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1. The occasional impossibility of a full-season rating
I used to joke that Missouri, my alma mater, figured out ways to exceed expectations in the most disappointing ways possible.
The Tigers would be predicted last in the Big 12 North, start the season 5-2, then falter to 7-5, higher than they expected but not as high as they could've been. The flack Gary Pinkel would catch for the fade would negate the fact that his team did better than anybody predicted.
In 2014, Ole Miss took that concept to a place it had rarely gone before. Ranked 18th in the preseason AP poll, the Rebels finished 17th, winning nine games for the first time in six years and beating Alabama for the first time in 11. Good season!
The manner in which they did it, however, was scarring.
Through eight weeks, Ole Miss was in my mind, without question, the best team in college football. They were making timely offensive plays and demoralizing opponents with their defense. They had averaged at least 6.2 yards per play in four of seven games and had allowed 4.7 or fewer in five.
There were some question marks -- the run game wasn't reliable enough to take pressure off quarterback Bo Wallace -- but you can win a lot of games with a good offense and spectacular defense, and at 7-0, the Rebels were clearing hurdles left and right.
They absorbed upset bids from two of the country's best mid-majors (Boise State, Memphis), then hit the throttle. They bolted to a huge lead over Texas A&M and cruised. They destroyed what turned out to be a good Tennessee. Ole Miss passed enough tests that it made me trust a team that had not been trustworthy. I bought in. Scarred Ole Miss fans began to let down their guard.
And then Wallace threw an ill-conceived late interception at LSU in a 10-7 loss.
And then star receiver Laquon Treadwell was lost for the season while crossing the goal line for a go-ahead score against Auburn. And then replay revealed Treadwell had fumbled the ball in pain.
And then Ole Miss got stomped by Arkansas. And then Ole Miss got really stomped by TCU.
The Rebels did rebound enough to knock Mississippi State from SEC West contention, but a 7-0 start begot a demoralizing finish.
It also created an odd development in the ratings. Ole Miss was so good through the first two months of the season that the late-season fade only dropped the Rebels to fifth in the F/+ ratings ... one spot ahead of sixth-place TCU. Awkward.
When a year unfolds in such a two-act manner, it's hard to think of a team as the product of its entire season. Awesome September Ole Miss had little in common with Sad December Ole Miss. But on average, Ole Miss was superb. And if the Rebels can find a quarterback, they'll have a chance to play at a preferably more stable level this fall.
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 9-4 | Adj. Record: 11-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 5|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|28-Aug||vs. Boise State||21||35-13||W||99%||54.3||100%|
|11-Oct||at Texas A&M||42||35-20||W||94%||35.5||95%|
|Points Per Game||28.3||70||16.0||1|
2. It happened so quickly
The chart above looks like a Porsche hitting a rumble strip. As I wrote in the Arkansas preview, only two teams hit the 95th percentile more than Ole Miss: Ohio State and Oregon, who each had 15 games to do so.
If you distribute these performances differently -- if, say, the Arkansas dud happened in Week 4 and TCU in Week 9, while Vanderbilt and Alabama happened in Weeks 11 and 13 -- we'd get the impression of a young team with incredible upside. Instead, we see a season going off the rails.
- Average Percentile Performance (first seven games): 98 percent (~top three | record: 7-0)
- Average Percentile Performance (last six games): 57 percent (~top 55 | record: 2-4)
This makes it difficult to know what to expect. Late-season performance can carry some weight, but full-season performance is the most accurate predictor. So if we ignore the order of results, we see a team that was capable on offense and indestructible on defense.
Even in the blowout losses to Arkansas and TCU, the defense did its part. The Rebels allowed 4.6 yards per play to Arkansas (Arkansas' season average: 5.8) and 5.4 to TCU (6.7). They had the best defense in the country, and they return their top five linemen and five of seven in the secondary. The two they lost in the secondary (Cody Prewitt, Senquez Golson) were awesome, and there's some rebuilding at linebacker, but the core remains.
Meanwhile, the offense returns virtually everybody but Wallace.
You can talk yourself into this team ... if you can convince yourself that bowl results have little predictive ability.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||40.1%||85||Succ. Rt. +||118.7||15|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||27.9||28||Def. FP+||111.2||2|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.0||94||Redzone S&P+||119.3||18|
|Q1 Rk||35||1st Down Rk||50|
|Q2 Rk||104||2nd Down Rk||17|
|Q3 Rk||28||3rd Down Rk||76|
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|DeVante Kincade||6'0, 184||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8894||16||20||127||1||0||80.0%||7||25.9%||6.0|
|Ryan Buchanan||6'3, 218||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9005||12||22||75||0||1||54.5%||0||0.0%||3.4|
|Chad Kelly||6'2, 215||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8727|
|Jason Pellerin||6'4, 229||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8772|
3. In defense of Bo Wallace
Two months into the season, Wallace was the quarterback for the best team in the country despite the fact that he had almost no run game. Ole Miss attempted balance on standard downs, and since the run was so inefficient, that meant second-and-8s. And on passing downs, Freeze and offensive co-coordinators Matt Luke and Dan Werner basically said, "Hey, Bo, make a play."
Given a tough job, in a tough defensive conference, Wallace produced a 60 percent completion rate and a 142.2 passer rating, 36th in the country. That's not terrible. He started games slowly and thrived late. Twelve of his 14 interceptions came before halftime, and his fourth-quarter passer rating was a sparkling 169.6.
The defense helped. Offenses would struggle to stay on the field against the Land Sharks, and the opponent's defense would get tired or start to take risks. Then, the Rebels would burn them over the top.
Wallace's biggest problem seemed to be the timing of his mistakes. He would go games at a time in complete control; against Alabama, Texas A&M and Auburn, he completed 66 percent at 13 yards per, with six touchdowns and no interceptions. But one bad pass would precede another, and it took him a few series to move past mistakes. He threw three interceptions in the first half against Boise State before killing the Broncos with fourth-quarter bombs. Ten of his 14 picks came in four games (Boise State, Memphis, Arkansas, TCU).
Underrated or not, Wallace is gone. And the task of replacing him, maintaining high efficiency, and cutting down on mistakes, falls to ... somebody. Heading into mid-August, it appears Clemson transfer Chad Kelly and sophomores DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan are virtually even. This could be good (competition is healthy) or bad (the starter will be looking over his shoulder).
Each of the three brings something different. Kelly, the nephew of Jim Kelly who has had, shall we diplomatically say, bouts of immaturity through the years, has a cannon of an arm. Kincade combines a strong arm with mobility (which got him into trouble last year, with seven sacks in 27 pass attempts). Buchanan, the most touted, is probably the most accurate.
The winner will again have a brutal defense working for him. He'll also have options at the skill positions.
|Jaylen Walton||RB||5'8, 172||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8736||106||586||5||5.5||7.1||40.6%||0||0|
|Jordan Wilkins||RB||6'1, 214||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9100||44||176||1||4.0||4.9||38.6%||0||0|
|DeVante Kincade||QB||6'0, 184||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8894||21||61||1||2.9||2.1||33.3%||3||2|
|Jeremy Liggins||TE||6'3, 302||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8697||20||39||2||2.0||1.7||10.0%||0||0|
|Eugene Brazley||RB||5'9, 189||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8641||16||83||0||5.2||2.9||56.3%||0||0|
|Cody Core||WR||6'3, 205||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8019||4||86||0||21.5||14.0||100.0%||1||0|
|Akeem Judd||RB||5'11, 222||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8781|
|D.K. Buford||RB||5'11, 221||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8687|
|Eric Swinney||RB||5'9, 197||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9423|
4. Gotta run
The Ole Miss receiving corps has just about everything you could ask for: an efficient go-to guy (Laquon Treadwell, with his 64 percent catch rate), an explosive tight end (Evan Engram), potentially devastating over-the-top guys (Cody Core, Quincy Adeboyejo, Washington transfer Damore'ea Stringfellow) and even some new blood (four-star freshmen DaMarkus Lodge, Van Jefferson).
If the new quarterback has time to throw and a run game to keep him out of second- or third-and-long, this offense will hum. But that's an "if" that wasn't afforded to Wallace. For Ole Miss to have staying power, the run must come around.
Jaylen Walton is a confusing back. His great moments distract from weeks-long stretches of ineffectiveness. Against UL-Lafayette, Memphis, Tennessee and Mississippi State -- a group that includes three good defenses -- Walton rushed 41 times for 375 yards (9.1 per carry). His 91-yarder all but iced the Mississippi State win. But in Ole Miss' other nine games, he rushed 65 times for 211 yards (3.2).
Jordan Wilkins rushed 17 times for 244 yards against Memphis, Presbyterian and MSU and 35 times for 117 yards otherwise. I'Tavius Mathers, who transferred in the offseason, alternated between tantalizing and befuddling for years.
Walten and Wilkins are back, as is sophomore Eugene Brazley. Incoming freshman Eric Swinney comes highly regarded. Maybe there is consistency to be found. And maybe the line actually delivers.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Laquon Treadwell||WR||6'2, 210||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9922||75||48||632||64.0%||20.2%||46.7%||8.4||51||8.0||119.2|
|Evan Engram||TE||6'3, 227||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8435||62||38||644||61.3%||16.7%||58.1%||10.4||180||10.4||121.4|
|Cody Core||SLOT||6'3, 205||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8019||58||39||534||67.2%||15.6%||48.3%||9.2||67||9.8||100.7|
|Quincy Adeboyejo||WR||6'3, 195||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8696||35||21||292||60.0%||9.4%||60.0%||8.3||35||8.3||55.0|
|WR||6'2, 220||So.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9653||30||20||259||66.7%||7.8%||62.5%||8.6||21||8.8||33.7|
|Jaylen Walton||RB||5'8, 172||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8736||26||19||206||73.1%||7.0%||57.7%||7.9||-18||7.9||38.8|
|Markell Pack||SLOT||6'2, 193||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9380||20||12||162||60.0%||5.4%||55.0%||8.1||15||8.0||30.5|
|Collins Moore (2013)||WR||6'1, 201||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8618||10||5||67||50.0%||2.2%||N/A||6.7||-2||0.0||8.4|
|Quintavius Burdette||SLOT||5'11, 186||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7858||7||6||28||85.7%||1.9%||71.4%||4.0||-41||4.3||5.3|
|Jeremy Liggins||TE||6'3, 302||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8697||3||1||3||33.3%||0.8%||100.0%||1.0||-11||N/A||0.6|
|Derrick Jones||WR||6'2, 189||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8392||3||0||0||0.0%||0.8%||66.7%||0.0||-4||0.0||0.0|
|Trey Bledsoe||WR||6'1, 213||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8116||2||1||6||50.0%||0.5%||0.0%||3.0||-7||N/A||1.1|
|DaMarkus Lodge||WR||6'2, 190||Fr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9807|
|Van Jefferson||WR||6'2, 181||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9489|
|Willie Hibbler||TE||6'3, 238||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8855|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Laremy Tunsil||LT||6'5, 305||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9975||21||2014 1st All-SEC|
|Aaron Morris||LG||6'5, 313||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8900||31|
|Justin Bell||RG||6'2, 347||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8438||26|
|Fahn Cooper||RT||6'5, 306||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8797||13|
|Ben Still||C||6'3, 280||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8522||12|
|Robert Conyers||C||6'5, 290||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8219||3|
|Rod Taylor||RG||6'3, 320||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9758||2|
|Christian Morris||LT||6'6, 313||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9010||0|
|Daronte Bouldin||LG||6'5, 327||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8453||0|
|Talbot Buys||OL||6'8, 310||Jr.||NR||0.7900||0|
|Jordan Sims||RG||6'4, 334||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8737|
|Sean Rawlings||RT||6'5, 280||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8426|
|Jacob Feeley||C||6'2, 273||Jr.||NR||NR|
|Javon Patterson||LG||6'3, 307||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9739|
5. Is this the year Ole Miss has a good line?
For three years under Freeze, the line has alternated between mediocre and bad. The Rebels ranked 80th in Adj. Line Yards in 2010 and 109th in 2011, so the bar was pretty low. In the last three years, however, it has only improved to 63rd, 51st and 64th. And while the quarterbacks had a large role, the sack rates have stunk for a while.
Is this the year that changes? Ole Miss returns most of last year's two-deep, including seven who have combined for 108 career starts. Assuming no NCAA issues arise from Laremy Tunsil's offseason stepdad altercation (and the allegations that followed), the Rebels also have a potential All-American at left tackle. There are four seniors and five former four- or five-star recruits. Granted, senior and nearly three-year starter Aaron Morris is coming off of a late-season ACL tear, but the depth still looks better now than it has.
Scrambling quarterbacks have not helped the sack rates, and dancing running backs contributed to last year's No. 124 stuff rate ranking. But the numbers above -- 112th in opportunity rate, 87th in power success, 124th in stuff rate, 97th in passing downs sack rate -- cannot be pinned entirely on the skill position guys. This line might hold the key to a huge season, and the track record doesn't fill you with optimism.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||39.8%||49||Succ. Rt. +||126.1||6|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||28.0||111||Off. FP+||105.0||20|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.4||4||Redzone S&P+||122.5||11|
|Q1 Rk||9||1st Down Rk||3|
|Q2 Rk||3||2nd Down Rk||4|
|Q3 Rk||30||3rd Down Rk||9|
6. A bend-don't-break with attitude
A good defensive line is such an asset. If you can generate pressure with your front four and don't have to blitz, you can drop more players into coverage and fill the QB with further consternation. If your four guys can hold up in run blocking against a five-man offensive line, you can free linebackers and safeties to pursue and prevent messes.
Coordinator Dave Wommack basically employs a permanent nickel defense, sacrificing size for speed. But with Robert Nkemdiche and a whole lot of meat up front, there was no sacrifice. Wommack was able to employ all the advantages of a 4-2-5 with none of the risks. The result: aggressive personnel, passive tactics and complete dominance.
LSU and Auburn were able to run, combining for 512 yards. But they still barely averaged five yards per carry, and nobody else could do much. UL-Lafayette was the only other team to average better than 4.3 per carry. The Rebels were so fast, so capable of big-play prevention, that even if you were able to succeed on the ground, your drive would stall before you reached the end zone.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Issac Gross||NT||6'1, 240||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8945||12||28.5||3.8%||8.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Fadol Brown||DE||6'4, 280||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7500||13||26.5||3.5%||5.5||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Marquis Haynes||DE||6'3, 220||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8800||13||24.0||3.2%||9.0||7.5||0||2||3||0|
|Robert Nkemdiche||DT||6'4, 296||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||1.0000||13||23.0||3.1%||4.0||2.0||0||1||0||0|
|Channing Ward||DE||6'4, 279||Sr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9834||13||22.0||2.9%||3.0||2.5||0||0||3||0|
|Woodrow Hamilton||NT||6'3, 319||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8528||13||9.0||1.2%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|John Youngblood||DE||6'3, 255||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7726||13||8.5||1.1%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Herbert Moore||DT||6'1, 322||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8428||6||2.5||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Garrald McDowell||DE||6'2, 240||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9196|
|Breeland Speaks||DT||6'3, 313||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9194|
|D.J. Jones||DT||6'0, 324||Jr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9346|
|Austrian Robinson||DT||6'4, 292||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8609|
7. Goodness, this line is good
The line made everything else click. Though the Rebels must replace a lot in the back seven, it's soothing that the line returns mostly intact.
Depth took a hit up front -- three rotation guys are gone -- but last year's top five are back, six if you include MLB/end C.J. Johnson. Add big-time JUCO tackle D.J. Jones and a couple of four-star redshirt freshmen (Garrald McDowell, Breeland Speaks) to the mix, and, well, you've again got one of the best lines in the country.
It's also intensely fun to watch.
Looking purely at disruption stats, it almost seems like former all-world recruit Robert Nkemdiche was disappointing. He managed only four tackles for loss and batted down a single pass. But when you watch him, you see his effect. He is a Tasmanian devil, a 300-pound chaos machine who threshes linemen and occupies attention at all times. His role is to bring ruckus while others worry about the ball. He does it well. He frees up undersized nose tackle Issac Gross, Fadol Brown and any number of linebackers and safeties.
The linebackers' jobs are easy thanks to the line. So Ole Miss can probably account for the loss of middle man D.T. Shackelford and OLBs Serderius Bryant and Keith Lewis, especially considering returning experience (Johnson and fellow senior Denzel Nkemdiche, who missed a good portion of 2014 to injury and suspension). These two, Christian Russell, big-time JUCO transfer Terry Caldwell and sophomore DeMarquis Gates should be able to replicate last year's linebacker stats.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|C.J. Johnson||DE/MLB||6'2, 225||Sr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9608||13||29.5||3.9%||8.0||4.0||1||1||0||0|
|Christian Russell||MLB||6'0, 232||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8838||13||18.5||2.5%||0.5||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Denzel Nkemdiche||OLB||5'11, 208||Sr.||NR||0.8563||7||18.5||2.5%||3.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|DeMarquis Gates||OLB||6'2, 217||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8743||13||10.5||1.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Tayler Polk||OLB||5'11, 212||So.||NR||NR||13||7.0||0.9%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Temario Strong||MLB||6'0, 211||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8488||13||4.5||0.6%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Terry Caldwell||OLB||6'1, 216||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8504|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Mike Hilton||ROVER||5'9, 184||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8432||13||59.5||7.9%||4||0||3||7||0||0|
|Tony Conner||NB||6'0, 215||Jr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9837||13||53.5||7.1%||9||1||1||2||0||0|
|Trae Elston||FS||5'11, 195||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8793||12||47.0||6.3%||3||0||1||3||1||0|
|Kendarius Webster||CB||5'11, 180||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8887||13||20.0||2.7%||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|A.J. Moore||NB||6'0, 199||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8386||13||12.5||1.7%||1.5||0||0||1||0||0|
|Carlos Davis (2013)||CB||5'8, 171||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||NR||7||12.0||1.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|C.J. Moore||ROVER||5'11, 190||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8370||13||7.5||1.0%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|C.J. Hampton||FS||6'0, 179||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9534||13||7.0||0.9%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Kailo Moore||CB||5'10, 195||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9302||13||4.0||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Chief Brown||ROVER||6'1, 202||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||NR||5||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Tee Shepard||CB||6'1, 195||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8984|
|Tony Bridges||CB||6'0, 183||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9131|
|Armani Linton||S||6'2, 206||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9067|
|Cameron Ordway||CB||5'11, 174||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8773|
|Jalen Julius||DB||6'0, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8648|
8. Only two (huge) losses in the back
The Land Sharks identity was forged as much by Prewitt as any member of the front seven. His ability to make plays and hit really, really, really hard made Ole Miss not only the country's best defense, but also the most intimidating. Meanwhile, Golson had one of the stickiest sets of hands in the country at the cornerback position. His late-game INT sealed the Alabama game, but he had nine others.
These are two important guys to lose.
Still ... Mike Hilton's back; he's basically a smaller Prewitt. Tony Conner's back; he led the team in tackles for loss from the nickel position. Trae Elston's back; he's put in plenty of reps through the years. Sophomores Kendarius Webster, A.J. Moore and C.J. Moore are no longer freshmen. Junior Carlos Davis is back after missing 2014. Four-star reserves C.J. Hampton and Kalio Moore might be ready for a step forward. And four-star JUCOs Tee Shepard and Tony Bridges might be ready to make an impact.
This seems like a deep, nasty secondary to me. I struggle to worry, especially if the line is doing what the line is expected to do.
|Will Gleeson||6'3, 197||So.||58||42.9||2||17||24||70.7%|
|Gary Wunderlich||6'0, 188||So.||10||45.2||0||4||3||70.0%|
|Gary Wunderlich||6'0, 188||So.||35||62.5||13||2||37.1%|
|Nathan Noble||6'3, 224||Jr.||30||61.4||11||0||36.7%|
|Gary Wunderlich||6'0, 188||So.||20-20||4-4||100.0%||2-4||50.0%|
|Andy Pappanastos||5'11, 194||So.||5-6||0-0||N/A||0-1||0.0%|
|Jaylen Walton||KR||5'8, 172||Sr.||18||21.3||0|
|Markell Pack||PR||6'2, 193||So.||18||5.3||0|
|Special Teams F/+||59|
|Field Goal Efficiency||88|
|Punt Return Efficiency||122|
|Kick Return Efficiency||61|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||43|
9. Legs? Check. Returns? Ehh...
Despite youth, kickoffs and punts were both massive field position weapons for Ole Miss in 2014. The return of Aussie Will Gleeson, do-it-all Gary Wunderlich and No. 2 punter Nathan Noble should assure that when kicking is involved, Ole Miss is doing pretty well. But the Rebels gave away some field position ground in the return game. They were decent in kick returns and quite suspect in punt returns, and the return of last year's leading returners won't necessarily assuage my concerns in this regard.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk|
|10-Oct||New Mexico State||127|
|28-Nov||at Mississippi State||21|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||14.7% (36)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||21 / 21|
|2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||7 / -1.8|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||+3.4|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||16 (9, 7)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||9.1 (-0.1)|
10. Better not fade late this time
Because the numbers don't care overly much about one bowl game, projections are kind to Ole Miss. The Rebels are projected seventh in the Football Outsiders Almanac 2015 (college-only version available for only $6 in PDF form). Even in a brutal SEC West, the Rebels are given a 37 percent chance of winning 10 or more games (and, yes, a 10 percent chance of going 7-5 or worse).
But let's just say that, looking at the layout of the schedule, another late-season collapse wouldn't be advised. (Well, it's never advised, but you know what I mean.) Of the seven best teams, two come in the first seven weeks, followed by a season-ending stretch of five in a row.
Ole Miss is one of the most fascinating teams. The Rebels should have a top-five defense again, and they have one of the most interesting sets of receivers in the country. And with three intriguing candidates, I can't worry too much about quarterback.
But the run game has been so hit-or-usually-miss, and the style of play-calling -- balance on standard downs, all pass on passing downs -- sets the QB up to strain if the run isn't efficient.
There's a bit of urgency. Never mind last year's late tumble. This is almost certainly Nkemdiche's last season, and it might be Tunsil's and Treadwell's, too. The fruits of the storied 2013 class have grown ripe, and Ole Miss' future might depend on a big year.