Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Ole Miss Rebels are a mess that will be lucky to match their 4-8 record from a year ago. The offensive production was horrible, the defense was at or near the bottom of the conference in every category, and they were unable to finish close games all season. Things look to get worse this season as the schedule has them playing a depth challenging ten straight games, while Florida replaces Kentucky this year in the Eastern Division rotation and the Egg Bowl is in Starkville this year. There are a few bright spots of hope, though, with the recruiting prowess of the Orgeron continuing to raise the level of talent in Oxford and a bevy of talented freshmen that made a noticeable impact on the field last season returning as experienced veterans.
The Rebel offense last season was, how do I put this, terrible. The averaged 15.7 ppg, 261.4 total ypg and 136.1 passing ypg, all the worst numbers in the league. Former Tennessee QB turned highly touted JUCO recruit Brent Schaeffer was a large part of the problem as he completed 47.1 percent of his pass with 9 TDs and 10 picks after being handed the starting job before he ever set foot on campus. To that end, head coach Ed Orgeron has said former walk-on Seth Adams has a leg up on the starting job coming out of spring.
|QB Brent Schaeffer|
|RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis
As for the passing game, the top ten receivers from last year all return, including wideouts Mike Wallace, Marshay Green, Shay Hodge, and big play threat Dexter McCluster all return. McCluster was an all purpose threat early on, but was injured in the opening kickoff against Vandy and never returned. Despite missing half the season, he still finished second in receiving yards (232 yds) behind Mike Wallace (410 yds) and fourth in receptions (15) behind Wallace (24), Hodge (16) and Green (19). The offense was plagued by dropped passes last year, but with better production from the QB (whomever that might be), they can only hope to get better.
This is the first season under the Orgeron's reign that he won't be his own DC. Long time co-ordinator (and Orgeron's coach at Northwestern State) John "You Bama Fans Might Remember Me From Crimson Tide Staffs Like Bill Curry's!" Thompson was brought in to alleviate some of the responsibilities on the Orgeron and to add new wrinkles to the existing D. He has his work cut out for him as the defense looks to replace five starters in the back seven and all-everything linebacker Patrick Willis.
|He might be gone, but that's no reason not to post Willis putting on a tackling clinic against LSU.|
Behind them Jonathan Cornell, Tony Fein, Ashlee Palmer and Jamie Phillips are all in the mix at LB. Cornell held down the middle during spring, but will likely slide outside when Fein arrives in the fall. Fein, the #28 JUCO player in the country according to Rivals, is expected to start at MLB, while the strong- and weakside spots are up in the air.
Jamarca Sanford is the anchor of the secondary at SS after a stint at SLB during the second half of last season. Returning starter Nate Banks will battle with Terrell Jackson, Cassius Vaughn, and Dustin Mouzon for the starting job at CB, an inexperienced group that could be in a lot of trouble with a learning front seven in front of them.
The Rebels came close to upsetting our own beloved Tide last year, taking us to OT in Tuscaloosa thanks to a fake punt and some busted coverage, and also put quite a scare into Georgia and LSU. The LSU loss must have been especially painful for the Rebels after they dominated a far more talented team for 3 1/2 quarters and still managed to force OT on a blocked PAT, but fumbled the game away in overtime. Missed opportunities like that plagued Ole Miss all season long, and there's a good chance that this season will be more of the same. I'm hesitant to make specific predictions for the Rebs this year, since they seem like the kind of team that could bungle their way into a few wins that they shouldn't, but I think they'll be lucky to match their four win total last season, and really only see two hands down wins on the Rebel schedule.
An improved passing game and even a semblance of a functioning offense should help the Rebels stay in games all season long, but a questionable defense will likely cause Ole Miss to continue to fall short in the close games. Though they are lucky enough to get the five SEC powerhouses on the schedule at home this year, it probably won't do them much good. The Rebels open at a much improved Memphis before welcoming a Mizzou team that dominated them in Missouri last season in week two. Trips to Vanderbilt and Georgia in weeks three and five and a visit from Florida in week four could easily find the Rebels with an 0-6 start before Louisiana Tech, one of only two imminently winnable teams on the schedule, comes to Oxford on October 6th. Alabama and Arkansas come calling next, and even though I'm expecting a meltdown from the Hawgs, Humanity Advanced should win this one single handed. A trip to Auburn will likely put the Rebels at 1-9 before they come home to play the only other team that shouldn't have a prayer against the Rebels, 1-AA Northwestern State. Even though they pushed LSU to the limit last season, unless Les Miles manages to choke this one away there should be no trouble for the Tigers in Oxford. Finally, the Egg Bowl is in Starkville this year, and I expect State to be much improved over last year's team (to the amusement of many).
This season could get real ugly, real quick for Ole Miss, but hey, at least they never lose a party. Monday we'll tackle LSU, and break down why the only thing stopping the Tigers from an undefeated season is the guy wearing a goobery hat on the sidelines.