Ole Miss didn’t close out the 2022 season on a strong note, finishing on a 4-game losing streak as the Rebels appeared to lose focus with rumors swirling about head coach Lane Kiffin’s status and settling for an overall record of 8-5, 4-4 in SEC play.

As the Rebels look to be a contender in 2023 after being labeled as a potential national championship candidate earlier last season, here’s a look into 10 questions to consider this offseason:

1. How will Jaxson Dart continue to progress?

Some had already pinned Dart as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate long before the 2022 season ever got underway. That, obviously, didn’t come to fruition as Dart consistently flashed high upside but also showed the same types of decision-making issues and inconsistencies that are so commonly seen among younger, more inexperienced quarterbacks and especially ones who are in a state of transition.

Dart, who projects as a dual-threat QB and has given opposing defenses issues with his legs, did seem to get better as a pure passer and with mental processing as time went on. He will have to take the next step moving forward with more in-game reps under his belt. After he finished with a 62.4% completion rate, 2,974 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, how he takes the next step in 2023 will be something to watch.

2. Can the rushing attack ascend to best in the nation?

Ole Miss had 1 of the best ground games in the country all season long, something that didn’t falter as the level of competition increased and the team worked its way into SEC play. The Rebels finished with the No. 1 rushing attack in the conference and No. 3 overall nationally.

With Quinshon Judkins’ accomplishments and the way Ole Miss has proven it can make teams pay on the ground, it’s not hard to see a scenario in which the Rebels end up among the best in the country in this category once again in 2023.

3. How will tackling in the secondary improve?

One of the biggest things Kiffin frequently lamented were the issues with tackling in the secondary. It made for a lot of explosive plays given up, something that frequently hurt the Rebels despite some of the things they were able to do on the other side of the ball to counter it.

The Rebels finished the season ranked 75th in total defense, surrendering an average of 5.32 yards per play and 387.8 yards per game.

4. Will the Rebels play true complementary football in 2023?

There have been plenty of positive takeaways surrounding the Rebels offense in recent years, with the way former quarterback Matt Corral powered the “score from far” offense under Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, and the amount of success the Rebels had on the ground when they landed more into that aspect of the offense in 2022.

But the defense has not garnered nearly the same amount of praise, with woes across the board that cost it some wins this past season. As simple as it sounds, teams can’t be consistent contenders without playing complementary football. As was perfectly illustrated by the 2022 season, it does not matter how strong the offense is if the defense can’t take care of business when it hits the field. It’s clear that changes are abound on that side of the ball ahead of the 2023 season, but the question is whether or not they’ll put it all together on the field.

5. How much will the passing attack be utilized?

The Ole Miss offense was heavily powered by the rushing attack in 2022, something that makes sense when you’ve got a star like Judkins in the fold at running back and the No. 3 rushing attack in the entire nation. But there was some reason for excitement surrounding receivers like Mississippi State transfer Malik Heath and other emerging playmakers. Between the development of Dart and what players like Heath showed they could do in 2022, it’s reasonable to expect to see the passing game become more effective and successful.

6. How might the run defense improve?

One of Kiffin’s most famous lines from the 2022 season was as follows:

“They announced we got lightning within eight miles of here, I said, well, we ain’t got any run defense within eight miles of here.”

That was right after the team’s 48-34 victory over Auburn in which it allowed Tigers running back Tank Bigsby to run for 179 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Rebels finished the season with the No. 89 rushing defense in the nation, surrendering an average of 4.23 yards per rush and 168 rushing yards per game. That’s got to improve moving forward.

7. What does the future look like long-term for Kiffin?

There were no shortage of rumors surrounding Kiffin making a switch to a new program, with several expecting him to be the next head coach at Auburn. Instead, Hugh Freeze was hired to that position and Kiffin stayed at Ole Miss, as he previously stated he intended to do.

Kiffin’s triumphs in Oxford have not at all gone unnoticed, as his team was among those projected to be early national championship contenders last offseason, and if and when he leaves Oxford, it’s going to be his choice and on his terms. That was clearly reflected by the contract extension Kiffin recently signed, and he has a chance to continue building upon what he’s started in Oxford last season.

8. Can Judkins find his way into the Heisman Trophy mix?

In his freshman season which saw him break multiple records, there was no shortage of hype surrounding Judkins — as it should have been. The Heisman Trophy is almost always a quarterback award, but its criteria states that it is awarded to the best player in the nation annually and Judkins has shown that he has the potential to be that with the way he turned heads just a single year into his college football career.

Judkins finished the 2022 season with 1,567 rushing yards on 274 carries and 16 touchdowns on the ground — and the show has only just begun.

9. Is Pete Golding the right fit at defensive coordinator?

The Rebels recently landed a big fish by bringing on now-former Alabama defensive coordinator Pete Golding to serve in the same role as he did in Tuscaloosa. There’s no doubt there is work to be done on this side of the ball, and this seems to be a step in the right direction.

Alabama’s 2022 defense under Golding finished tied for 9th nationally and 2nd in the SEC in scoring defense (18.2 points per game). The Crimson Tide led the SEC and were 4th in the nation in yards allowed per play (4.59).

10. What does the future look like at quarterback?

There were mixed opinions about Dart ahead of last season and there continues to be more of the same where the long-term outlook is concerned. Regardless of if Dart hits his ceiling or not, there’s no question that depth at quarterback is an area of need.

There was turnover at signal-caller heading into the offseason as Luke Altmyer entered the transfer portal and Marcel Reed flipped his commitment to Texas A&M in December. Ole Miss has been linked to a handful of quarterbacks in the portal and among them is former LSU QB Walker Howard. Expect the Rebels to add here.