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Ole Miss to the 2020 Outback Bowl. Could it really happen?

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Gray and OMTB discuss the merits and faults of this ludicrous, yet dead-on, projection

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Texas A&M Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Ole Miss football has gone through an absolute meat grinder over the last several years. You are surely familiar with the years-long NCAA investigation the program endured, the resulting probation and bowl bans, and high profile transfers out of Oxford among other issues. You also know they killed the Bear and replaced him with a shark. It has been a strange, difficult few years, to say the least.

And now, facing a 2019 season that kicks off in just a few short months, and in spite of all of the unique heartache we Ole Miss football fans have experienced, there is some cause for optimism in town.

The bowl ban is over, recruiting is extant, and new assistant coaches are proving encouraging. This optimism even exists outside of the confines of Oxford, Mississippi as one preseason projection already has the Rebels returning to bowl eligibility immediately after the postseason ban is lifted. Brett McMurphy, noted college football expert from Stadium, has the Rebels in the 2020 Outback Bowl. This would come on the heels of what would be presumably an 8-4 or even 9-3 season, based on the performances of Outback Bowl-invited teams in years past. That would be a huge turn around for the Rebel football program.

This would mean, after a three year hiatus from the postseason, an Ole Miss football program would be back in a New Year’s Day bowl for the first time since the very good and very fun and STILL unvacated Sugar Bowl victory in 2016. Yes, we’d have to go to Tampa, but there is a Busch Gardens there! And it would be something which, in NCAA football postseason invites, is better than nothing.

Could this really happen, though? We at the Cup wondered the same, and our thoughts on this are sure to make all our fans infinitesimally happy and our haters despondently lugubrious.

You’re saying there’s a chance?!

Yeah, baby, let’s get to dreaming and making it a reality. It’s totally plausible that Ole Miss will go to the Outback Bowl! It’s very conceivable that we could do this and lose to, I dunno, a “meh” Northwestern team, while the coconut fried shrimp or bloomin’ onion petals will rain from the sky like manna as our deliverance from NCAA prison is complete. Say it with us: “this will definitely happen,” and there are some good reasons why.

First off, the SEC is extraordinarily top heavy. It’s clearly Alabama and Georgia vying for the conference title, then a huge gap of nothing, and then everyone else. Ole Miss fits in that “everyone else,” of course. And if you’re going to go down this road for high expectations, you have to believe that LSU is going to not be very good, Mississippi State takes a huge step back, and the Rebels get off to a phenomenal 4-0 start. Let’s say all those things happen. It’s May. We can do that.

Oh, but we are Ole Miss, the success doesn’t last forever. The Rebels then endure a 1-4 stretch with fans losing faith as losses mount. Suddenly, like a phoenix from the ashes, the Rebels find their form with a three game win streak to cap the season. That’s enough to get an invite to the Outback Bowl for sure.

If you are an X’s and O’s type, then you buy this possibility. Ole Miss just dropped a small fortune on two new coordinators with Power 5 head coaching experience. The Phil Longo offense experiment is gone forever, and the RichRod experience will come into full bloom behind the fiery dual-threat quarterback Matt Corral. Behind him, running backs Scottie Phillips and Isaiah Woullard tack on more than 1,800 rushing yards in a rebranded offense built on a tempo running attack.

On the other side, new defensive coordinator Mike Macintyre makes Benito Jones, Charles Wiley and Qaadir Shepherd into a truly disruptive defensive line allowing a new defensive look to renew the Landshark namesake. Offensive coordinators will be baffled that the Rebel defense no longer allows wide receivers to run free in open field behind them!

This team is going to be hungry, and it’s going to come together in a special way and send its seniors to their first bowl game.

Here’s why it won’t happen, you dummy.

When OMTB asked me if I wanted to take the “lol, surely you jest” side of the argument, my first concern was whether they build servers big enough to store all the evidence of why Ole Miss will not see Tampa on January 1st at 11 in the got dang morning. Given the volumes upon volumes of data, I’ll try to make this as concise as possible and work through it in a hard-nosed, blue-collar fashion.

Let’s begin by looking at the recent records of SEC teams that achieved the rank of Outback Bowl participant. In the last five years, the SEC representative was 8-4 upon arrival in Tampa.

The last time a 7-5 team from the SEC appeared in the land of Magic Mike was in 2011 when Florida made the short trip over from Gainesville. Since 2001, only four SEC teams have made the Outback Bowl with seven wins.

The point being, winning eight out of 12 games appears to be the minimum requirement to potentially be awash in Bloomin’ Onion merch. When you look at Ole Miss’ 2019 schedule, you have a chance to play America’s fastest-growing quiz sensation, Find Eight Wins.

Before you begin assigning wins and losses, we shall review a few things for you to consider.

According to SB Nation’s Bill Connelly, the 2019 Ole Miss Rebels check in at 116th out of 130 teams in terms of returning production, which is good for last in the SEC. The next closest team on the schedule (outside of Southeastern Louisiana) is Texas A&M, who ranks 102nd.

Getting further in to the nauseating details, only 30% of 2018’s offensive production returns (IS THAT BAD?), which is very much dead last in FBS (YEP, BAD). For example, your leading returning receivers, who are also the only people on the current roster who have caught a pass at Ole Miss:

  • Elijah Moore (36 receptions)
  • Braylon Sanders (16)
  • Scottie Phillips (10)
  • Isaiah Woullard (9)
  • Octavious Cooley (8)
  • Eric Swinney (3)
  • Miles Battle (2)

I lack the physical and mental strength to detail how the offense will feature a new system, an inexperienced quarterback, and two returning starters on the offensive line (four linemen total who played in six games or more last year). So, in review, the one thing that was sometimes good about Ole Miss football last year is going to be worse!

Finally, consider Ole Miss’ overall talent level and that of the teams they will face in 2019. Using 247’s composite crootin’ rankings from 2016 to 2019, Ole Miss’ average class ranking is 22.5.

However, the 2016 class, which was ranked 5th in all the land, has only four players remaining from the top 10 in that class (Benito Jones, Octavious Cooley, Jaylon Jones, and Charles Wiley). That means you’re looking at more of a sag into the mid-20s, based on the current roster.

You can scream and fill diapers about recruiting rankings, but they usually tell the tale of success. Here are Ole Miss’ opponents’ crootin’ rankings over the same period:

  • Memphis: 65.8
  • Arkansas: 30.3
  • SELA: 2.1 billion
  • Cal: 46.3
  • Vanderbilt: 54.5
  • Missouri: 41.5
  • Texas A&M: 13
  • Auburn: 10.3
  • New Mexico State: NOT GREAT
  • LSU: 7.3
  • Mississippi State: 25.5

When you crunch the numbers, there are allegedly advantages over Memphis, SELA, Cal, Vanderbilt, Missouri, and New Mexico State. Allegedly being the key word there.

If you allowed me to wager monies, AND I WILL, there’s no way the 2019 version of Ole Miss is going 6-0 against that group. With Arkansas and Mississippi State falling in the push category, 5-3 or 6-2 is the best you can hope for in those eight games.

The remaining four games against Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn, and LSU? SO MUCH BLOOD.

I would advise you, dear reader, to adjust your expectations to the Birmingham Bowl or, at best, everyone gets fired (EVERYONE), things are burned to the ground, and we start anew. Who can’t get excited about a hard reset two years too late?