It was time for a change at Ole Miss after four-straight years with no bowl games. Matt Luke simply couldn’t get over the hump, dropping one win each of his three years since going 6-6 in 2017.
The Rebels were competitive against a lot of teams last year, but they also didn’t beat anyone relevant en route to a 4-8 record.
Lane Kiffin Takes Over
Lane Kiffin hopes to change that after finding quick success at Florida Atlantic, though their early preseason over/under sat at 5.5 wins with +300 to 1 odds to win the National Championship, surprisingly ahead of Mississippi State.
Maybe the best thing for Kiffin is that he has a slew of quarterbacks to decide from. John Rhys Plumlee could be the guy after showing sparks as a freshman, rushing for 1,023 yards and 12 TDs, albeit averaging just 6.1 yards per pass attempt.
Matt Corral may have the leg up after putting in a solid 7.7 yards per pass attempt, but Grant Tisdale is also an option. Under Kiffin, this offense is expected to jump, at least on the scoreboard.
This was a solid group overall according to the numbers, averaging more than 250 rushing yards per contest, but that led to just 26.6 points per game and 11 passing touchdowns. Along with Kiffin, Jeff Lebby is set to run the offense after spending a couple years at UCF.
The line shouldn’t be a weakness with a few returning starters and four spots all but locked up. With seven linemen set to see time, that should be enough depth to get the offense going.
As for the skill players, running backs Jerrion Ealy (722 yards, 6 TDs) and Snoop Conner (512 yards, 5 TDs) should see most of the work, though their numbers could be worse in a new offense. Elijah Moore is still the guy at receiver (67 receptions, 850 yards, 6 TDs), but new options, most of them transfers, will have to step in and help out.
Defense Looks Weak
The defense probably doesn’t have as much work after allowing 26.5 points per game, but it also gave up 278.3 passing yards per contest, which is a concern.
Co-Coordinators Chris Partridge (former Michigan special teams) and DJ Durkin (Maryland head coach) will try and form something together.
The line has a few new options, but there’s plenty of talent to work with, namely Tariqious Tisdale. The thought is the slew of returning linebackers will be enough for the front end with Sam Williams, Jacquez Jones and Lakia Henry expected to lead the group again.
The question is in the secondary where safety Jon Haynes needs help. If the Rebs do a better overall job at rushing the passer, that could help some new corners, but it won’t be easy.
Schedule makes it Tough
The unfortunate part for Kiffin’s first year in charge is the schedule. If the Rebels can’t beat Baylor in the opener, things could be ugly come mid-October. They have maybe the most difficult opening few weeks to the SEC slate with Auburn, LSU and Alabama out of the gates.
Reaching six wins won’t be easy and it could come down to the finale in the Egg Bowl, which happens to come at home. Of course, they’ll also need to win some road games with trips to Vandy, A&M and Arkansas decent possibilities.
This team may not be elite right away, but if the offense figures things out and the front end of the defense stays stout, that could be enough to reach six wins.
2020 Ole Miss Rebels Schedule
Sept. 5 vs. Baylor (NRG Stadium, Houston) (MISS -1.5)
Sept. 12 vs. SE Missouri State
Sept. 19 vs. Auburn (early preseason line MISS +9.5)
Sept. 26 at LSU
Oct. 3 vs. Alabama
Oct. 10 at Vanderbilt
Oct. 17 vs. Florida
Oct. 24 vs. Connecticut
Nov. 7 at Texas A&M
Nov. 14 at Arkansas
Nov. 21 vs. Georgia Southern
Nov. 26 vs. Mississippi State