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SEC Season Preview: Ole Miss

By Matt Smith
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Previewing the 2017 Ole Miss Rebels.

Head Coach: Matt Luke – first year at Ole Miss and overall

Offensive Coordinator: Phil Longo (first season)

Defensive Coordinator: Wesley McGriff (first season)

2016 Record: 5-7 (2-6 SEC)

Returning Starters: 11 (5 offense, 6 defense)

2017 Schedule

Sept. 2 – SOUTH ALABAMA (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
Sept. 9 – TENNESSEE-MARTIN (Noon ET, SEC Network Alt.)

Sept. 16 – at California (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Sept. 30 – at Alabama

Oct. 7 – at Auburn
Oct. 21 – LSU
Oct. 28 – ARKANSAS

Nov. 4 – at Kentucky
Nov. 18 – TEXAS A&M

Nov. 23 – at Mississippi State (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

What We Know

-A least the trying year in Oxford will not involve a quarterback competition. Shea Patterson’s redshirt was yanked late last season following a knee injury to Chad Kelly, and the true freshman promptly led a road upset of No. 8 Texas A&M in his first start. There were plenty of mistakes, particularly in the loss at Vanderbilt a week later, but Patterson showed in his three starts that he has both the tangibles and intangibles to succeed in the SEC. With no championships to play for, having an alpha leader like Patterson should help things from coming completely unraveled.

-The receiving corps may be the best we’ve ever seen at Ole Miss. Yes, there’s no Laquon Treadwell, and the early Houston Nutt era group was pretty darn good, but the depth of future NFL talent at the moment is unparalleled. Redshirt sophomore Van Jefferson topped 500 yards last season, and true sophomores A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf are former 5-star recruits. Tight end Evan Engram is a huge loss both on the field and in the locker room, but the talent of the three young stars should more than make up for his departure.

-The defensive line, if healthy, should be really good. Injuries could crush this group to a lack of depth, but the starting defensive front is borderline elite. Star pass rusher Marquis Haynes delayed a likely NFL career for another year in school, white sophomore nose tackle Benito Jones had four stops behind the line of scrimmage as a true freshman. Junior tackle Breeland Speaks doesn’t take a backseat to either of his two linemates. After an awful year against the run, this group should spark a turnaround.

What We Don’t Know

-Will the running game finally work? After Hugh Freeze’s dismissal last month, the offense is now fully in the hands of first-year coordinator Phil Longo, who was plucked from FCS power Sam Houston State. Longo inherits an offensive line that should finally be in the top half of the SEC and gets Jordan Wilkins back after he missed last season for a school-created academic issue. Longo seems more willing than Freeze to commit to the running game, but we still haven’t seen this offense succeed when trying to be physical.

-Is there anything in the back seven? The linebacking unit is still a mess. Senior DeMarquis Gates at least provides a starter who has played a ton of football over the past three years, but everyone else appears to be just bodies (by SEC standards). Cornerbacks Jalen Julius and Jaylon were thrown to the wolves as freshman last year after Kendarius Webster, who is close to being fully healthy, shredded his knee in the season opener. The Rebels do have a nice trio of safeties in junior Zedrick Woods and sophomores Myles Hartsfield and Deontay Anderson.

-How will the bowl ban and looming NCAA sanctions (expected around Halloween) affect this team? On the plus side, there is a narrow lane of focus, with outside noise such as standings, rankings and bowl projections being irrelevant this season. But when adversity hits (say, after back-to-back blowout losses at Alabama and Auburn), will the Rebels fight back? That’s the big test for Matt Luke and the team leaders. There’s talent to flirt with .500 in SEC play, but if there’s not full investment, this season could be completely off the rails by late October.


Metcalf – Of the three top wideouts, Metcalf is the most unproven, but also may be the pick to have the best stats this year after a strong offseason. Asking the defense to win games on its own this year is probably too much, but there isn’t an opposing defense in the SEC on which Ole Miss can’t put 30 points. If Metcalf does make the expected strides, the passing game could be nearly unstoppable.

Ranking The Units

1.   Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
2.   Defensive Line
3.   Quarterbacks
4.   Offensive Line
5.   Defensive Backs
6.   Running Backs
7.   Linebackers

Season Prediction

Don’t just ignore Ole Miss this year. The Rebels won’t win all that often, but they will be entertaining and find themselves in quite a few shootouts. A 3-0 start will rally the dispirited troops in Oxford, but the excitement will be short-lived after losses to Alabama and Auburn in ugly fashion. It’ll be a mixed bag after that, with a home win over LSU highlighting the second half of the season, but another disappointing finish coming in a loss to Mississippi State. 7-5 won’t be enough for Luke to shed the interim tag, but it will be a solid line on his resume as he continues his climb up the coaching ladder.

Overall Record: 7-5
SEC Record: 3-5
Final CFP Ranking: NR
Bowl: None (ineligible for postseason)

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.