Ole Miss kicks off the 2017 season on Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, and the Rebels enter as an intriguing team. The team is dealing with a lot of adversity, but based on talent Ole Miss could surprise everyone and beat all expectations. In order to do so, they’ll have to rise up and conquer the challenges before them.
Factors in the Rebels’ 2017 season
Here are some of the factors I’ve considered in coming up with a season projection for Ole Miss:
New coaches: The Rebels have a new head coach and a pair of new coordinators. Matt Luke, Phil Longo, and Wesley McGriff will aim to put their mark on this team and help the Rebels rebound from a disappointing 2016 season. It remains to be seen how quickly they can implement their schemes and get the Rebels moving in a positive direction, but I wouldn’t bet against them.
Old Coach: The Rebels continue to deal with a distraction due to the resignation of Coach Hugh Freeze–at least until the NCAA makes its ruling.
NCAA: Ole Miss still has the NCAA investigation hanging over its head. Hopefully, everything will be settled in September so that the program can move forward after five long years. In addition, Ole Miss is hoping there are no further sanctions–such as an additional year bowl ban–imposed when the Committee on Infractions meets September 11, 2017.
Motivation: Ole Miss will face questions all season about motivation, as the Rebels are not eligible for a bowl game. My take on this point is the players have known this fact for a long time. If they had lost motivation due to the lack of a bowl game, I think those players would have left the program months ago. The fact they have stayed around and worked hard, even after losing their head coach, tells me they are united as a team.
A united team who plays with nothing to lose can be a dangerous team. If they treat each game like a bowl game and look to spoil some other team’s season, the Rebels can win a bunch of games.
If they are motivated, they have the talent to win 9 or 10 games.
Key players returning: Ole Miss returns a lot of key players on offense, while the defense looks to improve on a rough 2016 campaign. Regardless of what is going on with the NCAA, there is still a lot of talent on the roster, especially on offense. The defense has a lot of difference-makers, too.
The problems Ole Miss had in 2016 were not due to a lack of playmakers. The looming NCAA case and injuries hurt the team a year ago. Ole Miss struggled to find a ground game, a problem exacerbated by the loss of running back Jordan Wilkins before the season began, as well as running back Eric Swinney in the first game of the year.
Wide receiver D.K. Metcalf, a difference-maker in anyone’s book, was out after two games due to injury. And, of course, there is no underestimating the impact of the loss of quarterback Chad Kelly to injury with three games left in the season. Defensively, the coaches had a difficult time finding a scheme that worked all season, even with some tremendous players on that side of the ball.
New players: Ole Miss has some very talented incoming freshmen who are looking to make an impact this season. In his first weekly press conference of the season, head coach Matt Luke mentioned Braylon Sanders and Ben Brown on offense and D.D Bowie, C.J. Miller, Ryder Anderson and Breon Dixon on defense as six true freshmen who could quickly see playing time.
Going all-in on the 2017 Rebels
With that said, how do I see the season playing out for Ole Miss? First, I make projections based on a team’s roster, coaching staff, motivation, and schedule. Injuries and outside distractions come into play during the season, of course. My instinct tells me it will be a successful season where Ole Miss is the surprise team in the SEC.
I believe a fresh, new set of coaches will breathe some life back into the program. The roster has the personnel to compete with the league’s best teams, and I think this team will play with a chip on its shoulder. The schedule is one the Rebels can navigate with success.
I am going all in on this team. I believe Ole Miss can finish 10-2 based on roster, coaching staff, motivation and schedule. In my opinion, the worst-case scenario would be a 7-5 season. Projections are difficult because no one knows how injuries, outside distractions, and motivation will affect a team as the season plays out.
My best-case scenario of 10 wins is heavily based on the schedule. If the coaches have this team firing on all cylinders, the talent is there to have a great season.
My predictions are based on breaking the schedule down into two components.
Ole Miss Schedule – Part One
I think Ole Miss gets through the first part of the schedule no worse than 3-2. The Rebels should win all three non-conference games, with the road trip to Berkeley being the toughest test. Though they have the ability and the mindset to upset some of the top teams in the West, the Rebels will have a hard time winning the opening pair of SEC games–back-to-back road trips to the state of Alabama.
Ole Miss Schedule – Part Two
@ Mississippi State-Win
The second part of the schedule is favorable for the Rebels. Ole Miss should handle Vanderbilt, Kentucky, UL Lafayette, and Mississippi State. Even with two of those contests (Kentucky and State) on the road, I think Ole Miss is simply the better team.
The three games I feel will determine if the Rebels win seven or more games in 2017 are the home contests with LSU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M. I believe the Rebels are better than all three of those foes, and I think they have a great chance of beating them at home. LSU and Texas A&M have loads of talent, while Arkansas seems to be a thorn in the Rebels’ side every year. Those toss-up games are the ones that will define Ole Miss’ season and win total, in my opinion.
A reason to rally!
So, there you have it! While the national media is giving Ole Miss negative attention and low expectations, I hope my positive outlook on the season will give our Ole Miss readers a reason to rally around this team and have some optimism this autumn.