After knocking off the 12th-ranked Indiana Hoosiers, the Rebels head into the off-season with a 5-5 year one under new head coach Lane Kiffin. Sophomore quarterback Matt Corral finished his season atop the total offense rankings (384.3 yards per game) and Lane Kiffin and Jeff Lebby’s offense finished 3rd as a unit (555.5 yards per game). Sure, the defense is going to need an overhaul, again, but the foundation has been laid for next season to take a big step forward.
Consensus All-American Elijah Moore is gone. Kenny Yeboah is heading to the pros as well. And Royce Newman is poised to be drafted in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft. Still, the offense brings back Corral as well as Dontario Drummond and Braylon Sanders at receiver and Snoop Conner and Jerrion Ealy at running back. Those four alone are humongous pieces for a team that coulda shoulda woulda maybe have won seven or eight games in 2020 with a few defensive stops.
Oh, and hey, remember John Rhys Plumlee? Yeah, if he has a full off-season to learn the receiver position it could add yet another explosive element to an offense that torched everyone.
Alas, close only matters in horseshoes and hand grenades.
As we turn to next year, early polls and rankings are out and early returns favor the good guys.
Preseason polls mean nothing. They only exist for off-season banter and speculation. But, the point stands that Kiffin has already revitalized a fanbase that was on the brink of apathy after the 2019 season finished with a fake pee and missed PAT. Now, folks are geeked for year two of the Lane Train Era that saw a battered and bruised roster navigate an All-SEC schedule and win a New Year bowl game.
The early signing period was great for Ole Miss. Kiffin signed seven four-stars in December and of the 24 signees, 15 will report early for the spring semester next week. Furthermore, four of said seven blue chip recruits are defensive prospects. This is good, per sources.
These recent developments paired with returning production on offense built to keep pace with the ever-evolving college football game that calls for tons of points to be scored and a head coach that appears to be ready to bolster his on-field staff bodes well for Ole Miss to take the next step up in the SEC West to compete with the next tier.
Alabama loses Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, Najee Harris, Mac Jones, Alex Leatherwood, Landon Dickerson, Jaylen Waddle, Deonte Brown, and Miller Forristall from arguably the greatest offense of all-time. Defensively, they don’t take as many losses as they only lose Dylan Moses and Patrick Surtain II. But, with all that said, you know as well as I do that that roster is built to reload and they will still be the gold standard in 2021.
But, lest I remind you that the Rebels played the national champs better than anyone in 2020.
Ole Miss gave the undefeated national champs the only serious challenge they faced all year, and they also beat the only team (other than said national champ) that gave the runner-up a serious challenge. Congrats to transitive AP postseason #2 Ole Miss— Alex Kirshner (@alex_kirshner) January 12, 2021
Horseshoes and hand grenades, sure, but the point stands. If the Rebels had a defense worth shaking a stick at, that game would’ve been awfully uncomfortable for Nick Saban in the fourth quarter.
Texas A&M loses Kellen Mond and four starting offensive linemen, Auburn has a brand new staff on The Plains, and LSU had a shake-up themselves at both coordinator positions so the path to competing for the top-tier in the SEC West is certainly there.
Ole Miss opens the year in Atlanta (hi, Mississippi State fans and your stale jokes) against Louisville and has another non-conference matchup against fellow preseason hype beast Liberty which is sure to not be a big deal or have any sort of drama at all. Outside of those two, the non-con slate is certainly capable of being navigated without any blemishes.
Again, the defense is what gives me pause here. But, if DJ Durkin can continue to gain trust with his group and the buy-in to the scheme can continue to improve there’s some semblance of hope there. The Rebels bring back Sam Williams, Lakia Henry, Otis Reese, Mohamed Sanogo, Jacquez Jones, and five other starters on defense. Sure, returning production from a shit unit hardly translates to better production, but the experience and bridge to helping incoming players get adjusted to the ruthless speed of the conference can’t go unnoticed.
We all know the theme of Power 5 football these days is “Jimmies and Joes’ and a consistent plan from a head coach. The Rebels are off to a good start in overhauling a roster that was duct-taped together by Matt Luke and the head coach is arguably one of the best in the game right now so, yeah, the preseason hype is validated.
Now, the only thing Ole Miss has to do is translate all of this on the field of play. Easier said than done, but the home team is in much better shape than they were a year ago this time and for that, we thank you, Keith Carter.
In closing, yes I think Ole Miss is deserving of the way-too-early-what-the-fuck-are-you-doing-ranking-teams-in-January hype. But, the journey is just beginning.
Patience, as it is written, is a virtue.