Last season, Hugh Freeze continued his excellent work he has brought to the once maligned Ole Miss football program. The Rebels went 10-3 behind new starter Chad Kelly’s impressive year through the air, which ended in a Sugar Bowl victory over Oklahoma State. However, this offseason has been anything but exciting for Ole Miss and its fans.
Earlier this year, the NCAA notified Ole Miss of a handful of allegations. They range from academic misconduct to improper booster benefits, with four of them being Level III offenses. The school, has instituted several self-imposed penalties as a result. Although, considering the severity and sheer number of accusations along with the Laremy Tunsil fiasco, the NCAA may decide that the self-imposed penalties are not enough and hand the Rebels a postseason ban.
Although the team may be punished, on the field Ole Miss should still be very talented.
For the 2016 Ole Miss Rebels, their season will go as far as quarterback Chad Kelly goes. In his first year in Oxford, Kelly became arguably the best quarterback in the SEC, throwing for 4,042 yards (third most in a season in SEC history) and 41 total touchdowns. Kelly brings an experienced and explosive presence to a team that will be relying on his production and leadership to be successful.
Aside from his own talent, Kelly has several options to throw to, as Ole Miss is stacked at the wideout position. Quincy Adeboyejo has shown the ability to take over the No. 1 spot, Evan Engram is a matchup nightmare with receiver skills at tight end and Damore’ea Stringfellow has also been solid, along with a handful of other young, promising players.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Rebels will depend on their defensive line to play up to the high standard that they have set.
In 2015, Marquis Haynes racked up 10 sacks, which tied him for most in a single season in Ole Miss history. This season, Haynes figures to continue to be a powerful presence off of the edge. Opposite Haynes at the other end spot is Fadol Brown. Brown has shown an aptitude for getting into opposing backfields and causing problems for the offense. Although he only finished with one sack last season, he could very well join the double digit sack club in 2016. At the tackle spots are Breeland Speaks and Isaac Gross, both of whom have displayed the ability to provide consistent run support and occupy blockers for the edge rushers to gain favorable matchups. This unit should be as good as ever in 2016.
Ole Miss possesses a variety of talented playmakers at the skill positions, but there is a glaring issue that could prevent the team from fully utilizing these weapons – a rebuilding offensive line.
Every single starting offensive lineman from the 2016 Sugar Bowl is no longer in Oxford, that is a stat that does not bode well for Ole Miss. Robert Conyers will return after suffering an ACL tear last October and Javon Patterson is still around after losing some playing time in 2015; but there are some serious problems up front for the Rebels.
Another potential issue on offense will be the production of the running backs, or lack thereof. For several years now, Ole Miss has been a predominantly pass-oriented offense, and that has been reflected in the lack of consistent production from the running backs. Just to illustrate how subpar 2015 was for the Ole Miss running game, the Rebels as a team rushed for 2,380 yards, while Derrick Henry (the Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama) rushed for 2,219 alone. Henry just over 100 yards away from the amount that an entire team accumulated is not good enough for Ole Miss.
Players to Watch:
QB Chad Kelly, RS Jr. – The former Clemson Tiger has found a home in Oxford, Miss. and he flashed his ability in a big way during the 2015 campaign. He threw for the third most passing yards in a season in SEC history and was a big reason Ole Miss was as successful as they were. With Ole Miss needing to rely heavily on the passing game, look for Kelly to potentially set a new SEC passing record by the end of 2016.
DE Marquis Haynes, Jr. – Last season, Haynes tied an Ole Miss record by recording 10 sacks and demonstrated his ability off the edge for the Rebels. Now that Nkemdiche is gone, Haynes is the star of the show on the defensive front. And with talent around him still, Haynes is poised for an even bigger 2016.
OT Greg Little, Fr. – With the departure of former blue-chip tackle Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss has acquired another talented tackle – Greg Little. Little was rated a five-star prospect out of high school and was arguably the No. 1 offensive line prospect in the country. That puts him in position to contribute right away along the offensive line for Ole Miss.
Games to Watch:
Sept. 5 vs Florida State (Orlando) – The 2016 opener will be no walk in the park for Ole Miss. The Seminoles pose a major problem for the Rebels, especially considering the state of the Ole Miss offensive line. If the Rebels can find a way to win this one though, their season will have major potential.
Sept. 17 vs Alabama – Although Alabama has firmly established its dynasty in the college football world, there has been one persistent thorn in their side for several years now – the Ole Miss Rebels. Ole Miss has defeated Alabama each of the last two seasons and have given Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide headaches. If they can make it three straight years, Ole Miss will be in excellent position to win the SEC West.
Oct. 22 @ LSU – Also at the top of the SEC West are the LSU Tigers, with whom Ole Miss has a storied rivalry. The Rebels have managed to take two of the last three games from LSU, including last season by a score of 38-17. This season, LSU figures to be even better, and with the game in Death Valley, it won’t be easy for Ole Miss. However, if they can find a way to walk away with a second consecutive victory over LSU, the Rebels could be in line for their first SEC Championship game appearance ever.
9-3 (6-2 SEC)
Losses vs Florida State, vs Alabama and @ LSU
Edited by Jordan Dajani
Featured image by Phillip Stewart