Five Burning Questions for Ole Miss Football as Opening Week Looms
Opening week sits exactly one week from the time the story goes live.
The new look Ole Miss Rebels and head coach Lane Kiffin get a little visit from their old friend Dan Mullen to open the year, as the Rebels host Florida in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium to open the season.
Anytime you have a new coaching staff, opening week comes with questions. That has never been more of the case than in 2020, when new staffs have so much more than football on their plates.
There's so much unknown to start the 2020 season for Ole Miss, but these are the five questions that either a) we will have a better idea of in one week or b) need answered as the season gets under way against Florida.
1. How will Ole Miss utilize John Rhys Plumlee?
It's not official, but anyone who's followed training camp over the past few weeks knows that Matt Corral will more than likely be the Ole Miss starting quarterback when the season kicks off.
That doesn't mean John Rhys Plumlee won't see the field. Plumlee is too good of a weapon to be squandered as simply the QB2 – he's going to see the field in some regard.
My guess? I'd use Plumlee as a redzone weapon inside the ten. As I predicted in our 'bold predictions' episode of this week's Behind Enemy Sidelines, I wouldn't be surprised at all if Plumlee leads the team in rushing touchdowns despite not being the staring quarterback.
2. Who will start on the defensive line and in the secondary?
Ole Miss did not return a single starter on last year's defensive line, but there is some returning talent. The secondary, which struggled in 2019, returns much of their production, but is also experiencing some shakeups under the new defensive staff.
The Ole Miss linebacker corps is set – Lakia Henry, Jacquez Jones and MoMo Sanogo are going to play a ton of snaps this year. But there's a lot of questions as to who will be in front and behind them.
We'll get into more specifics with these two position groups when we predict the depth chart coming on Monday, but anticipate a healthy crop of fresh faces mixed with returning veterans.
3. How many true freshman see legitimate amounts of playing time?
There's literally no redshirting in 2020. Because of COVID-19, this is essentially a free year for everyone. So quite literally anyone who the Ole Miss staff thinks can help them win will play, and true freshman won't be limited to four games before burning a theoretical redshirt.
One name that I 100-percent anticipate playing a good bit is running back Henry Parrish Jr. Obviously, it's Jerrion Ealy's backfield, but I'd bet Parrish is the No. 2 by year's end. Elsewhere, look at fellow true freshmen Demon Clowney (EDGE), Marc Britt (DB), Eli Acker (OL) and Lakevias Daniel (DB) to make an impact early.
4. Who can raise their draft stock and maybe leave early in 2021?
Ole Miss had no one drafted in 2020. That's a problem. But it's one this team should be able to avoid.
The most obvious Rebel that could leave early for the 2021 draft is Elijah Moore, who's already viewed as one of the top five slot receivers in the draft. Defensively, that guy is Sam Williams, who returns after leading Ole Miss in sacks, quarterback hurries and tackles for loss as a junior. Could Williams or Moore elevate themselves to second or even first round picks?
Other guys who could really elevate their draft stock in this season, to the point where maybe they'd even leave early if not seniors, are Ben Brown, Kenny Yeboah, and that trio of middle linebackers mentioned earlier.
5. Can Ole Miss score enough to keep it close?
This is the big Florida specific question. If you look back to the SI Preseason Predictions last month, I have Florida winning the east and Kyle Trask as my First Team All-SEC Quarterback. In my mind, if Dan Mullen can't do it with this Florida team, it's never going to happen for them in Gainesville.
So how close will this game be? Vegas has the line at Florida -11.0 at the time of publishing. I anticipate the Gators to be able to move the ball on Ole Miss, meaning the Ole Miss offense is going to have to score to keep up.
There's no freebees in 2020; there's no early non-conference game to get in an offensive groove. Training camp was abbreviated and spring ball nonexistent. How well has this offense clicked and how much improved is Matt Corral? We're one week from finding out.