Over the course of the next several weeks, the SoBros Network crew will be going around the landscape of the SEC, team by team, previewing the upcoming American tackle football season. Up next, our 2020 Ole Miss preview!
2020 OLE MISS PREVIEW
Christmas came a few weeks early last year for the residents of Oxford, MS when it was announced that Lane Kiffin would be bringing his talents from south Florida back to the SEC. This time, the former University of Tennessee head coach will be in charge of the Ole Miss Rebels. Kiffin brings a newfound confidence to the Rebels after having losing records in three of the last four years.
Before agreeing to coach the Rebels, Kiffin led the Florida Atlantic Owls to a 26-13 record over three seasons, not including a 50-3 win over Akron in the Boca Raton Bowl. Ole Miss recorded a 4-8 win/loss record in 2019 with five of those loses by eight points or less. The Rebels proved they could play close, tough games and with the addition of Kiffin at the helm, there is hope in the Grove that Ole Miss could turn the corner quicker than expected.
The offensive coaching side will be full of young and upcoming coaches led by new OC Jeff Lebby. The 36 year old Lebby was lured away from the University of Central Florida by Kiffin after spending time there as the Golden Knights OC and QB coach. UCF’s offense ranked fifth in total offense in 2019, which should ring positive for the Rebs as they return a hefty part of their offense in 2020.
The Rebels will look to run a Rich Rodriguez-style spread attack while looking for more efficiency in the passing game to complement a running game that ranked ninth in the nation last year. Returning QB and leading rusher John Rhys Plumlee led the SEC with 113 yards per game rushing, but completed a rather disappointing 52.7% of passes. The starting QB job should be Plumlee’s to lose and if he struggles early, redshirt sophomore Matt Corral is waiting in the wings, ready to take control of the offense.
Home-run threat Jerrion Ealy returns after collecting 894 yards and eight touchdowns rushing and receiving collectively. The 2019 SEC All-Freshman Team member looks to add to the successful rookie campaign despite the move to throw the ball more by Kiffin. Ealy caught 20 passes last year, proving that he is trustworthy coming out of the backfield.
The offensive line returns possible all-conference Nick Broeker plus RG Ben Brown. Senior Royce Newman moves to RT after the departure of Alex Givens. The Rebels gave up the most tackles for loss last year in the SEC and must improve that stat if they are to reach a bowl game for the first time since the 2016 Sugar Bowl.
If Plumlee or Corral can stretch the field with their arm, they will have a lot of help in the WR department. There is plenty of untapped talent at WR as last year’s set of newcomers were lost in the shuffle due to Ole Miss’ run-heavy offense.
There are many more questions on the defensive side for Ole Miss to answer in 2020. The defense will be overseen by co-defensive coordinators D.J. Durkin and Chris Partridge. Both coaches are familiar with each other as they both were defensive coaches at Michigan. Durkin was most recently the head coach at Maryland, where he was accused of leading a toxic culture after the death of a player in 2018. Clearly, his behavior and coaching will be under a magnifying glass in Oxford this season.
The interior line is paper thin for the Rebels, as the coaching staff struck out on a number of prospects during the late spring signing period. A positive for the DL is the return of edge rusher Ryder Anderson. Anderson is hoping to return at the level he last played at after returning from a serious knee injury. All eyes will be on newcomer Demon Clowney, the cousin of three-time Pro Bowler Jadeveon Clowney, as he is looked upon to make an immediate impact at OLB.
Ole Miss has what could easily be the roughest opening stretch to the season of any team in the NCAA. The Rebels travel to Houston to kick off the season against Baylor with games against Auburn, LSU and Alabama to follow. Southeast Missouri follows the Baylor game as the lone bright spot of the Rebels first month in the 2020 campaign.
Ole Miss travels to Nashville to take on fellow basement-dweller Vanderbilt before hosting Florida in the Grove. The second half of the season is for the taking if the Rebels can escape the first half rather healthy. Winnable games against UConn, Arkansas, and Georgia Southern find themselves scattered among ones against Texas A&M and Mississippi State. The Egg Bowl, which was one of the most entertaining games of 2019, could be the difference between a bowl game and a winning record and another season filled of ‘what-ifs.’
Just by the addition of a head coach like Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss should be one of the more exciting teams to watch this year. If the Rebels can somehow settle on a reliable QB and come out of the first five games at least 2-3, then 2020 can bring even more accolades to the team’s new head coach. The future is very bright for Ole Miss.
2020 REBELS SCHEDULE
9/6, at Baylor(Houston) – Both teams are debuting new head coaches. Baylor has opened as a slight favorite in this game. Slight edge to the Bears as Ole Miss was winless on the road last year.
9/12, vs Southeast Missouri – The Redhawks of the FCS went 9-4 last year and will be a tough win to get for the Rebels but Lane Kiffin picks up a win in his home debut.
9/19, vs Auburn – This might be a game most think the Rebels might get steamrolled in, but let us not forget that Kiffin spent three years as a coach at Alabama and knows the Tigers very well. This will be closer than most expect and it shouldn’t be a huge surprise if Ole Miss pulls off the win at home.
9/26, at LSU – The defending National Champions welcome Ole Miss to Baton Rouge. We can skip to next week.
10/3, vs Alabama – Seriously? Who scheduled back to back blood baths? Again, let’s skip to next week.
10/10, at Vanderbilt – The Rebels will look to hopefully have enough in the tank after the first five games of the season to get a win in West End.
10/17, vs Florida – Dan Mullen brings the Gators to Oxford in hopes to put up an impressive win with voters as he hopes to bring a national title back to Gainesville.
10/24, vs UConn – UConn returns to the Big East after spending the last few years in American Athletic Conference. The Huskies should hand the Rebels a fairly easy victory heading in to their bye.
11/7, at Texas A&M – The Rebels’ only back-to-back road games of 2020 start in College Station. Jimbo Fisher coaches another top recruiting class and should be able to hold off a rested Ole Miss team in search of scarce road win.
11/14, at Arkansas – If the Rebels come in to this game with any kind of confidence, they should easily leave Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium with a W.
11/21, vs Georgia Southern – The Rebels can not afford to look past the Eagles as the Egg Bowl looms. If they have any chance at a bowl game in 2020, this is not the game to stub their toe in.
11/26, vs Mississippi State – In 2018, Ole Miss lost their last five games of the season thus missing out on a bowl game. A disappointing 35-3 loss at home to in-state rival Mississippi State was the dagger in the heart of Rebels fans that season. The Egg Bowl could once again come down to a win and in scenario for both teams. Both schools put new head coaches in the middle of an over-a-century old rivalry with Kiffin looking across the field at Mike Leach. This one is for bragging rights and a hand up in recruiting.
A lot is being asked of Coach Kiffin in his first year. No one in the state is expecting to play in Atlanta for the SEC Championship this year, but it is fair to expect a winning record from this team. Despite having a brutal first half to the year, if the Rebels can come out of it unscathed, then expecting six wins shouldn’t be a lot to ask for.
OTHER 2020 SEASON PREVIEWS
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Steven McCash is the Music Columnist for SoBros Network. He is the pioneer ofNew Music Friday, highlighting each week’s new releases in the world of music, in addition to the occasional live show review. Follow on Twitter:@MC_Cash75