LSU fell to Ole Miss last season in a loss that marked the first time the Tigers had lost three straight since 1999. That turned up the heat even more on Les Miles and was a big win for the Rebels, who had just lost to Arkansas in crazy fashion to lose its hold on the SEC West crown.
That Rebels team beat up Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl and finished the season 10-3 under Hugh Freeze.
With NCAA allegations now hanging over the head of the Rebels, Ole Miss Spirit's Chuck Rounsaville says the team worked hard this summer and really focused in and doesn't expect those allegations to bother them much.
With plenty of talent on offense — specifically with quarterback Chad Kelly — the Rebels are poised to be dangerous again. Are there holes? What are the expectations? We take a look inside.
Kelly leads the way both on and off the field. The coaching staff has had to kick him out of the football buildings on multiple occasions and the only quarterback similar in terms of film study that Rounsaville could think of was two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning. In the offseason, Kelly is either in the film room or throwing so much that the staff has told him to relax.
This year, the offense figures to be second nature to Kelly, which is why so many have him pegged as the best quarterback in the SEC. This year, Kelly is out for an SEC title.
Running backs Jordan Wilkins and Akeem Judd both are going to carry the load as 1-2 punch for the Rebels this year, who lost their leading rusher from a year ago. Both seem to be ready for an expanded role and combined could help take some of the load off of Kelly. They're bigger backs that can make one cut and then also pass protect well.
Quincy Adeboyejo (below) is the top returning wide receiver while Damore'ea Stringfellow has stepped up as the No. 2 receiver and Van Jefferson is a young receiver that is expected to really be a star in the future. Tight end Evan Ingram is another leader for Ole Miss at the skill positions, who is expected to play a big role in the passing game.
In the middle of a young, but talented offensive line is Robert Conyers, who will help out guys like Jordan Sims, Javon Patterson and others who will be battling for time. There's players that got experience last year, but who haven't been leaned on to start and play serious time. The offensive line also was hit by injuries as well in the spring, which stopped development in that area as well.
Defensive tackle D.J. Jones is a big man, who can really plug the middle and defensive end John Youngblood is going to be asked to improve on his pass rushing skills, something Ole Miss is lacking a bit. The linebackers and secondary are relatively young in experience so a lot of the pressure falls on the defensive line to really improve and step up.
Linebacker DeMarquis Gates (below) is a name that LSU fans heard multiple times in last years game as he racked up 14 tackles in just his second career start. Gates followed that up with a couple forced fumbles in the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State. He'll be a junior and lead the linebacking corps. Tony Conner is also set to return from injury at their Husky position and that's a huge boost for the linebacking corps too.
The starting cornerbacks are returning for Ole Miss, but both safeties are going to be brand new with very little experience. Again, it goes back to the defensive line stepping up and creating a pass rush.
Freeze has created a culture of players controlling what they can control versus worrying about things you can't. That's allowed this team to really focus in on what they need to do every day. Don't expect the NCAA allegations to mess with the Rebels. If they lose, it's on them.
Last year, LSU had trouble stopping Kelly both through the air and on the ground as he accounted for three total touchdowns and over 350 total yards of offense. LSU's improved secondary and new scheme will be key against the Rebels
With plenty of returning talent and talent that has seen a lot of success under Freeze, the sky is the limit. Can the offensive line gel together? Huge games against Florida State, Georgia and Alabama loom relatively early in the season and if the Rebels can get by those, expectations will sky rocket even more.
Staying healthy will be key for the Rebels. If they can, they've got a good shot to be rolling into Baton Rouge with an undefeated record and an early bout for who will come out with the SEC West crown.