By all accounts, Ole Miss will have its star-studded 2013 signing class for one more season this fall, the program’s most noteworthy collection of talent in school history.

Will it matter in an ultra-competitive Western Division where every week’s a four-quarter chore against nationally-relevant competition?

Of course it does.

From top to bottom, the Rebels possess one of the most complete starting 22s in the nation, featuring five possible first-round selections in next year’s NFL draft. Led by All-American defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and the best offensive tackle in college football in Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss comes at its competition from all angles with athleticism and precision.

It’s been half a century since the school’s last national championship and the 2015 season presents one of its best opportunities since.

Path to the College Football Playoff Series

Furthermore, here’s a breakdown of Mississippi’s path to the College Football Playoff …

Defining factors

  • Will the Ole Miss defense meet preseason expectations as one of the nation’s best?
  • Can the Rebels acquire some semblance of a running game?
  • How good will Chad Kelly or Ryan Buchanan be under center?
  • When will Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil return to 100 percent?

Magic numbers

  • 7: Number of SEC losses by a touchdown or less since start of 2012 season
  • 22: League leader in total interceptions last season, but main production lost (Senquez Golson, 10; Cody Prewitt, 3)
  • 207.6: Rushing yards per game in 2010, only time last seven years Rebels have averaged over 200

Key stretch

While the SEC opener at Alabama is one of the most important games of the season, it’s not necessarily a season-defining Saturday as the Rebels proved last fall. Just how high Ole Miss climbs in the West depends on how Freeze’s team finishes out the stretch over the final six weeks beginning with a home game against Texas A&M on Oct. 24. The Rebels then travel to Auburn and host Arkansas consecutively before their only open date which happens to be the SEC’s latest this fall. LSU and Mississippi State close out the slate.

Final say

Without production total number of wins just yet, I’d expect this season to go much like last for the Rebels if the quarterback position produces solid numbers and the defense remains at an elite level. This team’s capable of winning the West and it’s also capable of finishing 8-4 if a couple breaks go in the opposite direction. Projecting a 10-2 record in the regular season means there’s very little margin for error and I think nine’s a safer bet. But if Ole Miss is 7-0 and ranked inside the Top 10 following a win at Memphis in October (highly-possible if the Rebels upend Alabama), it will be considered of the league’s Playoff favorites heading into the final stretch.