The Big Picture:
One of the biggest portal acquisitions by any team over the 2021-2022 offseason was Ole Miss landing TCU running back Zach Evans, a former five-star who rushed for over 7 yards per carry in two seasons in Fort Worth. Evans indeed played like a superstar for Ole Miss in 2022, but was hampered by injuries for about half the season. Further, his time in Oxford unexpectedly coincided with that of perhaps the best freshman football player in Ole Miss football history. Quinshon Judkins set a litany of Ole Miss records in his first year in red and blue, and should be on everyone’s Heisman shortlist for 2023. Evans was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams, leaving Judkins and former SMU running back Ulysses Bentley IV as the only returning scholarship running backs on the roster. Former four-star recruit Kentrell Bullock left the team after failing to secure a role in the offense in 2022, and veteran 2017 signee Isaiah Woullard also transferred in search of more playing time for his eleventh(?) year of eligibility.
Lane Kiffin signed just one running back in 2023, landing four-star Texas rusher Kedrick Reescano, who is rated as the #7 back in the country for his class. In his best case scenario, Reescano could compete with Bentley IV for second-team snaps behind Judkins, but it’s more likely that he’ll battle (but eventually beat out) a couple of quality walk-on running backs in Matt Jones and Fred McAfee, two sophomores who saw a ton of playing time during Spring ball.
While Lane Kiffin failed to land a scholarship running back from the transfer portal, he did add… a fullback? Sort of? Jason Albritton, a non-scholarship back at USF, announced his transfer to Ole Miss in May. Listed at 5’10, 225 lbs, Albritton carried the ball 12 times for 72 yards and a score as a freshman as USF. It definitely bears watching to see if Albritton has a role as a lead blocking fullback, an H-back, a goal-line ball carrier when Judkins can’t go, or something else.
- Judkins was asked to carry the Ole Miss offense on his back for long stretches during 2022; not only because Lane Kiffin was breaking in a new QB and preferred to go run-heavy, but also because Evans and Bentley were both injured during the meat of the season. Will Kiffin ask Judkins to fill the same role in 2023, or will he try a more balanced pass/rush mix to put less pressure on his star tailback?
- Can Ulysses Bentley IV stay healthy this year? He had a strong spring in 2022, but quickly disappeared in the fall due to a hand/wrist injury, plus the emergence of Judkins. He had an even better Spring in 2023, and looks to be ready to emerge as a serious weapon in the Rebel offense.
- How much will Kiffin dip beyond his first two running backs? Reescano will be a true freshman, while Jones and McAfee are walk-ons; but you generally need more than two running backs in modern P5 football. Albritton gives Kiffin another option, but likely only in certain packages/situations.
RCR Hot Taeks:
- Quinshon Judkins likely won’t have the same yardage total as in 2023; not only is it statistically unlikely to surpass such a monster campaign, but Lane Kiffin may try some strategies to keep things more balanced and keep Judkins fresher in the fourth quarter. However, expect Judkins to have just as much impact in big games. He’ll be the focal point of the offense, and defenses will have to commit a lot of attention to stopping him.
- Ulysses Bentley IV will lead the Rebs in yards per carry. Bentley will have the benefit of facing fewer stacked boxes when he’s in the backfield, and his home-run potential will boost his per-carry average.
- In at least one game, Ole Miss will have to count on someone other than Judkins or Bentley to carry the rock in a high-pressure situation. Whether that’s Reescano, Jones, McAfee, or Albritton, someone besides the Rebels’ two high-profile returners will have to step up.
Offseason Overhaul Grade:
B+. Look, it’s not exciting, but likely the biggest single recruiting win for the Rebels this *entire offseason* was convincing Quinshon Judkins not to test the transfer portal waters. Lane Kiffin said as much in a couple of offseason press appearances. Yes, the Grove Collective probably paid out the b-hole for a freshman running back, but when you account for how many times – at 18/19 years old – Judkins completely took over an SEC football game… what else can you do but open your wallet? Kiffin also gets major points for finding and securing Kedrick Reescano after failing to sway in-state four star Dante Dowdell. Kiffin has a knack for taking recruiting “misses” and turning them into net positives, and this was a great example. Reescano is a much more polished, balanced rusher than Dowdell, with more big-time football experience, playing at a major Texas program instead of Picayune, MS. Dowdell has great size and athleticism, but didn’t strike me as a guy who would be ready to go as a freshman. Ole Miss does lose points for failing to bring in a high-quality portal running back, after flirting with Mississippi State’s Dillon Johnson and a couple of other options.