The University of Connecticut became the first Division I FBS school to cancel the 2020 football season on Wednesday, marking open season for roster poaching in Storrs, Conn. Ole Miss, once scheduled to host the Nutmeg State squad in October, should take a long, hard look at the Huskies roster and target six potential impact transfers.
UConn has been terrible over the last decade and has won only 30 total games since sneaking into the Fiesta Bowl at 8-5 in 2010, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t hidden gems in every bunch. Assuming the NCAA will grant any Husky wanting to transfer with a waiver for immediate eligibility, there are 101 rostered players who could find a new home at a school that (as of today) is playing this fall.
Here are the Huskies that Lane Kiffin and the Rebels should sign:
Kevin Mensah — Running Back, Senior
The backfield at Ole Miss is fairly sured up between Jerrion Ealy, Snoop Conner, Kentrel Bullock, Henry Parrish Jr. and Tylan Knight, so we won’t spend too much time here— but we’d be remiss not to mention the best player on the Huskies’ roster.
Kevin Mensah is a 5-foot-9, 200-pound senior who broke the 1,000-yard mark in back-to-back seasons on more than 225 carries each year. He was pretty much the entire offense.
He will be the most in-demand player for P5 schools that need to sure-up depth at the position, or smaller FBS programs needing a workhorse. Ole Miss does not fall in either category, but there is no such thing as too many weapons.
Cameron Ross — Wide Receiver, Sophomore
As offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby and Kiffin change the scope of the offense, high-motor playmakers at wide receiver are crucial. Cameron Ross fits the mold.
As a freshman in a terribly inept passing offense, Ross led the team with 60 catches for 723 receiving yards. He ranked second in the nation among true freshmen in receptions with 5.5 per game and fifth in receiving yards. His best game came against East Carolina, when he recorded eight catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns.
The Huskies attempted 382 passes in 2019 and completed 228 for a staggering 60 percent completion rate, but Ross still found a way to succeed. Look at the quarterback’s arm angle as he throws at the 1:02 mark here, and you might get a grasp of what the receiving core was working with:
Whether he would be granted immediate eligibility or not, Ross could start for the Rebels right away. He stands 5-foot-9 and has great field awareness, runs strong routes, and moves quick. If a defender should catch him in a foot race, Ross will win.
Braylon Sanders graduates from Ole Miss in the spring, which opens up the slot receiver position for 2021. Kiffin added Dionte Marks from Florida this offseason to presumably fill that role, but a sophomore Ross would have a real shot to fill the inside receiver spot over Marks, if not over Sanders in 2020.
Jackson Mitchell — Linebacker, Sophomore
A complete linebacker front has been a missing component of the Ole Miss defense over the past few years and needs to be addressed. Fortunately, the Huskies’ top defensive talent plays the position. Jackson Mitchell, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound sophomore led the nation among true freshman with 6.5 tackles per game in 2019 and totaled 65 tackles on the season.
While Connecticut isn’t necessarily a hotspot for recruiting, his high school career was well-decorated on both sides of the ball. As a senior he was named First Team All-Conference, made the All-State Top-25 Player list and was named to the New Haven Register’s First Team as a wide receiver.
My times coming, just wait on it pic.twitter.com/4wmcjpMAuQ— Jackson Mitchell (@jtmitchell40) February 8, 2018
Mitchell played on offense and defense, but made his mark as a hybrid linebacker and edge rusher. He set a school record with 14.5 sacks in his senior season and is quick off the ball, gets to the backfield in a hurry and has great play recognition.
Having racked up 80 receptions for 1124 yards and 14 TD as a junior receiver, he translates the skills across the ball, plays well in coverage, and added two interceptions and five passes defended to his senior defensive stat line.
Even being from Ridgefield and growing up without a highway in his town, Mitchell would fit well as an outside linebacker in D.J. Durkin’s system. He is athletic enough to drop into zone coverage, quick enough to stick with a receiver over the middle, physical enough to man-mark a tight end, and makes his money as a pass rusher. His entrance to the linebacker room would be welcomed.
Travis Jones — Defensive Tackle, Junior
Another area in need of immediate help at Ole Miss is at defensive tackle. Austrian Robinson, Josiah Coatney and Benito Jones have moved on, leaving Quentin Bevins and Patrick Lucas Jr. to step up. Travis Jones, a 6-foot-4, 336-pound junior would be the perfect addition to the rotation.
When he got to Storrs, Jones weighed 350 pounds as a freshman and stepped into a high-snap role in week one. He saw action in all 12 games, made 10 starts and recorded 55 tackles in 2018.
Between his freshman and sophomore seasons, he slimmed down and lost 22 pounds. The concept was simple; move more, eat less. As a sophomore, Jones tallied 40 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Yes, his production dropped, but he saw more double teams and forced offenses to move the ball away from him.
Entering his junior season, Jones isn’t just a space-eater. He’s less doughy, stronger, and plays fast. He is a natural wrecking ball with a great push and is learning to steer his body to get through a block. Should the defensive staff in Oxford get ahold of him, Jones would instantly jump to the top of the snap count for defensive linemen.
Kevon Jones — Defensive End/Linebacker/Rover, Junior
Part of the reason that Jones saw a drop off between his first and second years is because of the increased talent to his outside at the end position. Kevon Jones moved positions from linebacker to defensive end before the 2019 season and made a big impact.
He started at middle linebacker for the Huskies as a freshman and finished second on the team with six tackles for loss and totaled 53 on the year, despite sitting out the final three games of the season for academic reasons.
FRESHMAN DEBUT: LB Kevon Jones (No. 48) was another member of #UConnFootball who made their collegiate debut on Thursday. His first career play was impressive, tossing aside a pulling TE to get in on the run stop #UConnSN pic.twitter.com/cw7pg4lHBx— ThisIsUConnCountry (@UConnSN) September 4, 2018
At 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, Jones switched positions at the end of UConn’s spring practices in 2019 and played “rover” as a sophomore. This hybrid position, which plays a cross between outside linebacker and edge rusher, is something that Durkin uses frequently in his multiple-look defense and Jones has shown he can do it. Last season, he made 40 tackles and three sacks.
As a lean, downfield rusher, the rover spot caters well to Jones’ frame and skillset, which would prove extremely valuable for a linebacker core that lacks depth and versatility in a defense that requires both.
Ryan Van Denmark — Offensive Lineman, Senior
While it seems as though the Ole Miss offensive line is pretty sured-up for the upcoming season, is there ever a situation where adding a 6-foot-7, 300-pound tackle is a bad thing?
Ryan Van Denmark has one season of eligibility remaining, and has played in all 36 games in his career, making 33 starts. He began his time at UConn on the right side, but has since moved to the left. Behind his large presence and solid mechanics, the Huskies had two 1,000-yard rushers in 2018 and saw Mensah do it again in 2019. It certainly can’t hurt to add another big, proven body to the Big Uglies.
Since Kiffin took over at Ole Miss in December, he has continuously expressed the value he places in transfers, citing an “NFL model” with the addition of the transfer portal. Not only has he spoken to that new wrinkle, he has put his money where his mouth is and signed quite a few high-profile players away from other schools.
It is not unrealistic to imagine that UConn was so bad, it’s roster may not warrant a discussion amongst the coaching staff. However, there are a few Huskies that could bring an instant boost to the Rebel roster, and with Chris Partridge’s ties to New England, they could be enticed to hop on the Lane Train and head to Oxford with (presumably) immediate eligibility.