Earlier this week, SB Nation encouraged its network to pontificate on the future of football, asking what our favorite NFL and college programs would look like five years from now. We didn’t do this, at least not in a timely fashion, mostly because we forgot to. Also though, it is a question that, even when considering the futility of its most basic nature—what will anything look like five years from now?—its particularly silly to consider when Ole Miss football is the topic.
To demonstrate, I will ask you to consider the state of the Rebel football program five years ago. In May of 2012, Hugh Freeze was just a few months into his first job as an SEC head coach. He was taking over a program that had just finished what was statistically the worst season in its history, a 2-10 year that saw double-digit losses to Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Mississippi State. His program had signed a passable Division I recruiting class that featured, among others, East Mississippi CC quarterback Bo Wallace. He had the support of a newly-hired athletics director, who was tasked with reviving the support of a fan base that was resigned to Ole Miss likely missing out on the NCAA postseason for a few years.
Over the next five years though, Ole Miss football quickly reversed whatever negative trend it was on, setting itself on an upward trajectory that was improbable, unpredictable, and fun as hell—for us, at least. The 2012 Rebels rode a quick offensive turnaround to seven wins. That following offseason, they signed a top-five recruiting class which included the No. 1 player in the country. This made a lot of stupid people mad, because college football recruiting is something that makes stupid people mad. The wins gradually increased—eight wins in 2013 and nine in 2014—before a ten-win 2015 season that resulted in a long-awaited Rebel return to the Sugar Bowl.
Oh, and Ole Miss beat Alabama twice in a row. Remember that?
So Ole Miss went from 2-10 to a team with enough talent to legitimately compete on the field against some of the best teams in the country in just a few short years. And it seemed sustainable! Ole Miss continued to recruit well and minimized coaching turnover, suggesting a level of stability not seen in Oxford since maybe ever.
Then it all pretty much fell apart over the course of a calendar year. Ole Miss started 2016 out with said Sugar Bowl win. It was fun! I was there! But that game, much of what led up to it that season was under the shroud of a longstanding NCAA investigation—and, no, we aren’t getting into the rumors, innuendo, suggestions, or even moral implications you may want there to be with regards to that. I tire of it, and your opinions on the matter bore me, you brave and valiant paragon e-defender of amateurism.
What matters is that it happened, and all of the defensive finger pointing and self-serving moral posturing you can muster won’t make it any better or worse than you want it to be. It hampered Ole Miss’ ability to recruit, and seemed to serve as a gigantic distraction throughout 2016 season. That, and a whoooooole bunch of injuries meant that Ole Miss went from hanging with Florida State and Bama to losing to a bad Mississippi State team and failing to even make bowl eligibility.
Ole Miss then self-imposed a bowl ban, lost whatever recruiting momentum it had, and now figures to lose everything from donations to (even more) members of its coaching staff. Whatever optimism Ole Miss fans felt to start 2016 was all but gone by the end of it. One of the most briefly successful periods in the history of the program ended, and spectacularly so, within just a few months of it reaching its apex.
A pretty eventful five years though, huh?
Which brings us back to the question at hand. What will Ole Miss football look like five years from now? Well the obvious and literal answer is “I don’t know,” but that is much less descriptive than the more genuine answer of “I don’t know, and even suggesting that such a question has any conclusions that could be reasonably derived is just so, so stupid.” It’s not that answering such a question requires a Herculean level of complexity, but rather that doing so is an act of absurdism.
We “don’t know” what Ohio State and Alabama will look like over the next five years, but it is safe to conclude that they’ll be fine. Likewise, we “don’t know” how well Kansas or UConn football will fare come 2022, but assuming they’ll maintain their status quo of being not good is fair. With Ole Miss, we don’t even know what we don’t even know; we don’t know to a greater extent than we don’t know for virtually any other football program.
Maybe Ole Miss endures the self-imposed bowl ban and earns the mercy of the NCAA COI, who decide against any additional penalties. Maybe the program can retain much of its lost recruiting momentum, shake the distractions of an investigation, and return to fielding a competitive football team.
Or, maybe Ole Miss’ official sanctions are worse than anticipated, and the Rebel football program hemorrhages talent, fans, and money. Coaches and administrators are fired, and the Rebs slog through the dredges of the Southeastern Conference for years before looking like a program that is better than something belonging in the Sun Belt. Even if this program were bowl eligible, they aren’t winning the games needed to get the invites in the first place. Many parties will be won.
Between those scenarios though—and I hesitate to call either the “best” or “worst case” anything, because Ole Miss football doesn’t care for whatever boundaries we place on it—is something akin to the truth. The only predictable thing about Ole Miss’ future, no matter how far out you’re looking to predict it, is that Ole Miss will suck again. Then it will get better for a bit. Then it will suck again. Coaches will get hired and fired. Money will be invested, then wasted. The emotional acmes and nadirs of what is to come will drive us crazier than we already were. We will drink whiskey and eat chicken tenders to cope. We will probably wear nice shoes while doing so. All of this will make people mad.
And, in spite of our better judgment, we’ll be here through all of it.