It’s been just over nine months since Chad Kelly hoisted the Sugar Bowl trophy towards the rafters of the Superdome. A lot has changed since then. In February, Hugh Freeze landed the best on-paper recruiting class in program history. In May, the NFL Draft claimed the three best members of the legendary 2013 class. Four months prior, the NCAA sent Ole Miss a letter alleging serious infractions, setting off a media firestorm that’s raged continuously through the long offseason.
Taking down No. 4 FSU would not only provide emotional reprieve from the withering scandal, but could be pivotal for maintaining any playoff hopes harbored in Oxford. The Rebs’ brutal September also brings Bama and Georgia to town, so a loss in Orlando would put Ole Miss in serious danger of picking up two Ls before the leaves begin to fall. On the other hand, a win over the ‘Noles would catapult Freeze’s bunch into the national championship conversation. With the way Tennessee and LSU flopped over the weekend, the Rebs would become the default favorite to challenge Bama for the SEC title (and set up one of the biggest home games in program history on Sept. 17).
Monday night could also answer a lot of key questions, something you typically don’t get in the early going against cupcake teams. Can the new offensive tackles protect Kelly? Is the young secondary capable of preventing big plays? How quickly can the transfer linebackers contribute? We’re mere hours from finding out.
Finally, mercifully, the 2016 season is here.
How to watch
Kickoff: 7 p.m. CT
Where: Orlando, Fla.
Online streaming: WatchESPN.com