Ole Miss is an interesting team to watch in 2022.
Coming off of their best season in program history, the Rebels are having to replace loads of departed talent. With seemingly the entire SEC West (excluding Auburn) on the rise, Ole Miss had to act fast and reload through the portal. Lane Kiffin made sure the cupboard was replenished this offseason, nabbing 17 players this offseason.
The Tigers get the Rebs at the midway point of the season in Oxford. The cards could fall several ways for both of these teams, but if Auburn can exceed expectations through the first half of their schedule, this has the potential to be a top 25 matchup in the 'Sip.
Here's a look at what Ole Miss is working with at each position group.
Matt Corral is gone to the NFL. Kiffin went out and got yet another five-star talent to potentially replace him in Jaxson Dart. Dart threw for 1,353 yards and nine touchdowns in six games for USC last season. He'll compete with sophomore Luke Altmyer for the starting job.
Regardless of whoever wins the competition, Ole Miss should be in good hands under center. Kiffin will make sure of it.
Running Back: B+
Ole Miss lost their top four rushers from last season. To replenish the running back room, the Rebels grabbed former five-star back Zach Evans from TCU, and SMU product Ulysses Bentley IV (1,559 career rushing yards) from the portal. Those two will immediately form one of the better one-two punches in the SEC.
The Rebels ran for 217.6 yards per game last season (12th nationally) and should be expected to keep things on the ground early in the season.
Wide Receiver: B
Just like the running back room, the Rebels lose their top four players in the receiver room. Louisville transfer Jordan Watkins should be a nice compliment to Jonathan Mingo (22 receptions, 346 yards, three touchdowns), but outside of those two, there are several question marks in the core from a production standpoint.
The reason this unit is graded higher than most without experience is because the faith I have in Kiffin's ability to get the ball to his playmakers consistently. Barring serious injury, depth isn't needed for Ole Miss to rack up yards.
Offensive Line: B-
Three starters return on an offensive line that will likely feature some shuffling. Junior Caleb Warren will likely slide over from guard to center. Tackle Nick Broeker will move to left guard. WKU transfer Mason Brooks will get the nod at right tackle.
None of the Rebels from the projected starting line posted a PFF grade higher than 75.9. Mississippi allowed 34 sacks last season (97th nationally).
Offensive outlook vs Auburn:
Again, the Rebs are sort of a mystery. The offensive output from last year's squad is matchable (33.7 points per game, 492.5 total yards per game), but finding the end zone more often will be a priority for Mississippi. Ole Miss averaged 4.1 points per trip inside the opponents 40-yard line, which was 74th nationally.
There's a really good chance the Rebels are undefeated heading into this game. They play Troy, Central Arkansas, Georgia Tech, Tulsa, Kentucky and Vanderbilt before facing off against Auburn. There is plenty of time for Kiffin to work out the kinks before taking on the Tigers.
I'm not entirely sure what Ole Miss is going to lean on more this season, the talented backfield or Watkins and Mingo. I think they'll need to throw some early punches in this game. Take some chances against Auburn's secondary. Kiffin won't shy away from going for it on fourth down and it wouldn't be surprising to see some aggression early in this matchup.
The talent gap between these two teams has shrunk. Ole Miss' offensive outlook will come down to scheme and gameplan.
Defensive Line: C
Ole Miss lacks a lot of experience in the front seven. Sam Williams broke Mississippi's single-season sack record (12.5) and departed for the NFL. Cedric Johnson and KD Hill combined for 56 tackles and 6.5 sacks on the d-line last season. Kiffin brought in Georgia Tech transfer Jared Ivey and Auburn transfer JJ Pegues to fill some holes in the two-deep.
The Rebels were excellent at pass rush last season, totaling 40 sacks. Unfortunately, most of that sack production is gone. On top of that, the run was spotty (190 rushing yards allowed per game) and projects to be either similar or slightly worse in 2022.
Troy Brown (Central Michigan, All-MAC linebacker, 212 total tackles over four seasons) should be the focal point of a depleted linebacking core. Ole Miss' two-deep had a collective 40 tackles last season outside of him.
Ole Miss managed to drastically improve their defense last season, surrendering two touchdowns less per game than in 2020. However, there are several questions about how the Rebels will reload after losing players to graduation and the portal.
This is one of those positions that I am not incredibly high on.
Defensive Back: B
12 players with experience return in this secondary. AJ Finley (90 tackles) is back with a team-leading three interceptions. Otis Reese (91 tackles) also returns for a unit that finished ninth in the SEC in passing yards allowed per game (230.0). That may sound bad, but it's a huge step forward from 2020. Isheem Young (Iowa State) and Ladarius Tennison (Auburn) provide sound depth.
Expect the secondary to be a little tighter once again.
Special Teams: B-
Mac Brown, the starting punter for the last four seasons, is gone. Kicker Caden Costa was 14-of-17 on field goals in 2021 but might not be eligible for this season after breaking NCAA protocol after using performance-enhancing substances.
Ole Miss brought in Charlotte kicker Jonathan Cruz in case Costa isn't able to play.
Defensive outlook vs Auburn:
This is a defense that Auburn handled for two quarters last season. Finding a way to produce a complete product on the field isn't the goal in just this game, but in every game the Tigers play. Testing Ole Miss on the line of scrimmage may be Auburn's best play.
I wouldn't expect the Tigers to get too conservative in this game, but it's certainly possible for Auburn to operate within their means without Ole Miss providing a ton of pressure.
Not getting behind early will play a part in this.
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