Biggest offseason questions for Ole Miss
After winning the Sugar Bowl for the first time since 1970, Ole Miss looks poised to contend for its first SEC West title for the next few years. But as every program does, the Rebels have their concerns.
Here are the five questions facing the Rebels this offseason:
1. REPLACING ALL LOST TALENT
Ole Miss had an extremely successful run with this group of players, but the Rebels are losing 19 seniors, including 12 important contributors. Ole Miss will likely lose top juniors Laquon Treadwell, Robert Nkemdiche and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil as well.
How in the world will Hugh Freeze replace all that lost talent?
It would be easy to predict that Ole Miss will have to rebuild in 2016. But that may not be the case. The Rebels have the No. 5 recruiting class for 2016 according to 247 Sports. With such a highly touted recruiting class, perhaps Ole Miss can reload rather than rebuild.
Either way, Freeze has his work cut out for him because he is truly losing a very, very talent group of kids.
2. DOES TREADWELL STAY?
One of the very talented players Freeze could lose is Treadwell, who finished with 82 catches, 1,153 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. He caught three scores against Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl and set a new school record for most receptions in a single season.
Surprisingly, the junior receiver left open the opportunity to return to Ole Miss for his senior season. Treadwell told ESPN’s Mark Schlabach that he doesn’t have anything left to prove in college, but that he could return to try to win the SEC and help the Rebels gain a berth into the College Football Playoff.
More than likely, though, Treadwell is headed to the NFL. Most draft analysts have him as the No. 1 receiver prospect, making the money too great for him to pass up.
Nevertheless, his decision will greatly impact Ole Miss in 2016. Unlike the first question, Rebels fans should get the answer to this concern within the next week or two.
3. WHO PLAYS QB?
Chad Kelly may not be the top NFL prospect at his position, but his decision on whether or not to return is another major one.
Kelly transferred from community college and has one year left of eligibility. Ole Miss has the No. 1 pro-style quarterback prospect Shea Patterson committed in the 2016 class, so Freeze has an extremely fluid transition out of the Kelly era planed for after 2016. Kelly, though, could throw a wrench into the plan if he decides to leave early.
He had a tremendous end of the year, accounting for 1,149 total yards, 13 total touchdowns and no turnovers in the final three regular season games. In the Sugar Bowl, he threw for 302 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
With such a strong finish, Kelly could draw interest from the NFL. Without him, the expectations for Ole Miss in 2016 greatly change.
4. WHO WILL BE THE DEFENSIVE LEADERS?
As long as Kelly returns, the offense will have a leader. But the defense doesn’t.
Ole Miss is losing Mike Hilton, Trae Elston, Denzel Nkemdiche, C.J. Johnson and Robert Nkemdiche. The first four players were senior leaders.
Someone new will have to step up and carry the Rebels’ “Landshark” tradition on defense.
5. RE-EMPHASIZE DEFENSE?
Ole Miss was so successful on offense this season that Freeze and his coaches seemed to let up on defense at times. At the very least, a more offensive game plan allowed opposing teams to score a lot more points.
The Rebels defense finished 36th in points per game (22.8) and 56th in yards per game (388). Last season, Ole Miss was first in points allowed per game (13.8) and 13th in yards allowed per game (321) with mostly the same players.
Without their top weapons, and possibly their quarterback gone, the Rebels probably won’t be able to average 40.8 points per game again. Therefore, perhaps Freeze may be forced into a more defensive game plan in 2014.