Posted: 5:30 p.m. Sunday, July 28, 2013
By Brandon Larrabee
The offensive weapons are there. There's no great insight in saying that Ole Miss will likely go as far as the offense will take them, but there's a reason for that. The three most important players on the offense return in quarterback Bo Wallace, running back Jeff Scott and wideout Donte Moncrief. If all three play up to the their potential, there's good reason to believe that the offense will be one of the most explosive in the SEC. Of course, the defense was mediocre in SEC terms in 2012, something that will have to improve if the Rebels want to move up in the standings this year.
They won't "sneak up" on anyone this year. There's been a fascinating discussion in the comments section of our roster post concerning just what Ole Miss fans ought to expect in 2013. And part of that has dealt with an interesting question: Does it make any difference that teams won't be overlooking the Rebels this year? (The same thing came up during SEC Media Days.) I'm not sure I'm a big fan of the sneaking up/not sneaking up narrative as a reason for a huge drop-off, but I do think it could affect things at the margins. If nothing else, defensive coordinators are likely to spend a lot more time looking at Ole Miss game film this season.
Depth could be an issue. I'm not quite sure I buy Hugh Freeze's attempt to make it sound like Ole Miss will be relying on a pack of actual black bear cubs if there are injuries at virtually any position this year. That said, there's just not a ton of depth on parts of this Ole Miss squad. A for-example: Six of the 13 defensive backs listed on the preseason depth chart when nickelback is accounted for are sophomores. I don't think the Rebels are an injury away from 3-9, but they are a few injuries away from missing a bowl game.
Which Ole Miss offense is the real Ole Miss offense. It's easy to get wrapped up in the "late season momentum" narrative after a long offseason. But that can be deceiving. Still, the Rebels gained 458.8 yards per game against the last four teams on their schedule in 2012, as opposed to 408.2 ypg against their first nine opponents. The Rebels actually averaged more per play in their first nine games (5.8 versus 5.5) -- unless you focus just on BCS AQ teams, in which case the per-play average drops to 5.2 yards per game and the disparity in yardage per game grows; Ole Miss averaged just 353.5 yards in the first six games against BCS AQ opponents. If the last four games were a sign that the offense had clicked and not just a hot streak, then the Rebels could be particularly explosive this year. But if it was coincidental timing, then a lot of the expectations for Ole Miss to be a surprise team this year could be misplaced.
Whether the team can recover from a slow start.We've mentioned this once already, but it's probably worth reiterating: The odds are against a strong showing from the Rebels out of the gate. A 1-3 start would not be shocking, a 2-2 mark would be a reason for optimism, and a 3-1 record is probably the best-case scenario. But if Ole Miss can get out of that stretch with team morale more or less intact, then there are at least six winnable games over the last two thirds of the season. If you want the most plausible path to eight wins for Ole Miss, it would be to take one of the two swing games (at Vanderbilt, at Texas) in September or spring a surprise against LSU or Texas A&M; in Oxford and then win all the winnable games on the schedule. That's still a mighty tall order for a team that was arguably the worst in the league two years ago.
Whether anyone will notice the game against Texas. Shortly after the outcry emerged over ESPN and Texas' ham-handed decision to put the Ole Miss game on the Longhorn Network, ESPN reached agreements with a slew of local Mississippi channels to make sure the Rebels' fans could see the game. (The irony of the whole situation is that Ole Miss fans likely now have a better chance of seeing the game than Texas fans.) But the bigger problem for a team trying to raise its national profile is that the game is still going to be unavailable to most of us who watch college football -- when getting people who might not otherwise watch Ole Miss football to tune in is one of the major reasons to schedule such a game in the first place. It will still have some impact if Ole Miss wins, and particularly if the Rebels somehow blow out the Longhorns, but even that will be minimized by the limited distribution of the game.