To live through Ole Miss football in 2017 was a schizophrenic experience. Last year’s Rebs were sitting on a self-imposed bowl ban, yes, but five-star quarterback Shea Patterson was set to helm a potent offense with an unknowably high ceiling. The defense was wonting, everyone understood, but fireworks awaited on the other side of the ball.
But almost 30 minutes past the midway point of Ole Miss’ 2017 campaign, and sitting on a somewhat disappointing 3-3 record — LOOKIN’ AT YOU, CAL — Patterson awkwardly tweaked his right knee on a long throw against LSU, and his stint in Oxford ended soon after that.
Enter: Jordan Ta’amu, a lightly recruited prospect out of Hawaii that immediately set football fields ablaze with a 9.7 yards-per-attempt average on pace to a 3-2 record as the Rebel starter. It was stunning to watch him grow on a moment’s notice into the role of starting quarterback in a spread offense in the damn SEC West.
Should Ta’amu merely hold steady in production from last year to this, Ole Miss will score a lot of points. Should he build on last year’s production, there’s no telling how fast the Rebs’ offensive engine can fly. Defense will probably be an issue again in 2018, and so our collective interests turn to watch how many points A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and company can hang on the board in any given week. We’ve picked the Landsharks to finish 7-5; at least one national writer, Barrett Sallee, sees 9-3 as a possibility, which would send the entire college football universe into convulsive internet rage.
It would be awesome, and you better believe that we’d start writing hypothetical bowl predictions. We see you, Shreveport.
With Patterson gone to Michigan (which is fine, calm down), this is Ta’amu’s battalion to reign. He’s complemented by a bevy of receivers that can make plays up and down the field. Phil Longo’s approach to college football offense is perhaps the most peculiar in the SEC, because of its unreadable simplicity and, to borrow a term from Football Study Hall, optionality.
In just five games last season, Ole Miss’ offense under Ta’amu’s tutelage met or exceeded Football Study Hall’s five elements for offensive success. And the whole crew has had a full offseason to prepare for a second helping.
We might here temper your reservations regarding whatever win-loss success this team may end up with. We may here warn you that — horror — Ta’amu might experience a regression year when tossed through the ringer that is a full 12-game season. We may even advise turning off the television when the Rebel defense is on the field. Those are all fair and reasonable and potential factors that might mitigate this or that fan’s hopes for the 2018 season.
But don’t let those anxieties cloud your fun with this team. The Rebs have a host of veterans — many at key spots on the field — and their ceiling this season is just as if not higher than this time last year. Just look at the first half of last year’s Cal game, or any of Ta’amu’s three wins in 2017.
The unknown is exciting. There’s no postseason again, so at least that’s known. But getting to that not-postseason is probably going to be a wild road.