Take a deep breath – the chances of an actual Ole Miss football season happening is looking up, but now there’s an even bigger problem to unpack.
Ole Miss will have to play 10 straight games of SEC football. Don’t get me wrong, prior to the SEC announcement, the schedule was still going to be tough, but the Rebels had a little bit of a break up between conference play. Now, there are no more easy wins with teams like UConn, Georgia Southern, and Southeast Missouri State with the updated schedule.
I’m eager to see what an all-conference schedule will mean, not only for Ole Miss, but for the rest of the SEC. The AP Coaches Top 25 poll listed six SEC teams in the Top 25, and five are in the Top 10.
(Ole Miss didn’t get a single vote, but Mississippi State received nine.)
The SEC dynasty continues into this preseason. The question is, however, without alley oops for easy wins, how many of these SEC teams will end up at the end of the season still in the Top 25? Can Ole Miss be one of them?
Kiffin and staff now have the added challenge to prepare for a whole new world of hurt with limited time, and limited interaction. With more time watching film than in pads, the preparation for an SEC gauntlet begins.
Here are the 10 biggest threats to Ole Miss in 2020:
10. NICK SABAN, ALABAMA
I want to hate him, seriously, I really do. I just can’t. He’s incredible. And he’s pissed and ready to win again.
Alabama had a rough season in 2019. (Imagine if an Ole Miss “rough season” was going 11-2 smh.) Saban wants to beat Auburn, and he sure as hell is not going to lose to Lane Kiffin. Without a doubt, I am looking forward to the Alabama game the most. Are they going to shake hands? (Probably not, because Coronavirus.)
Should be a good one.
9. AUBURN OFFENSE
Bo Nix is one year older and one year wiser. He has experience, and he knows how to win big. Nix stepped up as a true freshman last season against Alabama and Oregon, and he has one of the best receivers in the country. Seth Williams had 830 yards for 8 touchdowns in 2019. He was a four-star recruit who made an immediate impact his freshman and sophomore years. He only gets better with time, and if the duo continues to be this dominant, they might just top the SEC West. But Gus Malzahn is still the head coach so probably not.
8. UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT PENALTIES
7. KYLIN HILL, MISSISSIPPI STATE, RB
As much as I hate to admit Mississippi State is decent at anything, Kylin Hill is really good. There is good news though as Mike Leach doesn’t care that Hill ran for 1,350 yards in 2019. Leach uses the infamous air-raid offense, and unless Kylin Hill starts learning how to run pass routes, he won’t see the ball as much this season.
6. KADARIUS TONEY, FLORIDA, WR
Kadarius Toney is one of the most underrated players in the SEC. His nickname is “The Human Joystick,” and it’s not unwarranted. His ability to shift quickly allows for a lot of yards and finding a whole lot of gaps. Toney has a special gift for making some of the best tacklers look like a toddler trying to walk after being spun around too many times. He came off of an injury last season and missed the first six games due to a shoulder injury. He is definitely one to watch if Ole Miss ends up playing Florida.
Threat level: perilously fun followed by soul crushing hamartia.
5. JIMBO FISHER AND KELLEN MOND, TEXAS A&M
Apparently, this is the year that they are supposed to be good, but so is Ole Miss. These past few years, Ole Miss and A&M have had some pretty close games. Kellen Mond has plenty of experience heading into this season with more than 2,800 yards last season, and as a senior, this is his last chance to prove himself. Coach Jimbo Fisher knows what it feels like to lose to Ole Miss, and lately, he knows what it feels like to win. After easy win games with Arkansas and Vanderbilt (probably,) a win against Texas A&M will be a sort of measuring stick for how the rest of the season will play out. Can Jimbo extend to a four game win streak, or can Lane Kiffin & Co. beat the Aggies down in College Station?
4. NAJEE HARRIS, ALABAMA, RB
When you think of Najee Harris, think of the fastest bowling ball you’ve ever seen then duct tape some explosives to it and also put it in fast forward. He’s coming back for his senior season despite having a pretty impressive year. In 2019, he totaled 2,377 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns. He was a workhorse coming into the 2019 season, but decided he wanted one more year to make a case as a first-round pick.
3. JA’MARR CHASE, LSU, WR
I would be surprised if you hadn’t heard this name before. But, just in case, here’s his resume: 2020 National Champion, 84 catches for over 1,700 yards, led the nation with 20 touchdowns. He had 227 yards for 3 touchdowns against Ole Miss last year and was a part of arguably one of the greatest college football teams ever, so it will be tough to replicate a record-breaking season. Chase won’t have Joe Burrow or passing game guru Joe Brady this year, but it could still be a huge issue if he’s not controlled.
When I say ourselves, I mean Ole Miss Football. In a way, I consider myself a part of the team. Since I learned there was more to Ole Miss than just the references in the Blind Side, it feels like there is a common theme. Ole Miss always has a way of making you believe. However, silly mistakes add up to embarrassing losses, and then you end the season only winning two games in the conference. “Well it was a rebuilding year, so we weren’t supposed to win that many,” you tell yourself. Even with a first-year hire, it’s time to move on from that mentality. I think Lane Kiffin is the guy to champion that change.
Honestly, this one is pretty self explanatory. If change doesn’t happen soon, then we might not get a football season. I want a football season, and if you’re reading this, you probably want one too. (Wear a mask.)