#12 Mississippi Football 2016 Preview

Ole Miss Rebels
Overall Rank: #12
#4 SEC
A tumultuous off-season for the Ole Miss program has cast a bit of a looming dark shadow over the program with an ongoing NCAA investigation of the football program. However, make no mistake about it under the direction of head coach Hugh Freeze the Rebels have ascended very quickly to become one of the top programs in the SEC. As they have done things like beat Alabama two years in a row and have gone to consecutive New Year’s Six Bowls under the new college football playoff system.
2015 Record: 10-3, 6-2
2015 Bowl: Sugar Bowl vs. Oklahoma State (W 48-20)
Coach: Hugh Freeze (34-18 at Ole Miss, 64-25 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Matt Luke, Dan Werner
Defensive Coordinator: Dave Wommack, Jason Jones
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Chad Kelly, QB, 500 yards
Passing: Chad Kelly, QB, 4,042 yards
Receiving: Quincy Adeboyejo, WR, 604 yards
Tackles: DeMarquis Gates, LB, 76
Sacks: Marquis Haynes, DE, 10.0
Interceptions: Tony Bridges, CB, 3
Other Key Returnees: RB Akeem Judd, RB Jordan Wilkins, WR Damore’ea Stringfellow, TE Evan Engram, CB Kendarius Webster, DL DJ Jones, LB Tony Conner
Key Losses: RB Jaylen Walton, WR Laquon Treadwell, WR Cody Core, S Mike Hilton, S Trae Elston, LB Denzel Nkemdiche, LB CJ Johnson
Chad Kelly is back at quarterback, which will give the Rebels an opportunity to compete for an SEC West championship. Kelly was excellent during his first season last year, throwing for 4,042 yards and rushing for 500 yards. This dual-threat ability, along with his fearlessness, is what is going to keep Kelly in the conversation as one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. Damore’ea Stringfellow, Evan Engram and Quincy Adeboyejo should provide enough quality depth for Ole Miss to put up strong numbers in the passing game. Defensively, there is still plenty of talent as defensive end Marquis Haynes should have another huge season rushing the passer and DeMarquis Gates is in line to have well over 100 tackles this season. Gary Wunderlich is going to need to be huge in the kicking game as the Rebels are going to be in plenty of tight games during conference play. Wunderlich made 19 of 25 field goal attempts and was perfect on all 63 of his extra-point attempts.
Offensive line has to be addressed right away before the Florida State game as Ole Miss has to replace left tackle Laremy Tunsil and three other starters this season. Freshman Greg Little comes in with a ton of hype as a five-star recruit but at the end of the day he will still be a freshman left tackle in the SEC. Thus, opposing defensive coordinators are going to test Little over and over again right away. Keep an eye on Tony Conner in the secondary because if he is fully recovered from his knee injury, he will only help cornerback Tony Bridges and the rest of the secondary improve a great deal in 2016.
The Bottom Line:
September is going to tell a lot about this Rebels team as the schedule has plenty of challenges during that month. With three games against Florida State, Alabama and Georgia before October 1st, in order for Ole Miss to get to a third straight New Year’s Six access bowl, they are going to have to be 2-1 in those games. If they end up 1-2 or worse it will be interesting to see how the Rebels respond the rest of the 2016 season. There is plenty of talent in place for this team to win ten plus games this season. However, with the looming issues with the NCAA surrounding this team, it is going to beyond critical for the Rebels to start fast as trips to Arkansas and LSU are on the slate in the middle of October. Look for a very solid season overall from Ole Miss as they have too much talent in the program to completely implode and go 6-6. Instead, this Rebels team should win about nine games this season if they stay healthy and can stay mentally engaged all year long.
Projected Bowl: Citrus Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 183.1 (45th in nation, 7th in conference)
Passing Offense: 334.7 (10, 1)
Total Offense: 517.8 (10, 1)
Scoring Offense: 40.8 (8, 1)
Rushing Defense: 127.1 (23, 4)
Pass Defense: 258.8 (104, 13)
Total Defense: 385.8 (54, 9)
Scoring Defense: 22.6 (33, 8)
Turnover Margin: 0.00 (66, 9)
Sacks: 2.23 (54, 8)
Sacks Allowed: 1.46 (33, 4)
Madness 2017 NFL Draft Rankings:
#33 Marquis Haynes
#41 Chad Kelly
#43 Tony Conner
#64 Evan Engram
Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#2 Gregory Little
#4 Shea Patterson
#23 Benito Jones
#44 A.J. Brown
#54 Deontay Anderson
#67 Octavious Cooley
#113 Tre Nixon
#129 DeKaylin Metcalf
#205 Jaylon Jones
#239 D'Vaughn Pennamon