Through this week I will be previewing the 5 SEC West teams that Kentucky will NOT be playing in the 2018 season. For some awesome in-depth previews of the other 8 teams that the Wildcats will be playing this year, be sure to read Nick Roush’s SEC Media Day breakdowns of UK’s conference opponents. Next up in my preview are the Ole Miss Rebels.
Just like last year, Ole Miss’s offense will be the strength of the team. They return everyone except for quarterback Shea Patterson, one offensive lineman, and 1,000-yard rusher Jordan Wilkins.
Even with the loss of Patterson to Michigan, this offense will still be electric. This is in large part due to senior Jordan Ta’amu who did an outstanding job at the position last season when Patterson went down with injury.
Ta’amu managed a 11-4 TD-Int ratio, while also totaling a better completion percentage and quarterback rating then Patterson managed. He also is considerably more mobile than Patterson as he scored four times on the ground while adding 165 yards.
I was very impressed with Ta’amu last season, and I don’t think they really lost anything at quarterback due to his breakout season in 2017. Expect a big year from the Hawaiian in 2018.
— Spencer Honda (@SpncerHonda) October 28, 2017
With the return of almost their entire offensive line and their top three receivers from last year, the Ole Miss air attack will be one of the best in the SEC.
However, with the loss of Wilkins they have a major hole to fill at running back. No one else on the roster has much experience so expect the Rebels to turn to junior college transfer Scott Phillips.
This offense was the 5th best offense in the conference last season and I expect an even better result this year. The air attack will be good enough to give the ground game time to find its footing.
Ole Miss’s defense went in the complete opposite direction in 2017. The unit finished dead last in the SEC in total defense and 115th in the FBS. Yea….it wasn’t great.
Despite returning seven starters, the Rebels lose their top two tacklers and almost all their linebacker core. Their defensive line depth will be their strength of the defense, but I don’t believe that it will be enough to offset the overall lack of talent this unit has.
Defensive tackle Benito Jones will be asked to lead this unit. He was once a highly touted prospect, and he recorded the most tackles for lost last season out of any returning defensive player.
Big boy ball from Benito Jones.
Getting overlooked a little due to the strength of the SEC interior DL group but believe he’s going to have a big year. pic.twitter.com/8Se2n8zGw9
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) June 27, 2018
It doesn’t matter what kind of defensive scheme a team has, you must have good linebackers to lead that side of the football. Going into the 2018 season, I can’t honestly tell you anything about Ole Miss’s linebackers besides the fact that the guys who started in front of them last year were not good.
So, I imagine their backups that will start this year won’t be too great either. To say that I don’t think much of the Rebel defense this season would be an understatement.
Best Overall Player
A. J. Brown is a baaddddddd man. After finishing last season on the All-American 2nd Team the receiver is back to set the SEC on fire once again.
At 6’1, 225 pounds, Brown totaled over 1,200 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns on 75 receptions. He is a physical beast with great hands who runs crisp and quick routes.
A.J. Brown saw an average of 13.17 yards per target from the slot – the second-highest figure among returning FBS receivers pic.twitter.com/XIv6iu6FWv
— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 31, 2018
To say that the NFL is patiently waiting for Brown’s arrival to the pros would be a safe bet. Usually it’s not a great sign that a receiver is your best player, but in this case, it says more about Brown’s talent than it does about Ole Miss.
He will unquestionably be the first overall receiver taken in the 2019 Draft unless something disastrous happens between now and April. Brown will be one of the most entertaining players in the SEC this year so be sure to tune in to watch this guy snatch the souls from defensive backs.
Biggest Overall Weakness
Motivation. Ole Miss is still under a self-imposed bowl ban for 2018. Considering that this team will be very dependent on its offense this season, it’s not a great sign that they are guaranteed not to win a title.
A large amount of defense is simply the amount of effort players give on that side of the football. I think that will show a lot this season with an Ole Miss defense that will be playing catch-up with its offense.
Don’t forget, this is an SEC West team. They will be playing three or four of the toughest teams in the nation along with South Carolina from the East and Texas Tech in nonconference play.
In the back of their minds, this team knows that they don’t have a destination this season. They aren’t making an SEC Championship by any stretch of the imagination. Their season will end on Senior Night against archrival Mississippi State.
Some people may not think this matters a whole lot, but I really think it does. I hope the best for Head Coach Matt Luke this year. He didn’t ask for this kind of situation.
I don’t think this Ole Miss team will be very good in 2018, but I still think this team will surprise some people. With an offense with that kind of firepower, I think that the Rebels will straight-up outscore teams that will annihilate their defense.
Will they beat any teams in the top half of the SEC? No.
Official 2018 SEC Media picks
East (1st Place votes)
#1 Georgia (271)
#2 South Carolina (8)
#3 Florida (4)
#5 Kentucky (1)
#6 Tennessee (1)
#1 Alabama (263)
#2 Auburn (19)
#3 Miss State (2)
#4 Texas A&M
#6 Ole Miss
— SEC Mike (@MichaelWBratton) July 20, 2018
But they have a favorable nonconference schedule. They will be picked to win all four of those games. Couple that win with the fact that they draw Vanderbilt out of the East and they play South Carolina at home and I think this team will avoid a losing season.
However, with a bad defense and a lack of motivation I believe that anything more than seven wins would be a huge surprise.