10 bold predictions for Ole Miss football in 2020
Ole Miss is riding into the 2020 season with a new coaching staff, a relatively young-but-skilled roster on offense and a defense that improved greatly in 2019.
Here are 10 bold predictions for the Rebels’ 2020 campaign, starting with the question on everybody’s mind.
1. John Rhys Plumlee wins the quarterback battle
Ole Miss teetered back-and-forth randomly between Plumlee and Matt Corral last season. Plumlee saw the majority of the snaps once he took over for an injured Corral in the Rebels’ loss to Cal. But Rich Rodriguez and Matt Luke couldn’t seem to fully turn the page, randomly sprinkling in Corral in the middle of drives. Corral took over for Plumlee during the second half of the Egg Bowl and nearly led Ole Miss to a comeback if not for the now-infamous celebration penalty on Elijah Moore that led to a Luke Logan missed extra point.
But what Plumlee can do with his elite quickness will ultimately be too valuable to keep him sidelined. He ran for 1,023 yards last season in just 9 games. He added 12 rushing touchdowns. Both figures led the Rebels — and all SEC freshmen.
Kiffin has worked with quarterbacks of all types in his career, from Blake Sims and Jalen Hurts to Matt Barkley and Jake Coker. His offense suits many skill sets. While Corral is more developed as a passer, it isn’t totally fair to judge either guy off last season due to the coaching change. Corral was thought to have the edge going into the spring with Plumlee playing baseball, but that never came to be. Both spent time with the starting offense last week but Plumlee ultimately will edge out Corral.
2. 5 touchdowns from tight ends
This might not feel too bold — until you look at how criminally underused the tight end has been since Evan Engram departed the program in 2016. Ole Miss has had a whopping 2 touchdowns come via the tight end since 2018. With its top 2 contributors at the position, Octavius Cooley and Jason Pellerin, graduating, the Rebels will turn to Temple grad transfer Kenny Yeboah for production at this slot. Lane Kiffin coached the reigning Mackey Award winner Harrison Bryant at FAU, and helped him achieve a 1,000-yard season on 65 catches with 7 touchdowns.
While OC at Alabama, Kiffin helped develop O.J. Howard into a 1st-round draft pick.
Ole Miss lacks depth here, but this position will undoubtedly be used more than it has in the past 3 seasons, and 5 touchdowns from Yeboah and Co. feels bold but attainable.
3. Jerrion Ealy soars past 1,000-yard mark
Ealy totaled 722 on just 104 carries last year while playing behind Scottie Phillips. Ealy will be the team’s bell cow and potentially doubling his 2019 feels attainable, even in a 10-game schedule. He averaged nearly 7 yards per rush with 6 touchdowns — and didn’t just beat up on lightweights, either.
He ran for a career-high 141 yards against national champion LSU. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry against Alabama. Only 2 SEC players had more 30-yard runs than Ealy, who had 6. (Plumlee was one; he had 10).
4. Elijah Moore’s catch total is fewer than 2019
This sounds blasphemous. Moore was the Rebels’ only productive receiver last year with 67 catches for 850 and 6 touchdowns. But he was so frequently and predictably force-fed the football out of the slot, no one else came within 50 catches of him.
Ole Miss has some interesting pieces at receiver. Braylon Sanders will be a senior, as will Dontario Drummond. Jonathan Mingo, Demarcus Gregory and Miles Battle have chances to become contributors. Moore will still be widely productive in Kiffin and Jeff Lebby’s scheme, but the ball will be more judiciously spread and Moore’s catch volume will slip as a result.
5. Mingo makes a jump
Dovetailing off the Moore prediction, Jonathan Mingo showed flashes of being a productive, SEC-caliber receiver. He started all 12 games, but totaled just 12 catches for 172 yards a touchdown. Ole Miss lacks a deep threat on the outside. Mingo is 6-1. He’s a physical receiver with a chance to fill that void. It would not be shocking to see his catch total in the 30-35 range with 600-ish yards and 5 touchdowns. If Mingo isn’t productive, it means Ole Miss’ offense likely struggled to some degree in the passing game.
6. Ole Miss finishes .500 or better on the road
The Rebels’ road slate is actually pretty manageable. Their 5 true road games in the newly-minted, conference-only schedule are at LSU, Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M with a road trip to Kentucky added. Arkansas and Vanderbilt with likely bring up the rear in their respective divisions, and while lofty expectations loom in College Station, who knows what Jimbo Fisher’s squad will actually look like by November. A 3-2 record away from home isn’t exactly likely, but it is feasible for the Rebels.
7. Luke Logan keeps his job the entire year
Kicking cost Ole Miss its final game of the 2019 season and was a sore subject throughout. Luke Logan struggled to a mark of 11-for-19 on field goals. He was 35-for-38 on extra points, but his final attempt was a missed, albeit elongated, extra point to lose the Egg Bowl after Moore’s celebration penalty. Logan replaced one of the most successful kickers school history in Gary Wunderlich, and Ole Miss badly needs him to improve.
But the Rebels do not have another kicker with game experience aside from Casey Griffith, who manned kickoffs last year. A prediction about a kicker feels odd, but after Logan’s 2019 season, it qualifies as bold to forecast his improvement and staying in that role for all 10 games.
8. Mohamed Sanogo earns All-SEC honors
The junior linebacker’s 2019 season lasted 2 games. Sanogo injured his right ankle early on in the Rebels’ win over Arkansas. It was a huge letdown after Sanogo finished 5th in the SEC in tackles with 112 and 3rd in average (9 per game) in 2018. He was becoming a vocal leader and getting Sanogo back healthy is a huge lift for the defense. Sanogo improves on his 2018 numbers and earns All-SEC honors.
9. Plumlee finishes the year with a 60% completion rate
As electric as Plumlee was with his feet a season ago, he struggled throwing the football. Blame could be spread from the scheme to his mechanics and decision-making. But if and when he does win the starting nod, Kiffin and Lebby will raise his 2019 mark of 52.6% by nearly eight points up to a respectable 60%. It won’t be easy, and Plumlee will throw more passes than he did a year ago, but a year of experience and improvement helps him get to the mark.
10. Ole Miss makes a bowl game
While this doesn’t sound all so bold on the surface — despite the uncertainty of what a bowl season will even look like — it feels more lofty by the day. For the sake of the exercise in this modified schedule, let’s call “bowl eligibility” 5-5. It’s a tall task.
Kiffin and his staff didn’t have the benefit of a spring to implement their system, sift through the depth chart and settle the quarterback competition. They have a lot of work to be done in a short period of time. And Ole Miss doesn’t ease into the season, either. The home opener is against Florida followed by a road trip at Kentucky and a home game against Alabama.
Realistically, the Rebels could be 1-2 or 0-3. They would be ecstatic with a 2-1 start.
Beating Arkansas, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Mississippi State will be crucial, along with somewhat realistic chances at upsets against Auburn and a difficult but not impossible road trip at Kentucky.
There is a path to 5 wins via this front-loaded schedule. Kiffin and the Rebels get there and return to a bowl game for the first time in five seasons.