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Here’s how teams with great offenses and terrible defenses typically fare in the SEC

We took a look at the historical data to find out what to expect from Ole Miss the rest of this season.

Alabama v Mississippi Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Three games into the 2018 season, we’re beginning to get a good feel for the makeup of this Ole miss football team—not too different from 2017. Even after a dud against Alabama, it feels safe to say that this offense will remain an upper-echelon unit, especially when accounting for strength of schedule. Meanwhile, this defense’s shortcomings are rooted in structural flaws (both personnel and staff related) that won’t be fixed anytime soon.

Last season, Ole Miss finished ninth in offensive S&P+ and 113th in defense, and that imbalance looks like it’ll persist through 2018. A team with a great offense and leaky defense is far from a foreign concept (hello, Big 12), but this level of extremity puts Matt Luke’s team in rare company.

Since 2008, just 20 FBS teams have finished with a top-20 offense and bottom-20 defense, just eight of which came from a Power Five conference (three different Texas Tech teams made this list).

Teams with top-20 offense, bottom-20 defense since 2008

Year Team Record Offensive S&P+ Rank Defensive S&P+ Rank
Year Team Record Offensive S&P+ Rank Defensive S&P+ Rank
2008 Tulsa 11-2 11 103
2008 Rice 10-3 12 105
2008 Houston 8-5 14 102
2008 UTEP 5-7 20 111
2009 Nevada 8-5 2 107
2010 East Carolina 6-7 17 105
2012 Louisiana Tech 9-3 4 115
2014 Western Kentucky 8-5 9 118
2014 California 5-7 20 113
2014 Texas Tech 4-8 19 114
2015 Texas Tech 7-6 1 124
2016 South Florida 11-2 8 110
2016 Louisiana Tech 9-5 11 113
2016 Texas Tech 5-7 6 125
2016 Oregon 4-8 20 119
2017 Ole Miss 6-6 9 113
2017 Arizona 7-6 8 115
2017 SMU 7-6 11 119
2017 UCLA 6-7 15 120
2017 UL-Monroe 4-8 17 129

The Rebels’ membership in the Hall of Weird Teams is a neat little factoid on its own, but we can also use these historical ratings to get an idea of what this group’s realistic ceiling is. The average record among this group is seven wins and 5.7 losses (this includes any postseason games), which puts a pretty modest cap on Ole Miss’ win total this year. When taking a deeper dive, it gets even more bleak.

Of the eight teams in this group that did win more than seven games, none came out of the Power Five, largely benefiting from a weak schedule. This brings up a valid question:

How do teams with decidedly bad defenses typically fare in the SEC?

Since 2008, SEC teams have boasted an average defensive S&P+ rank of 34th, with just two squads slipping to the bottom 20 in this category: the 2017 Ole Miss and Arkansas teams. If we change the threshold to bottom-50, we get 13 teams with an average record of 5.2 wins and 7.1 losses. Leading the group is 2013 Texas A&M, who finished 9-4 in Johnny Manziel’s final college season. Their defense ranked 76th, though, which Wesley McGriff would envy at this point.

Ole Miss fields a much stronger offense than the majority of this list of SEC teams (average offensive S&P+ rank of 39th), but as of right now, the numbers favor them in just three of their remaining games. What doesn’t help is that besides last year’s Egg Bowl, Phil Longo’s short history in Oxford lacks a strong showing against an elite defense.

Scoring at a lower clip against stouter competition is to be expected, and shouldn’t serve as some kind of indictment on him. The fact remains that because of the defense’s absence, any slip-ups from the offense will be magnified. The Rebels still have to face LSU, Auburn, Mississippi State, and Texas A&M, who rank sixth, 12th, 21st, and 33rd in defensive S&P+, respectively. The most optimistic of these matchups is currently the October skirmish with Auburn (27 percent win probability), due in part to it being in Oxford.

Fortunately for Ole Miss, these numbers are fluid, and while the Rebels’ identity may be pretty much set in stone, a few of their later opponents could experience some of their own dysfunction that changes the outlook of things. Vanderbilt’s impressive start has them ranked 35th in overall S&P+, but some mid-season regression is entirely possible — that’s just one example of something external that could swing the Rebels’ way.

What’s lost in all this is that a six-win finish wouldn’t have been considered a massive underachievement heading into the season anyway. The defense’s ineptitude is at a place where it’s hard to be disappointed anymore, and the offense looks like it can deliver on hopes of an explosive unit. Numbers aside, it’s still a fun team. Just don’t expect much more than that.