Usually when a player makes a preseason prediction about his team’s upcoming season, it’s lofty.
D.K. Metcalf was no exception.
The Ole Miss receiver was asked how good he thinks the Rebels’ offense can be in 2018, to which he responded with a bold prediction (via David Johnson on YouTube).
“Best in the nation,” Metcalf answered after Ole Miss’ spring game Saturday. “We’re trying to establish a run game and I think we did a pretty good job of that this spring. Everybody knows we can throw the ball all around. We have a chance to be real special.”
That’s a confident answer from a confident man. Metcalf has plenty of reason to be confident. He played in the sixth-best Power 5 passing offense in 2017, and fellow “Nasty Wide Outs” (NWO) members A.J. Brown and DaMarkus Lodge are back to catch passes from promising senior quarterback Jordan Ta’amu.
But can the Rebels really have the best offense in America as Metcalf forecasted? Well, he’s not wrong.
Yes, that was a double negative. Yes, I’m buying into the belief that Ole Miss will make a nice step up into the nation’s elite offenses in 2018.
Keep in mind that Ole Miss didn’t quite reach that point last year with the No. 33 scoring offense. That number could’ve easily been higher if not for the following things:
- Knee injury to A.J. Brown vs. Cal (Ole Miss was held to 16 points that week and 3 the next vs. Alabama)
- NCAA investigation cloud
- Midseason quarterback switch after Shea Patterson injury
- Odd summer promotion of Matt Luke after Hugh Freeze scandal
Those aren’t necessarily excuses for some of the offensive duds that Ole Miss had in 2017, but those are reasons I think the sky is the limit in 2018. Those things are all in the past.
Gone is the NCAA cloud. In steps the now-proven Jordan Ta’amu with a full offseason to develop an even better connection with Metcalf, Brown and Lodge. Perhaps most important, Luke finally has a chance to get his legs under himself after his whirlwind 2017 offseason.
Luke no longer has to worry about who’s staying and who’s going. He won’t have to wonder if a guy is looking out for just his own numbers or if he’s really invested into what Ole Miss is trying to build back up. Anyone who stayed in Oxford for not one, but two postseason-less years is fully on board.
Maybe that’s why I’m fully on board with Ole Miss and the idea that it can boast the nation’s best offense.
Not to speculate too much based on preseason schedule outlooks, but that also favors the Rebels. Instead of road games with 9-plus win SEC teams like Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State like they had last year, those 3 teams will come to Oxford in 2018. Ole Miss also replaced a road game on the other side of the country against defensive-minded Cal with a neutral-site game in Houston against Texas Tech, which was No. 122 of 129 FBS teams in passing defense last year.
That alone projects to some bigger numbers for the offense. And with all due respect to the defense, I’m banking on it needing a whole lot of help to win games against Power 5 foes.
Sure, there are teams with more stable backfields. Without Jordan Wilkins and with D’Vaughn Pennamon still recovering from a knee injury, Eric Swinney and JUCO transfer Scottie Phillips could get significant shares of the backfield work in 2018 (Ta’amu said on Saturday that all of Ole Miss’ backs are “tremendous”). But as we know, the Rebels don’t need a dominant group of tailbacks to light up scoreboards.
This is all about the passing game and whether it can maximize its sky-high potential. All 5 of the Power 5 teams who had better passing offenses than Ole Miss (Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, UCLA, Texas Tech, Washington State) will have new starting quarterbacks in 2018. And no, none of them return their top 3 pass-catchers like Ole Miss does.
That’s why this has a chance to be a special group. Does that mean they will be a special group? Only time will tell. Injuries happen, and believe it or not, 18-22 year-old kids sometimes underperform.
But as of the second week of April, I’m not about to suggest that Metcalf is wrong.