2016 SI college football preseason Top 25 team preview: No. 19 Ole Miss
- Quarterback Chad Kelly leads an Ole Miss team that lost two first-round picks, but should again be a threat in the SEC West.
Key returning starters: QB Chad Kelly, TE Evan Engram, WR Damor’ea Stringfellow, WR Quincy Adeboyejo
The Rebels have the SEC’s best returning starting quarterback in Kelly and plenty of depth at receiver to mitigate the loss of Laquon Treadwell, but the offensive line will have to prove itself. None of the three linemen listed above was a full-time starter at a single position last year.
Key returning starters: DE Fadol Brown, DE Marquis Haynes, CB Tony Bridges, Nickelback Tony Conner
To combat the lack of experience at linebacker, the Rebels grabbed graduate transfer Rommel Mageo from Oregon State. The toughest question is how will Ole Miss replace DT Robert Nkemdiche, who could capably play any position on the line. Nkemdiche did most of his damage at tackle, and sophomore Breeland Speaks and senior D.J. Jones will try to replicate that disruption.
Leader in rushing: Akeem Judd, who averaged 5.5 yards a carry in the Rebels’ final seven games—also known as the games Laremy Tunsil played—should take advantage of defenses spreading out to deal with Kelly and that loaded receiving corps.
Leader in receiving: Stringfellow. The Washington transfer averaged 14 yards a catch last season and should be Kelly’s primary target. But Engram is a matchup nightmare and three freshmen (A.J. Brown, DeKaylin Metcalf and Tre Nixon) could also contribute.
Leader in sacks: Haynes. He led the Rebels with 10 sacks in ’15.
Leader in interceptions: Bridges. The senior corner could be the beneficiary if Haynes and company force opposing QBs into bad throws.
Opposing coach's take
“They try to spread you out to make you think pass, pass, pass, but they’re a run-first team—it’s all smoke and mirrors. You want to hit [senior] Chad Kelly because he’s not just a running quarterback; as he’s running, he’s always looking downfield. And he’s got good receivers—Laquon Treadwell wasn’t the only guy they had. Damore’ea Stringfellow is big and physical. Evan Engram is a tight end, but he’d be a receiver at a lot of other places. That makes him tough to cover. So when Kelly is running around behind the line of scrimmage, your cover guys have got to keep covering. Your linemen have to keep their feet on the ground and not go for the pump fake. If you get a chance to hit him, you’ve got to make him think about running again.
On defense they’ll get after your ass. They’re faster than Alabama. Where Bama will just play you straight up, Ole Miss will run a lot of stunts and twists on their line because those guys move so well. Their rotation guys at tackle were pretty good last year, but this year they’ll have to make up for not having Robert Nkemdiche. [Junior end] Marquis Haynes is really fast off the edge. And getting [senior] safety Tony Conner back [from a right meniscus tear] is huge. He makes plays everywhere.”
When the Rebels signed the nation’s top-ranked offensive tackle recruit in 2013, Laremy Tunsil, he started on the left side immediately. Now the No. 1 tackle from the class of ’16, 6' 6", 326-pound Greg Little, is poised to succeed Tunsil. If Little doesn’t line up at left tackle for the season opener, he’ll probably be starting on the right side.
8: Returning starters (three on offense, five on defense), the fewest of any SEC team.
0: Thousand-yard rushers since 2009; senior Akeem Judd (421 yards, 5.5 yards per carry) and junior Jordan Wilkins (379, 5.3) will try to end the streak this year.
16–1: Quarterback Chad Kelly's preseason Heisman odds. As a junior he threw for 4,402 yards, with 31 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
108: Points by which the Rebels outscored foes in the first quarter in '15 (147–39)
14: Yards per catch in 2015 for receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow, a junior who has to replace the departed Laquon Treadwell (1,153 yards), who was the No. 23 pick.
|Sept. 5||Florida State (in Orlando)|
|Oct. 15||at Arkansas|
|Oct. 22||at LSU|
|Nov. 5||Georgia Southern|
|Nov. 12||at Texas A&M|
|Nov. 19||at Vanderbilt|
|Nov. 26||Mississippi State|
Top 25 rankings
|24||San Diego State|