2016 Rebels need to focus on quality not quantity of wins
Steady improvement experienced by Ole Miss during the Hugh Freeze era may hit a snag in 2016. Since Freeze took the helm, the Rebels recorded seven, eight, nine and 10 wins, respectively, in the first four years of Freeze’s tenure.
However, the loss of perhaps the best group of players in Ole Miss history leaves questions.
Chad Kelly thinks he’s the best quarterback in the country. “You have to feel that way,” Kelly told reporters at the 2016 SEC Media Days earlier this summer. “That’s what I want our whole team from offensive linemen to running backs — we have to think we are the best in the country.”
The media tabbed Kelly as the conference’s preseason first-team quarterback. Kelly was the only Rebel to earn first-team honors.
For Kelly and company to continue the rise, the Rebels will need to win 11 games, which means unless they win 11 in the regular season, they will need to go to Atlanta and/or win the bowl game and likely finish with two losses or less, something the program has not accomplished since 1971 in Billy Kinard’s first year when the team went 10-2.
With Kelly poised to be arguably the greatest Rebels QB ever, 11 wins is possible, but it’s not a fair expectation for the 2016 team.
Winning 11 games will require accomplishments like three-peating against Nick Saban (unheard of), beating LSU in Baton Rouge for just the second time in eight attempts and beating powerhouse Florida State in Orlando.
Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles are ranked No. 4 in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll and return one of the Heisman Trophy favorites, running back Dalvin Cook.
“I’ve studied some of the things that he (Fisher) does with regard to nutrition and travel and other neat ideas,” Freeze said at SEC Media Days. “But it comes down to the players. It doesn’t take long on film to see what a challenge they are.”
Under Freeze, the program has indeed continually increased win totals. However, some individual wins may be more impressive. That includes the rout of Oklahoma State, beating Alabama in back-to-back years (the Tide’s only regular season loss in each year) and beating Mississippi State three times in four tries.
The 2016 Rebels may have the toughest schedule in the country when the dust settles. Beating Alabama, Florida State and LSU is not reasonable for any team to expect, regardless of preseason ranking or returning players. Furthermore, Ole Miss experienced massive setbacks in the last two years against Arkansas and have historically struggled against Georgia.
Not many would be surprised if the Rebels fell to FSU, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, LSU, Auburn and/or Texas A&M, so the most important accomplishment for the 2016 team could be avoiding a backslide.
Freeze and company recently recruited the best class in program history, headlined by OL Greg Little and QB Shea Patterson. Little figures to take over for NFL-bound Laremy Tunsil while Patterson will likely redshirt.
The future that Little and Patterson provide for the Rebels looks tremendous. In the meantime, the Rebels missed out on two junior college transfers that would have added much-needed experience and defensive bite, particularly against Alabama and LSU.
The most important position in football is quarterback and the Rebels have a good one, and winning 11 or more would not surprise fans or analysts, but it should not be expected.
Ole Miss should focus on bowl eligibility and individual games instead of overall accomplishments. Seven or eight wins, keeping the egg and winning two against either Alabama, LSU, FSU or Georgia represents realistic expectations as well as success.