The 2016 Rebels are a bit of an enigma. On the one hand, Ole Miss lost three of the most talented players in program history, is replacing both of its offensive tackles and has an alarmingly inexperienced secondary. On the other hand, the D-line is monstrous and the SEC’s best quarterback has a ridiculous number of skill position players to which he can distribute the ball.
Yet predictions among experts are relatively stable—most of what I’ve seen puts the Rebs at either 8-4 or 9-3, with a 10-2 infrequently stuck in as well. The numbers agree: ESPN’s FPI projects 9-3, while Bill C.’s F&P+ has Ole Miss going 8-4.
The first month of the season—which includes what amounts to a road trip in Orlando against FSU and home games against Bama and Georgia—will go a long way in determining Ole Miss’ fate. Drop two of those and a three- or four-loss season becomes almost inevitable; go 2-1 in that stretch and a 10-win regular season becomes realistic.
After averaging game-by-game picks by 10 of our contributors, we at the Cup have the Rebs penciled in at 9-3. Scroll through the graphic for predictions (which are accompanied by Bill C.’s F&P+ projections) and keep scrolling for our picks for MVP and newcomers of the year.
Keep in mind that these are averaged from 10 separate ballots, which is why it’s so closely aligned with conventional wisdom. I doubt the season turns out so cleanly—I have the Rebs pulling off the upset in Baton Rouge but dropping one in either Fayetteville or College Station, just because.
Offensive MVP: Chad Kelly
Surprise, surprise. After putting up the third most passing yards in SEC history and combing for 41 total touchdowns in his first season as a Rebel, Swag enters his senior year as the conference's undisputed top quarterback. He'll need to bump his numbers up a decent bit to put himself in the Heisman discussion, but if he can play all of 2016 the way he played the last seven games of his junior campaign, that's certainly doable (particularly with the loaded receiving corps he has at his disposal). The only uncertainty is whether Kelly's new offensive tackles can give him the time he needs—when given at least 2.5 seconds to throw the ball last season, he had the best quarterback rating in the country.
Defensive MVP: Tony Conner
Conner says he's about 90 percent recovered from the knee surgery that limited and eventually ended his junior season, and his 90 percent is still better than the majority of the SEC's defensive backs. The Rebel defense desperately needs him to return to the form that would have made him an early-round draft pick this year, no more so than the opener against FSU. Conner is one of the few guys in the safeties room with significant experience, and his athleticism and open-field tackling could be pivotal in preventing Dalvin Cook from breaking big runs on Labor Day.
Offensive Newcomer of the Year: Van Jefferson
After sitting patiently through a redshirt year, the 2015 five-star has been rewarded with the starting slot receiver job. Hugh Freeze has called Jefferson, who's dad is an NFL receivers coach, the best route-runner on the team, and a receiver who can get open catching passes from a quarterback who doesn't need much of a throwing window anyway could be a dangerous thing. If D-coordinators key too much on Ole Miss' better-known commodities—Damore'ea Stringfellow, Quincy Adeboyejo, Evan Engram—Jefferson could end up being one of the league's breakout stars.
Defensive Newcomer of the Year: Rommel Mageo
The Oregon State transfer may not end up starting Game 1, but he'll should take over at middle linebacker sooner than later. After yet another Signing Day whiff at the position, Freeze had his prayers answered when Mageo, the Beavers' leading tackler from a year ago, decided to transfer in late. If he can catch up with the defensive system, it'll allow DeMarquis Gates to slide over to his natural position as the outside backer. Nine months after we were all mashing the panic button, Ole Miss might actually be pretty damn good (if not deep) at linebacker.