Despite the success on the field last season, Ole Miss enters 2016 under a massive cloud of NCAA suspicion and investigation. Given that the NCAA is somewhat erratic with how long it takes for them to conduct investigations and even more erratic with the penalties they issue, it’s safe to say that nobody really has any idea what sanctions, if any, are going to be leveled against the Rebels this season. All that being said, Hugh Freeze has gotten progressively better each year he’s been in Oxford: 7-6 in 2012, 8-5 in 2013, 9-4 in 2014 and 10-3 last year. No doubt many Ole Miss fans are hoping an 11-win season is in the cards for the Rebels.
Obviously, Ole Miss has to replace a ton of talent from last year’s team. Laremy Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell, Robert Nkemdiche, Fahn Cooper, and Cody Core all went to the NFL Draft last year, while Tee Shepard went to the Supplemental Draft. That is a bunch of talent to have to replace. But Ole Miss has designs on being among the nation’s best and the best teams in the country always have to reload. Fortunately for the Rebels the heart and soul of the offense is back for his senior season. Chad Kelly threw for over 4,000 yards and 31 TD’s last year and is considered by some to be a dark horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy this year. With the graduation of Jaylen Walton, Kelly is also the leading returning rusher. Among the actual running backs, Akeem Judd and Jordan Wilkins will be asked to carry the load on the ground for the Rebels. Among the receivers, Quincy Adeboyejo and tight end Evan Engram are the leading returners and will probably end up with the bulk of the receptions this year. They also have one of the nation’s top returning kickers in junior Gary Wunderlich.
Defensively Ole Miss takes a hit by losing both of the Nkemdiche brothers. However, in the secondary the Rebels will have a fine pair of corners in Tony Bridges and Tony Conner. They did however lose the strongest player in college football, CJ Moore, for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Last year this defense was decent, giving up 23 points a game, but if the Rebels truly intend to compete in the SEC, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack is going to have to do a better job getting his guys ready over the course of a whole season. Last year the defense was good one week, bad the next. The lowlight was the 4th & 28 against Arkansas which ended up costing them the game and a trip to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.
Overall, Ole Miss looks set to have a good year. They lost a lot of talent, but they have enough returning starters and they’ve recruited well enough so it’s not the end of the world. There is a gauntlet they have to run during the first half of the season, but if they can get out of that with only one loss, they might be in good shape for a potential berth in the College Football Playoff. The good news is that the majority of the toughest games are at home in Oxford (where Vaught-Hemingway Stadium has undergone some renovations and expansion). However they do have to makes trips to Death Valley and to College Station.
2016 Ole Miss Rebels Schedule
9/5 – Ole Miss vs. Florida State – Camping World Stadium*
9/10 – Ole Miss vs. Wofford – Vaught-Hemingway Stadium
9/17 – Ole Miss vs. Alabama – Vaught-Hemingway Stadium
9/24 – Ole Miss vs. Georgia – Vaught Hemingway Stadium
10/1 – Ole Miss vs. Memphis – Vaught-Hemingway Stadium
10/15 – Ole Miss @ Arkansas – Donald W Reynolds Razorback Stadium
10/22 – Ole Miss @ LSU – Tiger Stadium
10/29 – Ole Miss vs. Auburn – Vaught-Hemingway Stadium
11/5 – Ole Miss vs. Georgia Southern – Vaught-Hemingway Stadium
11/12 – Ole Miss @ Texas A&M – Kyle Field
11/19 – Ole Miss @ Vanderbilt – Vanderbilt Stadium
11/26 – Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State – Vaught-Hemingway Stadium
*denotes game being played at neutral site