Last Updated: 2018-07-18
Matt Luke took a nearly impossible situation and turned it into something positive for the Ole Miss Rebels last season. Mississippi managed to go 6-6, which usually ends with a bowl game, but the Rebels were not allowed to participate in one because [insert scandal here]. Hugh Freeze seemingly got away with a lot until he used a school phone to call an escort service and that produced an unhappy ending for him with the university. The Rebels have consistently been under the microscope for their recruiting windfalls in the Freeze era and we’ll see if more comes of it at some point in time.
In any event, for the kids and coaches still here, that’s out of their control. Their focus is between the lines and an Egg Bowl over Mississippi State in what amounted to Ole Miss’s bowl game was a good send-off for the seniors and enough of a building block to get Luke’s interim tag removed. Phil Longo and Wesley McGriff are back as the coordinators and the Rebels will have 15 returning starters from last year’s team.
Ole Miss enters the season without bowl aspirations, as their ban continues into 2018. That means that they will play a maximum of 12 games this year. BetOnline Sportsbook has the team lined at 6.5 with the under at -135. 5Dimes has 6 with the over at -125.
||Texas Tech (N – Houston)
||-2 (2-pt HFA TT)
||Arkansas (N – Little Rock)
||@ Texas A&M
Expected Wins: 6.56
Shea Patterson’s transfer to Michigan has been a really big topic this offseason, but Jordan Ta’amu played better than Patterson anyway, so Ole Miss won’t miss a beat. Ta’amu completed 66.5 percent of his passes with an 11/4 TD/INT ratio. He also ran for 165 yards on 57 attempts. Ta’amu will have all of his top wide receiver targets back, including AJ Brown, who had 75 grabs for 1,252 yards and 11 touchdowns. The junior could end up leaving early after this season for the NFL, but the Rebels will enjoy him while he’s there. DaMarkus Lodge and DJ Metcalf, who had 39 catches as a redshirt freshman, are also going to be a big help in the passing game.
Ta’amu is a good fit for this up-tempo Air Raid style of Phil Longo and the Rebels should incorporate more of those pass-heavy elements this season without Jordan Wilkins, who ran for 1,011 yards last season. Ole Miss has promising depth at running back, but none of the options are all that proven. That means a lot of Ta’amu and a lot of passing. Four returning starters are back on the offensive line and a second year under Longo should help. Ole Miss has thrown for over 300 yards per game each of the last three seasons and we should see that again this season.
Ole Miss is going to play some shootouts this season. Top defensive ends Marquis Haynes and Breeland Speaks were taken in the NFL Draft. Those two combined for 112 tackles and 14.5 sacks, so the Rebels will need to find a pass rush somewhere. Because of attrition in the secondary, the artists formerly known as the Landsharks have taken a few steps back. Now, the pass rush will fall off as well. To make matters worse, the top three tacklers from the linebacker corps, including DeMarquis Gates, who had 114 tackles, are gone.
That makes Ole Miss something of a hard team to gauge for the season. The offense should be quite strong, but will the Rebels be able to outscore enough of their opponents to get to this season win total number? The defense still has some players and all of the starting defensive backs are upperclassmen. This is also Wesley McGriff’s second season, so that could help the team get on track. On the other hand, this is a group that has allowed 6.2 yards per play each of the last two seasons and 5.4 yards per carry in each of those years. With impact players in the front seven gone, it could be a really tough year for this defense.
Ole Miss can’t go to a bowl game, so their Super Bowl will be the Egg Bowl on Thanskgiving once again. The non-conference features three wins and a tricky pseudo-road game against Texas Tech in Houston. That is one of the tougher Week 1 lines to figure out. Ole Miss does get Alabama, Auburn, and South Carolina at home, which does help their win total projection, even though they realistically only have a chance at winning one of those.
Pick: Under 6.5 (-135, BetOnline)
We’ll lay a little juice here to snag a winner if Ole Miss goes 6-6. This is a team that will likely be adjusted down a bit when a revision of the 2018 power ratings takes place prior to the season, as this defense has a chance to be really porous. The offense is going to put up numbers, though, so Ole Miss may win some offensive slugfests. This is such a weird team because a lot of Freeze recruits remain and he recruited extremely well. The team bought in with Matt Luke, but you wonder if that emotion can carry over to another season. There are some upperclassmen with more than one eye on the upcoming NFL Draft. You never want to question the competitiveness of student-athletes, though it is a consideration here.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
The bottom fell out for the Mississippi Rebels last season. Hugh Freeze took the job in 2012 and inherited a 2-10 team from Houston Nutt. During that first season, the Rebels improved dramatically and went 7-6. They followed that up with an 8-5 record, then a 9-4 record, then a 10-3 record. An 11-win season was not going to be in the cards in 2016, but not a whole lot of people saw a drop from 10 wins to five wins.
During the Freeze era, a massive recruiting windfall in Oxford has really changed the dynamic of the program. Freeze was regularly pulling top recruits at their respective positions. As some things have come to light, the recruiting classes have gone down a little bit. This is still a talented team loaded with a lot of premier recruits, but it could be a struggle. Coaching changes with both the offensive and defensive coordinator mean a lot of unknowns at Ole Miss.
Those that love points are going to love Ole Miss. Those that love cashing win totals will have to think long and hard about the 5.5 line at 5Dimes Sportsbook, with -130 on the over. Keep in mind that the number does not include conference championships or bowl games. It only applies to the regular season.
||@ Mississippi State
Total Expected Wins: 6.65
The Rebels have been a pretty potent offense on Hugh Freeze’s watch, but things could seriously go up a notch or two this season. Chad Kelly is gone and Dr. Bo Wallace is long gone, leaving true sophomore Shea Patterson with the keys to the very expensive car that is the Ole Miss offense. Offensive coordinator Phil Longo had been the OC at Sam Houston State, where the Mike Leach disciple had incorporated an Air Raid offense. The Bearkats still had a lot of success running the football and ran it a fair amount, but you can bet that Patterson, who was the #2 QB recruit in the 2016 class, is going to get a lot of chances to throw.
The question is who he will throw to. Van Jefferson is the top returnee at wide receiver with 49 catches. Evan Engram was a first-round pick and Damore’ea Stringfellow had over 15 yards per catch on his 46 catches. It doesn’t help that the running back position is also thin. The Rebels only ran for 149 yards per game last season and Akeem Judd, the leading rusher, is gone. There aren’t many game-breakers here, but there are four returning offensive linemen. If there’s one thing that Freeze has had success with at Ole Miss, it has been loading the OL up with talent. There’s high-upside talent to work with on offense.
Last year’s losses had a pretty devastating effect on the Rebels defense. Ole Miss went from 22.6 points and 386 yards per game to 34 points and 461 yards per game. The Rebels gave up 37 points per game in conference play, which is no way to win in the SEC. This season, five of the top six tackles are back and there aren’t any tremendously significant losses. The secondary was virtually brand new last season and very young, with freshmen all over the two deep. The front seven, rebuilt on the line, allowed 5.4 yards per carry.
First-year defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff has plenty of SEC experience as the co-DC at Auburn last year and he was actually the co-DC at Ole Miss during Freeze’s first year at the helm. There’s a lot of familiarity between these two and they should be on the same page, which will smooth over the transition for the Rebels. Unlike last season, when many of the top players moved on to the NFL, there should be more continuity this year, even with a new set of schemes. That will be helpful as the offense goes through its own growing pains.
As far as SEC schedules go, this one isn’t all that bad. The Rebels draw Vanderbilt and Kentucky from the East. They’ve also got three easy non-conference games to go along with a trip out to California, where the Rebels will be a comfortable favorite. The Alabama/Auburn back-to-back is brutal, but the Rebels were going to lose both of those regardless of when they were played. This is a team with a wide range of possible outcomes, though, with a bunch of new talent on offense and new schemes on both sides of the ball.
Win Total Pick: Over 5.5
As you can see from my numbers, this one makes sense as a numbers play. The schedule is pretty tolerable and there are three non-conference wins on the schedule, plus a game that the Rebels should win over a rebuilding California program under first-year head coach Justin Wilcox. The Rebels did only win two SEC games last season, but the schedule is a bit friendlier this year. There’s still a lot of talent here and it will have time to develop with that soft non-conference schedule and then a bye week.
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