2015 strengths and weaknesses: Ole Miss
The strengths and weaknesses of any team can change throughout the course of a college football season. Health, weekly matchups and coaching can all factor into what teams excel at and where they are lacking.
Stopping the football is clearly the biggest strength in Oxford as the Rebels try to build upon 2014 when they finished 13th in the nation in total defense.
But on offense, health and quarterback play will determine where Ole Miss thrives and where it must improve. The Rebels best offensive lineman and wide receiver are coming back from gruesome leg injuries that they suffered late last season and coach Hugh Freeze has yet to definitively name a starting quarterback.
But when it’s all said and done, depth at virtually every position might be what helps Ole Miss finish this season with more strengths than weaknesses.
Here’s our look at the best and the worst of the Rebels entering the 2015 season.
Ole Miss Rebels: 2015 STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
PROJECTED OFFENSIVE STARTERS
Strength: LT Laremy Tunsil
Tunsil isn’t just the best offensive tackle in the SEC, he might be the best in the entire country. Tunsil has only allowed two sacks in his collegiate career and enters 2015 as a preseason first-team All-American. But Tunsil’s spot as the nation’s top tackle now carries with it the infamous “if he’s healthy” label after a broken fibula ended the blocker’s season in the Peach Bowl last winter. But all reports of Tunsil’s rehab have been positive so far and he should once again step in as the cornerstone of the Rebels offense.
Not sure if it’s really fair to call the unknown a weakness. But because the starting quarterback is the biggest question mark on the Rebels offense (besides health), the position battle could be viewed as a weakness for now. All three quarterbacks battling for the job were highly-rated recruits out of high school and could develop into a major strength for Ole Miss.
PROJECTED DEFENSIVE STARTERS
Strength: DT Robert Nkemdiche
Nkemdiche will eventually be a big strength for an NFL team. But for now, he’s the man in Oxford. The 6-foot-4, 296-pound junior commands a double team from blockers on nearly every play and that opens up everything for the Rebels defense to go to work.
Weakness: No. 2 defensive end
On one side of the defensive line, Ole Miss has its returning sack leader Marquis Haynes, who is primed for a big sophomore campaign. But on the other, there will most likely be a rotation between Fadol Brown and Channing Ward, neither of which have ever spent a full season as a starter. (The team moved last year’s starter, senior C.J. Johnson, to middle linebacker.) The team could be just fine at the position, but it’s hard to find fault on that side of the ball for the Rebels.
Strength: Wide Receivers
The Rebels wide receivers could finish 2015 as the best overall receiving corps in the country. Laquon Treadwell leads the unit, a top-notch talent who likely will be a first-round pick next year. Cody Core and Quincy Adeboyejo were key contributors last season and should only get better. There has also been a lot of buzz out of fall camp surrounding sophomore Damore’ea Stringfellow. And that’s not even mentioning potential All-American tight end Evan Engram.
Weakness: Interior Offensive Line
While the tackles in Oxford seem to be set, the offensive guards and center positions are far from settled for Ole Miss. Reports out of fall camp are that left guard Aaron Morris has been slow to recover from his torn ACL he suffered last season and that Justin Bell and Robert Conyers have each been working at guard and center. Sophomore guard Rod Taylor, who was expected to compete for a starting guard spot, also suffered a shoulder injury and it is uncertain when he will be fully healthy and able to contribute.
A home meeting with Vanderbilt couldn’t come at a better time for Ole Miss. Sandwiched in between road trips to Alabama and Florida, the game with the Commodores will give the Rebels a chance to regroup and take a breath before what is sure to be another dog fight. No disrespect to Vanderbilt. Ole Miss shouldn’t go into that game taking the Commodores lightly. But it’s doubtful that Vanderbilt will require the type of game planning that Alabama and Florida will.
Weakness: LSU and Mississippi State back-to-back
That’s not easy way to end the season. Ole Miss will have already played Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas up to this point and whatever is left in the tank will have to be fully utilized if the Rebels want to finish the season strong. The meeting with the Tigers will at least be at home, which should help. But after a gauntlet of a schedule, having to go on the road to face their in-state rivals could be a lot to ask of the Rebels.
If you haven’t yet heard about the legendary tailgating that goes on in Oxford, which they call “Tailgating the Grove,” here’s some light reading about it. But a YouTube search of some of the videos these tailgates have produced could be even more entertaining to some.
Weakness: Home (too) Sweet Home
The Rebels have been pretty dominant in Oxford, only having lost three games there combined the last two seasons. But perhaps getting so hyped to perform in front of a great home crowd has led to some lackluster performances on the road. Sometimes it can be hard for athletes to recreate that level of excitement before a road game. Not saying that’s the case here, but just a thought.