Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Head coach: Matt Luke (0-0, interim coach)
2016-2017 record: 5-7 overall, 2-6 SEC
Radio: 97.3 FM
Stadium: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium
Last season didn't go as planned for the University of Mississippi. The team returned star quarterback Chad Kelly and plenty of talent with early high expectations, but it didn't take long for things to sour after the Rebels blew leads against Florida State University and the University of Alabama in two of the first three games of the season. The Rebels righted the ship with back-to-back blowout wins over the University of Georgia and University of Memphis. In the middle of the season, the wheels came off when the team had three straight conference losses to the University of Arkansas, Louisiana State University and Auburn University.
Kelly injured his knee in a closer game than expected against Georgia Southern University. Then-head coach Hugh Freeze pulled the red shirt off superstar recruit Shea Patterson, who won his first college start against Texas A&M University.
Patterson couldn't keep the Rebels winning in a shocking loss to Vanderbilt University. The season ended with a blowout loss to main rival MSU.
A lingering NCAA investigation has haunted the program for nearly half a decade now. The program self-imposed a bowl ban for this year early in the offseason, which adds to the mess in Oxford.
Late in July, more gas went into the potential dumpster fire Freeze resigned six weeks before week one of the season. That forced Matt Luke into the interim head coach role. Freeze is gone, and Phil Longo is the new offensive coordinator. The offense should be good, with Patterson and wide receivers A.J. Browns and Van Jefferson leading a nice group of skilled players.
The defense looks to bounce back after struggling last season with new coordinator Wesley McGriff. Plenty of talent is on the defensive side of the ball with defensive end Marquis Haynes returning.
UM faces a lot of questions this year.
Talent won't be a problem for this team, but how will it respond to the outside noise? If the team struggles early, will the wheels come off?
How will a potential September or October meeting with the NCAA Committee on Infractions affect the players on the field? Will the NCAA allow them to transfer and be eligible right away at a new school if they bring the hammer down on UM? The team says it is all-in for the university and program, but will that be the case if the NCAA adds a year or two to the bowl ban? Will players leave even if they have to sit out to get away from sanctions?
The season should start smoothly with an opener against the University of South Alabama and the University of Tennessee, Martin. After that, things get dicey.
The Rebels have a cross-country trip to face the University of California with a week off before playing at the University of Alabama and at the Auburn University. Then the team has three home games against Vanderbilt University, Louisiana State University and the University of Arkansas. Finally, the team has a road trip to the University of Kentucky.
I wouldn't be surprised if this team won just three games or if it decided to spoil and ruin other teams' seasons. There is so much going on that it is nearly impossible to tell how this team will respond once the season starts. I'm going with my gut on this one and saying this team goes 4-8.
Sept. 2 South Alabama; Sept. 9 UT Martin; Sept. 16 @ California; Sept. 30 @ Alabama; Oct. 7 @ Auburn; Oct. 14 Vanderbilt; Oct. 21 LSU; Oct. 28 Arkansas; Nov. 4 @ Kentucky; Nov. 11 Louisiana-Lafayette; Nov. 18 Texas A&M; Nov. 23 @ MSU
Find links to the rest of JFP's 2017 College Football Preview here.