SDS Crystal Ball: Predicting every game for Ole Miss football in 2018
You just never know.
For the second year in a row, Ole Miss will begin a season that has an expiration date. The final game of Ole Miss’ 2018 season will be the Egg Bowl, which worked out pretty well last year. It turned out to basically be Ole Miss’ bowl game.
The biggest question I have about Ole Miss entering 2018 is what the motivation is like. It’s one thing to go through a postseason-less season once, but to know that there’s another one coming has to be a grind. I’m curious how this impacts the Rebels in the meat of the SEC schedule.
Matt Luke has said all offseason that there’s no longer a cloud hanging over Ole Miss. Let’s see if that yields some different results in 2018.
2017 record: 6-6 (3-5)
No Patterson, no problem?
A whole lot of Ole Miss fans were perfectly fine with Shea Patterson transferring, which was entirely because of what they saw from Jordan Ta’amu down the stretch. He showed that he was plenty capable of running the show, despite the fact that he had such limited game experience.
If there was any concern that Ta’amu wouldn’t be able to stretch the field, he put that to bed in a hurry:
Which SEC QBs throw the best deep ball?
Among returning QBs, here's how they stack up in terms of adjusted completion percentage. pic.twitter.com/wM8ixgBRJf
— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) August 9, 2018
Ta’amu completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,682 yards in essentially 5.5 games. Did he dominate world-beaters? Not really. His best victory came in the Egg Bowl when Nick Fitzgerald went down, and Ta’amu completed 46 percent of his passes.
Relax, Ole Miss fans. I’m not hating on Ta’amu. I’m just saying that he has plenty of room to grow in this offense.
It’ll be interesting to follow the Ta’amu-Patterson storyline. Every time Patterson throws a pick at Michigan or Ta’amu throws a touchdown pass, Ole Miss fans will say “see, I told you Ta’amu was better.” That’s college football. I still find it amazing how quickly that narrative changed since this time last year. If you had told Ole Miss fans that Patterson would be gone and they might feel even better about their offense, they would have thought you were crazy.
But here we are.
AJ Brown will be fun, if healthy
Uh, ya think?
Arguably the nation’s top returning receiver will have a chance to put up monster numbers again in 2018. Those numbers would have been even bigger had he not gotten injured in September (or had a bowl game in December). Brown missed the Cal game and was essentially shut down in the Alabama game, yet he still put up 1,252 receiving yards without Ole Miss playing in the postseason.
There’s no doubt that a healthy Brown will be productive, especially with another year in the system under his belt. If there’s one area to nitpick, it’s that 46 percent of his receiving yards and 55 percent of his touchdowns came against non-Power 5 schools.
I’m looking forward to seeing what Brown can do against corners like Greedy Williams or Trevon Diggs. That’s what the NFL scouts will hone in on, too. If the Rebels are going to rise above mediocrity and hang with the SEC’s elite, they need Brown to match that non-conference play production.
Can the defense be mediocre?
I remember watching Ole Miss against FCS UT-Martin last year and wondering “how in the world is the Rebel defense going to survive an SEC season?” The Rebels somehow went 3-5 in SEC play despite the fact that they allowed 39.5 points per conference game. That’s what happens when you can’t stop the run.
Ole Miss is never going to get back to a winning team in the SEC until it vastly improves against the run. Finishing No. 123 out of No. 129 in rushing yards allowed is a bad formula in this conference, as anyone will tell you.
So is there any help on the way? That’s a good question. Somebody will have to replace defensive linemen Breeland Speaks and Marquis Haynes after both were drafted. Finding a new leading tackler to replace DeMarquis Gates would be ideal, too. Maybe Ryder Anderson turns into a run-stuffing star. Perhaps it’s Detric Bing-Dukes who fills that void.
An Ole Miss defense that returns over half of its starters should be better (Anderson even promised it would be). Ole Miss fans better hope that’ll take care of itself, or else it’ll be another long year watching the defense.
Week 1: vs. Texas Tech* (L)
I’m here for all the points. Two programs that have similar makeups could trade touchdowns all day in Houston. In a game that could be first to 60 points, I’ll give the Red Raiders a slight edge. It could be a big day for tailback Da’Leon Ward, who is set to return from an academic suspension.
Week 2: vs. Southern Illinois (W)
They might not let Luke back into the stadium if he loses to a 4-win FCS team.
Week 3: vs. Alabama (L)
Once one of the more intriguing matchups in college football, it’s hard to imagine Alabama struggling to establish the run against the Rebels. The Tide should still be able to dominate the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball, just as they did last year. It should be closer than 66-3, but that’s not saying much.
Week 4: vs. Kent State (W)
These cupcake non-conference games are going to be especially fun to watch Ta’amu and the Ole Miss offense. Pencil him in for 400 passing yards, a few scores and maybe even an SEC Player of the Week honor.
Week 5: at LSU (L)
I will say, the Magnolia Bowl could be a little more interesting without Derrius Guice or Leonard Fournette to dominate Ole Miss. Still, LSU will find a way to rack up yards at home against the Rebels. Even if Joe Burrow doesn’t set the world on fire, this will be an uphill battle for Ole Miss in the Bayou.
Week 6: vs. Louisiana-Monroe (W)
Fun fact: Louisiana-Monroe was ranked No. 127 of 129 FBS teams in defending the pass. Methinks Ta’amu, Brown, D.K. Metcalf and virtually every receiver on the Ole Miss roster will go off.
Week 7: at Arkansas (W)
I said this before and I’ll say it again. If you had to watch a pair of division bottom-feeders slug it out, you can do a whole lot worse than Arkansas-Ole Miss. With Chad Morris, the Razorbacks will at least be a more entertaining team on offense this year, which means we could get plenty of fireworks in Little Rock. Ultimately, though, Ole Miss lights up the scoreboard a little more than Arkansas.
Week 8: vs. Auburn (L)
Like with LSU, I’m not entirely sure who will lead the rushing attack, but it seems like a given that they’ll emerge against the Rebels. Even though I’m not big on Gus Malzahn away from Jordan-Hare, this could wind up being a game in which Jarrett Stidham does the heavy lifting to fuel an Auburn win.
Week 9: Bye
Week 10: vs. South Carolina (W)
This might surprise some people, but I’m not sold on the belief that it’ll be smooth sailing for South Carolina after that Georgia game. Until I see that revamped Gamecock’ offense, it’s hard to picture it’ll go off in conference play, even against a defense that has question marks galore. I think as home underdogs coming off a bye week, Ole Miss delivers its best defensive performance yet to contain Jake Bentley and the Rebels get back in the win column.
Week 11: at Texas A&M (L)
By November, I think Jimbo Fisher will have a much better feel on how to get his offense rolling. I don’t know who will lead the Aggies at quarterback, but I like the odds of Trayveon Williams having a big day at Ole Miss’ expense.
Week 12: at Vanderbilt (W)
Even though Vandy is led by defensive-minded Derek Mason, I’m not holding my breath on the Commodores posing much of a threat against one of the SEC’s top offenses. And while I like the ability of Kyle Shurmur, I don’t like his chances of beating Ta’amu in a shootout.
Week 13: vs. Mississippi State (L)
Yes, I understand that the Rebels won the Egg Bowl in Starkville last year. I’m not saying the Bulldogs would have won easily with a healthy Nick Fitzgerald, but it certainly mattered. Let’s assume that he has two attached ankles this year, and let’s assume that the MSU offense is even better under Joe Moorhead. OK, those are just my assumptions. I’ll also assume that MSU’s defense gets some revenge and pulls out a hard-fought win in Oxford.
*at NRG Stadium in Houston
2018 projection: 6-6 (3-5)
Final Standings: 6th in SEC West
Rebels fans might not want to hear this, but Ole Miss has an obvious ceiling. You cannot be one of the nation’s worst teams against the run and even be decent. Until that changes, it’s hard to put any faith in Ole Miss to exceed 6 or 7 wins.
Could Ole Miss provide a scare against some of the elite teams? Absolutely. Ta’amu’s ability to march the Rebels down the field and put up points in a hurry will make them a dangerous team to face in a given week. They could certainly be a team that takes a 2-possession lead early against one of the elite SEC teams.
But it’s hard to feel good about them keeping that lead if they can’t string stops together to take some pressure off the offense. Maybe that narrative won’t be so prevalent like it was last year, and we’re instead just talking about a mediocre defense and a high-powered offense. That would be a huge, huge development for the Rebels.
For now, though, that 6-win mark feels like the smarter bet in Year 2 of the Luke era.
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