It's Chad Kelly or bust for Ole Miss
Even the most talented teams need that one player that brings it together and pushes it over the top. Ole Miss is, top to bottom, one of the most talented teams in the SEC. As it stands right now, the Rebels are still searching for the one key ingredient to pull their recipe for success together: a quarterback.
There’s a parallel you can draw at the professional level in the form of the Cincinnati Bengals. For several years, the Bengals have had one of the best teams in the league, a nasty defense and a host of excellent skill players on offense, including former SEC star A.J. Green. Yet the Bengals have yet to win a playoff game, and fans will point to one thing as the reason. Yep, it’s the quarterback situation, where they’re stuck with Andy Dalton, a quarterback who metrics show to be mediocre, at best.
Ole Miss has three options on the roster at quarterback, but none have the ceiling that Chad Kelly has this season. The Clemson castoff dominated the junior college ranks last fall, proving himself to be the devastating dual-threat option that he looked to be when Clemson originally signed him.
For the Rebels to reach their lofty potential in 2015, they need Kelly to be ready to take on SEC defenses this fall.
In 2014, Ole Miss was propelled to a New Year’s Six bowl game mostly on the strength of its 2013 recruiting class. While Laquon Treadwell went down midseason with a broken leg, he had a lot to do with the flying start to the Rebels’ season. So too did left tackle Laremy Tunsil, the one consistent member of the Rebels offensive line, before he broke his leg in a bowl loss to TCU. Perhaps no player had a greater individual impact on his team than Robert Nkemdiche, the dominating defensive tackle.
The clock is ticking on that core, though. Health provided, especially for Treadwell and Tunsil, all three could be in their last year in Oxford, along with a group of talented seniors that includes Mike Hilton, Trae Elston and C.J. Johnson on defense and Cody Core and Jaylen Walton on offense.
Hugh Freeze’s options after Kelly, while talented, likely aren’t ready for the bright lights. DeVante Kincade looked overwhelmed when forced into action for an injured Bo Wallace last year, and Ryan Buchanan, a rising redshirt sophomore, still has a ways to go in his development. Freeze has said the three are very close so far this spring and hasn’t declared a favorite, but neither Kincade nor Buchanan has the skills Kelly has, which will be needed to propel Ole Miss to the top of the SEC.
On paper, Kelly can be a supercharged version of Wallace. He has more mobility and greater speed than Wallace, a factor that makes him an ideal fit for Freeze’s spread offense. If he can prove himself to be a strong decision maker with his talented arm — something that practice reports indicate he’s doing — while staying out of trouble, there’s no better option than Kelly.
The quarterback competition will continue on into summer, as Ole Miss is still waiting on the return of several offensive linemen, including Tunsil, as well as Treadwell, while the talented new members of the Rebels receiving corps won’t arrive until the fall semester. That’s all well and good, but Freeze better hope that it’s Kelly who emerges from the pack if he wants his offense to reach its full potential.
If Kelly can’t wrestle the job away from his competitors, Ole Miss’ best recruiting class in decades could end up with the equivalent of a first round playoff exit despite their immense talent.