see that when the season starts.”