Southern Football Report Preseason Poll: #18 Ole Miss Rebels

Ole Miss LogoIn Hugh Freeze’s first two seasons in Oxford, the Rebels enjoyed massive success on the recruiting trail and only mediocre success on the football field. Ole Miss fans saw the fruits of the recruiters’ labor in 2014 as Ole Miss was in the College Football Playoff discussion for a good portion of the season. They started the season 7-0 with a historic win over Alabama in Oxford, something that hadn’t happened since 2003 when Alabama was mired in futility under Mike Shula. Back-to-back division losses to LSU and Auburn threw all the excitement right out the window and Ole Miss finished the season 2-4 with their lone win over an FBS school during that span coming against their in-state rival Mississippi State. With all of that said, last year was a huge success for Ole Miss simply for the fact that they were in the discussion for the Playoff because they had never been in the BCS discussion in years past.

Ole Miss Junior Defensive Tackle Robert Nkemediche
Ole Miss Junior Defensive Tackle Robert Nkemediche

If there is any team other than the big perennial favorites who is as loaded as Ole Miss, I’d love to see it. Ole Miss returns nine starters on offense including all five offensive linemen, four of which are seniors. Even though they allowed 31 sacks in 2014, I credit as much of those to the doofus playing quarterback than the men protecting him. Needless to say I wasn’t much of a Bo Wallace supporter. They were learning to play together in 2014 and still managed to average over four yards per carry when the running backs were given the ball. They will make life a lot easier for everyone on offense in 2015. That guy I don’t like, Bo Wallace, is gone in 2015 so the Rebels will need to find a new signal caller and, unfortunately, Clemson transfer Chad Kelly seems to be the most viable option. He seemed to have a tough time getting along with teammates at Clemson so he spent the 2014 season in the JUCO ranks with East Mississippi, who he led to a 12-0 record and the NJCAA National Championship. Kelly will have some thoroughbreds on the outside to throw to in LaQuan Treadwell, Cody Core & newcomer Damore-ea Stringfellow who, barring injuries, could finish the 2015 season as the best trio of wide receivers in the nation. The Rebels also return their two leading rushers Jaylen Walton & Jordan Wilkins and add junior college transfer Akeem Judd and true freshman Eric Swinney to the mix and they will get some time as I expect the running game to be a bigger part of the offense with the experience on the offensive line and a new quarterback.

Ole Miss fielded one of the top defenses in the country in 2014 and while they will do the same in 2015 with seven returning starters, they still have lost five of their top eight tacklers from a year ago. The Rebels do return one of the most feared defensive linemen in the country in defensive tackle Robert Nkemediche who every defensive coordinator on the schedule must find a way to neutralize if they intend on having any success offensively. He will be flanked in 2015 by defensive end and last year’s team sack leader Marquis Haynes who is looking to build off of his great freshman season. The linebacking corps is where Ole Miss was hit the hardest from attrition but they still return some solid players led by senior CJ Johnson. The secondary was where the Rebels defense shined last season and they will shine again in 2015 with the likes of returning junior corner back Tony Bridges, senior corner back Mike Hilton and senior rover back Trae Elston. I think this secondary has a chance to be better in 2015 than they 2014 unit and that group was fantastic.

Ole Miss Head Coach Hugh Freeze
Ole Miss Head Coach Hugh Freeze

The Mississippi schools are the only SEC West teams to not play a Power Five Conference opponent outside of SEC play but Ole Miss’s schedule is still nothing to scoff at. They open the season with back-to-back home games against FCS-opponent UT-Martin and Fresno State. Their first road game of the season comes in week 3 when they head down to Tuscaloosa to play a revenge-minded Crimson Tide team in what is sure to be must-see television. The Rebels wrap up the month of September with a home game against Vanderbilt on September 26th. October begins with a road game against the Florida Gators where they won the last time there & afterwards produced the famous ‘Tebow Promise’. On October 10th, Ole Miss returns to Oxford to take on the New Mexico State Aggies before a short trip up to Memphis to take on the resurgent Memphis Tigers in the Liberty Bowl. The next week Texas A&M visits Oxford before back-to-back revenge games for the Rebels. On Halloween night, Ole Miss will travel down to Auburn to tangle with the Tigers and I’m sure last season’s near victory over Auburn will be fresh in the Rebel players’ minds. The next week Ole Miss welcomes Arkansas to Oxford after last year’s 30-0 thumping at the hands of the Razorbacks. Ole Miss gets a bye week on November 14th followed by two big rivalry games. First up, on the 21st, the LSU Tigers come to Oxford for the final home game of the season followed by the annual Egg Bowl, this time in Starkville.

Like many of the teams in college football in 2015, the Ole Miss Rebels will be hoping their new quarterback will get the job done. They will have one of the better defenses in the country again in 2015 as well as have athletes ate every skill position. Their schedule isn’t the nightmare that it was last season but there are a couple tricky turns here and there. Head Coach Hugh Freeze has done as good of a job as any coach in Oxford since they ran David Cutcliffe out of town so hopefully expectations in The Grove haven’t ballooned past the point of reality for this season.

Vaught-Hemingway Stadium - Capacity: 60,580
Vaught-Hemingway Stadium – Capacity: 60,580

2015 Ole Miss Rebels Schedule

Sept 5th           UT-Martin
Sept 12th         Fresno State
Sept 19th         at Alabama
Sept 26th         Vanderbilt
Oct 3rd             at Florida
Oct 10th           New Mexico State
Oct 17th           at Memphis
Oct 24th          Texas A&M
Oct 31st            at Auburn
Nov 7th           Arkansas
Nov 14th         BYE WEEK
Nov 21st          LSU
Nov 28th         at Mississippi State

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