With the launch of the 2023 version of Ole Miss football on Saturday, we take one final moment to take stock of where things stand as we prepare for the first step of this three-month journey.
Over the summer and through fall camp, we’ve learned more about this team since the spring, most notably new additions to the roster, but there are plenty of things in a gray-ish to charcoal area. And that brings us to our purpose today.
If you’re new here, welcome and enjoy the lifetime subscription. If you’re new or forgot how this works, the idea is to, as the title suggests, review:
- What we know
- Things about which we have vague information (rumors and reading between the lines ahoy!)
- Questions for which there are no answers right now
As the season progresses, the volume within the last bullet should start to shrink, but the only certainty with Ole Miss sports is that there are no certainties.
What We Know
Let’s talk new personnel
As you may have heard, part of Lane Kiffin’s roster management approach involves multiple visits to the transfer portal to find players who can contribute immediately. Whether they start or are part of a rotation, the point is to repair depth issues with players who have college experience.
Let’s refresh our minds about the new names we’ll hear in the fall, as well as players on the 2022 roster or true freshmen who are poised to contribute.
- Spencer Sanders
Yes, Walker Howard and Austin Simmons are also new editions, but if either has to play in 2023, things have gone sideways to quite sideways.
- Jam Griffin
- Kedrick Rescano (true freshman)
The addition of Griffin means Ole Miss won’t have to rely on a true freshman in a three-man rotation, with Quinshon Judkins getting the majority of the snaps over Ulysses Bentley IV and Griffin. Of course, this assumes Bentley can stay healthy, which has been an issue since last season.
- Tre Harris
- Zakhari Franklin
- Ayden Williams (true freshman)
- Bralon Brown (2022 roster)
- Jalen Knox (2022 roster)
Beginning with the two transfers, Harris is expected to be a significant contributor, while Franklin is recovering from an injury. If Franklin can get healthy, he will be a large part of the receiver rotation.
Williams got a ton of hype during fall camp, but the degree of difficulty going from high school football to being an SEC contributor is rather large. If Brown and Knox are healthy, Ole Miss is looking at a seven-man rotation, which would be a first under Kiffin (eight if you count Michael Trigg primarily playing out of the slot).
- Caden Prieskorn
- Kyirin Heath (2022 roster)
- Hudson Wolfe (2022 roster)
- Jayvontay Conner (true freshman)
Heath’s development and Wolfe coming back from a serious back injury are pleasant surprises. We shall see how much they contribute, but to their credit, they have put themselves in a position to potentially do so.
- Quincy McGee
- Victor Curne
- Cam East (2022 roster)
- Brycen Sanders (2022 roster)
- Cedric Melton (2022 roster)
It would be fun and an anxiety-reducer to have an eight- or nine-man rotation here. Kiffin has hinted at the likelihood more guys will play this year, which should help with fatigue late in games. Not to mention, as in everyday life, it’s always good to have options.
- Joshua Harris
- Stephon Wynn
- Akelo Stone
- Isaac Ukwu
One of Ole Miss’ issues last year was the lack of disruptive play from the defensive line. Cedric Johnson’s injury and lack of depth were the main reasons for that, but an injection of four guys who will play a lot could change things.
- Monty Montgomery
- Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste
- Suntarine Perkins (true freshman)
- Tyler Banks (2022 roster)
- Ladarius Tennison (2022 roster)
- Khari Coleman (2022 roster)
Perkins being in the mix and getting praise during fall camp was HIGHLY encouraging, but like Ayden Williams, it’s a big ask for him to contribute a lot.
Tennison, a safety last year, has apparently done a little dabbling at linebacker. Whether it sticks or it was a fall camp “let’s try this and see what happens” idea remains to be seen.
Speaking of being seen, Khari Coleman! How his clothing optional decision in public affects his playing time is also unknown.
- Zamari Walton
- DeShawn Gaddie
- Chris Graves
- John Saunders
- Daijahn Anthony
- Teja Young
- AJ Brown (2022 roster)
- Ladarius Tennison (2022 roster)
I believe the correct term here is “overhaul.” But again, like other positions, we shall see how this change of scenery works out.
RIP Jaxson Dart mustache
I give the mustache an 8 out of 10 dirtbags.
The Chick-fil-A haul to SEC Media Days was substantial
What We Kinda Know
“We have not named a starting quarterback.”
[insert Jennifer Lawrence okay/thumbs up gif]
While no official decision has been made, one of the worst-kept secrets is that Dart will be the starter. However, we don’t really know when Lane Kiffin will speak those words.
My guess is that unless Dart performs like the best quarterback in college football in the first three games, no “official” starter will be named until after the Alabama game. We’ll see a dash of Spencer Sanders here and there because making Nick Saban spend 20 minutes preparing for Sanders is 20 minutes he can never get back.
As noted previously, we know the new names involved in the offensive and defensive rotations, but we don’t know what those will look like early on. I assume the first three games will feature heavy rotations so Ole Miss’ coaches get a better understanding of what they have.
However, with the exception of linebacker, corner, and wide receiver, most of the names mentioned above won’t start, but they will add much-needed depth.
Defense trending toward maybe fine?
Look, I don’t even like saying this aloud, but it could be true? I’m not saying they’re going to dominate, but they could be an effective group that doesn’t bleed points and red zone conversions.
If you listened to any of the players’ media times during fall camp, they all spoke enthusiastically about the new defense and Pete Golding. At the very least, they feel good about where they are.
Right now, they lack players who are, to use an advanced stats term, going to “wreck shit.” Maybe Cedric Johnson resumes his pre-injury path to that or another player or two emerge, but the lack of dynamic players is the biggest flaw right now.
Obviously, DUDES can emerge, but it’s a solid group that seems like they won’t ask the offense to score 45 points to have a chance to win.
Increase in offensive lethality
As I documented, a Kiffin offense with a receiving threat at tight end is significantly more explosive and dangerous than one without it. Everyone assumed Michael Trigg would return that element to the offense last year, but his season was a disappointment (a GENEROUS use of “disappointment” there).
Caden Prieskorn’s arrival via the transfer portal had people buzzing he would become that threat. Of note, Prieskorn, by design, was asked to do almost nothing in the spring game, despite whispers of what he brought to the table in practice.
Trigg, who did have big numbers in the spring game, primarily lined up in the slot and did almost nothing from the tight end spot. It was a strong indication Kiffin had no interest in GIVIN’ SECRETS AWAY.
Unfortunately, as you may have heard by now via the work of Chase Parham at RebelGrove, Prieskorn is likely out until the Alabama game. I’m sure we’ll learn more in the coming weeks, but if Prieskorn has to miss time, the first three games are not the worst to miss.
What We Don’t Know
Jaxson Dart baby steps or long jump?
As someone who paid attention during fall camp, you heard players speak about Dart’s overall improvement. The question is whether that improvement translates to major gains or he’s cleaned some things up but this is who he is.
We may not know the answer until SEC play starts, but if he has made a significant leap, this team has the ability to land haymakers. Landing haymakers doesn’t assure you of winning against equal or better talent, but it gives you a chance.
Who is this team?
Last year, Ole Miss was 7-1 going into the Alabama game, with everything to play for in the SEC West. They, of course, lost that game 30-24, leaving many, many points on the field.
From this post, the red zone scoring numbers:
- Ole Miss: 6 red zone possessions for 24 points (4 points/possession)
- Alabama: 4 red zone possession for 24 points (6 points/possession)
After that loss, they, to put it mildly, did not respond well! They got obliterated in Fayetteville and lost to Mississippi State in a game they had every chance to end early and didn’t do it.
Kiffin spoke during fall camp about how poorly the 2022 team* handled adversity and the need to make sure that didn’t happen in 2023. We don’t know what this team is made of just yet, but we will find out on October 7th when they play Arkansas following games at Alabama and in Oxford against LSU.
*He did not mention how his Auburn interactions could’ve played a part in those two losses, but either way, he and the staff did not find a way to snap the team out of feeling sorry for themselves.