Last week at Southeastern Conference Media Days, head coach Matt Luke said the Ole Miss football team needed to start fast and focus on the first game. Clearly, this is partially typical coach-speak you should expect from the annual bonanza known as SEC Media Days, but the Cup couldn’t help but agree vehemently with the second year head coach (or is it third year?).
If the Rebels are to make it to its first bowl game since 2016, the first four games of the season need to be wins, or at the very least, extremely competitive for the psyche of this young team. A quick check of the schedule has the fifth game of the year against Alabama who, last we checked, is pretty good and the toughest game of the season. But we will expound more on the Crimson Tide at a later date.
For now, Memphis, Arkansas, Southeastern Louisiana and Cal will shape the 2019 season for Ole Miss football, so what would a 4-0 start mean for the program? And is it really even possible?
Ole Miss at Memphis — August 31st
This is one game you will definitely get to drink beers while watching the Rebels that much is for sure. The kick-off to the season on Labor Day weekend is going to most likely be extremely hot, the stadium will be pretty full, and Tiger fans are definitely convinced they are the best team not in a Power Five conference.
A lot of fans have already put a ton of emphasis on this game as a “make or break” for the entire year. Lose the opener to Memphis and the odds become much longer for a 6-win season and a bowl game, which is entirely reasonable.
Brady White was calm and cool for Memphis last season. pic.twitter.com/zVmwpBfq7u— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 1, 2019
But, Memphis is favored to win this game, and that’s why things might just go a little differently. How Memphis will handle the expectations of being favored to go 12-0 will be the story of this game. They’ve lost some offensive firepower in departures of running back Darrell Henderson and running back/wide receiver Tony Pollard, and the Tigers have three offensive linemen to replace as well.
The Rebels’ defensive front seven will have to create chaos in the new 3-4 system under first-year coordinator Mike MacIntyre, and redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Corral will have to rely on a talented backfield in senior running back Scottie Phillips to help control tempo in this crucial game.
So, is it possible for a Rebel win? Absolutely, because we’ll be cracking open new looks on offense and defense that haven’t been seen before, and Memphis will have all the pressure of a perfect season riding on its performance. Payback for 2015 could very well be in store.
Arkansas at Ole Miss — September 7th
This is going to be the battle for bottom of the SEC Western Division just like last year. The Razorback fan base has been fairly quiet in the off season in my opinion compared to other seasons. I think they know a rebuild is very likely to take multiple seasons after the dumpster fire, 2-10 2018 season.
The Arky coaching staff dumped quarterbacks, got some transfers, retooled the offensive line, lost its best defensive player and best wide receiver, and somehow prognosticators are still picking this team to more than double its win total. Why? I don’t know, but I think they are assuming Chad Morris will have the same turnaround seen at Southern Methodist (2-10, 5-7, 7-5 in three years).
Maybe this team will gel and get better as the year goes on in this pass heavy offense. The Hogs are in a very similar position from a schedule standpoint as Ole Miss — those first four games are likely to be the most winnable, so in my opinion, this is the make or break game for both teams in a bid to go bowling in 2019.
Can Ole Miss win this game? I’d say right now it’s a little better than a coin flip for Ole Miss’ chances since it will be the home opener, and assuming a win against Memphis, a 6:30 p.m. kick-off means a decently rowdy crowd to push the Rebels on to a W.
SELA at Ole Miss — September 14th
If Ole Miss loses this game, I will just stay in the Grove for the rest of the season and enjoy some alcohols.
SELA is coming to Oxford to collect a check to keep its program financially healthy. Come get your payday, enjoy being on television, and take your loss. Please.
California at Ole Miss — September 21st
The return game from the 2017 loss at Cal is here. The 27-16 “defensive” win for Cal was a terrible game for QB Shea Patterson, and the realization that he could definitely not walk on water had fully settled in.
Cal is much like Arkansas in that it is rebuilding, but it is relying more on young players rather than transfers. The Golden Bears finished 7-6 in 2018 under second year coach Justin Wilcox with a pretty fantastic defense (20 points per game) but a sub par if not terrible offense (19.6 points per game).
Camryn Bynum locked down for Cal last season. pic.twitter.com/SWpVL4P23f— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 16, 2019
By this time, Rebel fans will have a better idea of what to expect offensively and defensively. This will potentially be a complete 180 degree turn from what people anticipated this game to be when it was announced half a decade ago. Back then, Sonny Dykes and Hugh Freeze would have been chomping at the bit for a 56-52 kind of game. Now, the conservative Luke and defensive minded Wilcox will undoubtedly keep this game under 40 points.
Cal has to travel something like 2000 miles for this game. It’ll still be pretty hot and humid in late September, so there’s still a good chance the Rebels pull off what would be seen as an upset nationally.
So what does 4-0 mean?
With Vanderbilt and New Mexico State left on the schedule, it means the chance for a bowl season is very much alive and well. It also means this coaching staff will be proving itself to a top 20 recruiting class and gaining some momentum with its remaining targets.
A 3-1 or worse start means most likely the Rebels will need some luck and help to get to 6-6 or a backdoor 5-7 bowl season.
There is also the dream scenario where the new defensive and offensive coordinators at Ole Miss are in fact the geniuses we all hope they are, and the Rebels shock the world in a couple games in the fall, finishing 8-4. Yes, it’s the preseason and the Kool-Aid is very strong in my house. Enjoy it while it is still fresh and viable.