Ole Miss football: Kiffin's SEC Coach of the Year case
Ole Miss sat idle this weekend after their road trip to Texas A&M was postponed due to the Aggies’ COVID-19 issues. Whether the game is made up remains to be seen, but as the Rebels sit at 3-4 with 2 games (for now) left cemented on the schedule, let’s take a look at the case for Lane Kiffin as SEC Coach of the Year.
Placing expectations on this team was a difficult and somewhat foolish exercise, given the uncertainty over preseason practice time, a quarterback competition without spring ball and whether a season would even be played. With all that being true, Ole Miss sitting at 3-4 with wins over Kentucky, Vanderbilt and South Carolina would not have seemed all that far-fetched.
What would have been far-fetched was Matt Corral playing at a Heisman-like level — sans 1 game at Arkansas — and Ole Miss having a top-5 offense in college football. It would have been far-fetched to predict Ole Miss being in the game with Alabama in the 4th quarter, with a legitimate shot to win. It would have been far-fetched to predict that Elijah Moore, as great as he is, would have 3 200-yard games and 1,054 yards through 7 games — the most in SEC history.
What Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby have done to unlock Corral’s untapped arm talent and potential, coupled with the offense’s high level of functionality after a horrific 2019 season under Rich Rodriguez, makes a strong enough case for Kiffin to be considered for SEC Coach of the Year. What was certain about this offense coming into the season? Aside from great depth at running back, hardly anything. The offensive line looked as if it would be serviceable, but it lacked depth. The quarterback battle was unsettled, and no one knew what the Rebels would have at receiver behind Moore. In 2019, Moore had 67 catches; the next closest receiver had 11. With largely the same pieces, Ole Miss is 6th in the country in total yards, 4th in yards per game and 15th in points per game.
Considering the lack of talent Kiffin and his staff are working with on defense, it is remarkable that Ole Miss has yet to be blown out. The Rebels are allowing 41 points per contest yet have given themselves a chance to win in the 4th quarter of all 7 games. That alone underscores how good a job Kiffin has done with this offense, and it isn’t as if he inherited a bunch of NFL-level talent. Who outside of Moore will have a shot at a good NFL career? Maybe Jerrion Ealy, if he doesn’t choose baseball? It is too early to tell on Corral, though I will hear the argument. The efficiency and scheme have been nearly flawless. This offense put up 48 points on Alabama and had them wondering whether the Rebels were stealing signs.
Of course, there are other deserving candidates, and realistically Arkansas’ Sam Pittman is the front-runner, deservedly so. Pittman inherited a worse situation, beat Kiffin and is roughly 2 plays and a blown call away from being 4-3. Arkansas’s remaining schedule includes a road trip to Missouri and a home game against Alabama, while Ole Miss gets a struggling LSU and a hapless Mississippi State team to close out the season, plus potentially the Aggies if that game is made up. These final 3 weeks will certainly factor in to who wins this award, and there is a reasonable path for Kiffin to backdoor his way into winning. Ole Miss winning their last 2 or 3 games, however many they play, would strengthen Kiffin’s case immensely.
Regardless of how it shakes out, Kiffin will be considered, and rightly so. In a strange year with little time to evaluate his current talent pool, he has done a terrific job with Ole Miss and has reinvigorated a fan base once plagued by apathy.