Ole Miss football outlook for the 2016 season. With the Laremy Tunsil controversy, the scrutiny, and the loss of several superstar talents, can Hugh Freeze rebuild and improve?
Congratulations, Ole Miss. You’re 2012 & 2013 Texas A&M, only without Johnny Manziel, and with one extra win over Alabama.
And with a potential whale of a problem on your hands.
Hugh Freeze might have made the program a player in the SEC West, and he might have gotten it to two straight massive bowl games thanks to an epic recruiting class of a few years ago, but like those Aggie teams with Mr. Football at the helm, there weren’t any SEC championships, there weren’t any division titles, and the Crimson Tide ended up in Atlanta taking confetti showers.
That doesn’t dismiss anything that’s happened for Ole Miss over the last two seasons, but now Freeze and his team have to prove they can build off the recent success while under the cloud of a possible NCAA investigation following Laremy Tunsil’s draft night quip – along with his hacked Instagram account – alleging he was paid by a coach.
But the program is going on, business as usual.
Freeze has come up with some strong recruiting classes to build off the success of the epic haul of Robert Nkemdiche, Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell, and others. There’s a good chance the Rebels don’t go downhill in any way, at least in terms of talent. Can it still be a bit of a reloading year while getting better?
LSU is going to be fantastic, and Arkansas is going to be solid, but Alabama is rebuilding as much as Alabama might have to, Texas A&M is still figuring it all out, and Mississippi State is Mississippi State. The opportunity is there right now for the Rebels to rise up – frightfully sorry for that phrase – and take the division title with a team coming back that might be just good enough to do it.
Of course it’s not going to be easy to be better without a slew of future NFL starters, four starters gone off the O line, two new safeties, a few new linebackers, and depth issues at certain spots, but that’s life as a good SEC team. Every year you’re going to have to replace great players, and every year others in the league – especially in the SEC West – are going to be terrific. Reloading is part of the deal, and with some good recent recruiting classes to build around some terrific players already in place, Freeze might be able to crank out one of his best seasons yet.
As good as the last two years were, among his superstars were key suspensions, catastrophic injuries, and too much inconsistency from the team overall – who gives up 38 points to that Florida offense and gets cranked by Memphis last year and get blown out like it did at the end of 2014 like that in two of the last three games? – but now there might be a chip on this team’s shoulder that could translate into a fantastic year.
Chad Kelly is growing into a good pro prospect of a quarterback, Evan Engram should be one of the first tight ends taken in next year’s draft, and there are plenty of talented young receivers to help replace Treadwell. The offensive line? That’ll be the work in progress.
The defense is going to be very fast, very athletic, and occasionally dominant with more than enough from the recent recruiting classes to make up for the losses. Will it be good enough to take the SEC West and be better than the last two teams that couldn’t get it done? Probably not, but if the others slip, and the opportunity will be there, the Rebels might be able to get just the right breaks to get it done.
Freeze has been able to get Ole Miss in the discussion, and he’s been able to put the program in a position to succeed. This year will show if the staying power is there.