In this fourth and final piece of this 2019 off-season series in which we predict the future of the Ole Miss football program, we are going to attempt to answer five big questions for you. There are so many unknowns with this year’s roster and coaching staff which inspired this series to begin with. But, predictions and trying to tell you what WILL almost certainly happen is part of the fun of writing for a sports blog and being a college football fan.
So here goes nothing. Here are the five big questions that we are going to attempt to answer for this year’s season.
It has to be Matt Corral, right? I almost went with Alex Givens or Ben Brown up front. Givens, albeit injured right now, is the leader on the offensive line and Brown is the lone returning starter who might be thrust into a leader role during Givens absence. But, I’m going with Corral.
The SEC is a league of defenses but if you don’t have a quarterback, you’re shit out of luck. And Ole Miss desperately needs him to take control of this team, this offense, and get the Rebels out to a fast start in the first month. He has a swagger about him that is contagious and if things go well early on, others will gravitate towards him and begin to mimic his attitude, developing an “edge” that Rich Rodriguez is constantly preaching about.
There are several candidates here as well like Jaylon Jones who is an All-SEC caliber player who is recovering from a torn ACL. You’ve also got Myles Hartsfield who is a returning starter and difference maker in the secondary. But, I’m going to go with linebacker MoMo Sanogo.
The returning starter at middle linebacker is going to be charged with getting the troops in order and knowing all the assignments and alignments for Mike MacIntyre’s new 3-4 defense. We all know just how bad the defense was in 2018 but if the Rebs want to get back to the postseason for the first time in three years, Sanogo and Ole Miss’ new defensive coordinator will have to get things turned around.
It will easily be the organization and mindset of both the offense and defense. Two new coordinators are in their first year under Matt Luke in Oxford but they’re no stranger to this coaching thing. A lot has been made about both Rodriguez and MacIntyre being former National Coach of the Year winners and they’ve also both won division titles, bowl games, and have been in charge of Power 5 programs.
I think you will see an Ole Miss team that will go through your typical growing pains for a roster that is filled with young, inexperienced players, but they will go about it in a methodical and organized way. They may not go win 8 or 9 games, but in their losses I think you will see a team that has a plan, an identity, and will compete their tails off.
That was not the case last season.
It’s an easy answer but it has to be the opener against Memphis on August 31st. The Tigers won eight games last season and went to their third-straight bowl game under Mike Norvell. They return a starting quarterback and a running back who saw considerable time last season when Darrell Henderson was injured and should be ready to take over for him this season. It will be a stiff test in week one and Ole Miss better come out ready to play.
The importance here is perception and timing for me. If Ole Miss can win at the Liberty Bowl to start the year, excitement and optimism will begin to build around the program and I believe attendance will increase for week two’s home opener.
Losing the opener just gets the proverbial truck heading down the road with a flat tire and I’m not a mechanic, but even I know that’s not conducive for a three-month road trip.
I’ve been pretty consistent with this prediction: 6-6.
I think, as I mentioned above, the new coordinators give this team a sense of purpose and confidence that will allow them to win close games that they lost last season and will give them the edge they need in the early going against some formidable non-conference opponents.
The Rebels will go unblemished in their non-con slate, will beat Arkansas and Vanderbilt in the SEC, and end up playing in either Birmingham or Shreveport for a chance at seven wins.
The perfect Christmas gift, right? Right.