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Ole Miss had an interesting first season under head coach Lane Kiffin. The team finished with a 5-5 record, but they were competitive in most of those losses, including the one against the eventual national champions — Alabama.
In fact, you could argue the Rebels gave the Crimson Tide its toughest test of the season. Even against Florida in the SEC championship, very few people legitimately felt like the Gators were going to come out victorious.
The Ole Miss offense and the defense were polar opposites of each other. The offense ranked first in the SEC in total offense (555.5 yards per game), but the defense ranked dead last in total yards allowed (519 yards). So what about next season?
OutKick has been going through and breaking down the offseason outlooks for all 14 SEC teams. We’ve now crossed the halfway point of teams covered, and it’s the Rebels’ turn for a deeper dive.
For other offseason outlooks from around the SEC, click here.
Key Losses: WR Elijah Moore; TE Kenny Yeboah; RT Royce Newman; EDGE Ryder Anderson
Key Returning: QB Matt Corral; RB Jerrion Ealy; RB Snoop Conner; WR Dontario Drummond; WR Jonathan Mingo; UTIL John Rhys Plumlee; OG Jeremy James; C Ben Brown; EDGE Sam Williams; S A.J. Finley; S Otis Reese; CB Miles Battle; LB MoMo Sanogo; LB Lakia Henry; OC Jeff Lebby
Key Additions: TE Tywone Malone (4-star); WR Bralon Brown (4); QB Luke Altmyer (4); TE Hudson Wolfe (4); S Tysheem Johnson (4); S Dink Jackson (4); CB Markevious Brown (4); ILB Chance Campbell (TP, MARY); WR Jahcour Pearson (TP, WKU)
Key Games: at Alabama (Oct. 2); vs. Arkansas (Oct. 9); vs. LSU (Oct. 23); at Auburn (Oct. 30); vs. Texas A&M (Nov. 13); at Miss State (Nov. 27)
Outlook: The Ole Miss offense took a big hit prior to playing a top-10 Indiana team in the Outback Bowl. The team’s two leading receivers, Elijah Moore and Kenny Yeboah, both opted out in order to shift focus towards the NFL draft.
That was almost half of the receiving production, and top running back Jerrion Ealy dealt with multiple injuries in the game.
So what happened? Well, the 4-5 Rebels won 26-20 anyways. It wasn’t their normal offensive production, but close to 500 yards of offense with a solid yards-per-play and third-down conversion rate is respectable. The point? The offense can withstand the loss of playmakers.
Kiffin’s second-year success is going to depend on the improvement of the defense. The “we’re just going to have to outscore them” approach can work (ask Oklahoma), but things will really begin to click if the defense can learn to get those one or two stops needed to create separation.
Will that happen in 2021? It’s doubtful, but possible.
A significant majority of the defensive starters return in D.J. Durkin’s second season as defensive coordinator. Plus, he’s adding honorable mention All-Big Ten linebacker and former Maryland starter Chance Campbell. The team was already in good shape at that spot, but he’ll certainly add to the depth and leadership.
Looking at the schedule, it’s tough to predict how Ole Miss finishes. There isn’t a game on the schedule that I would say is a guaranteed loss. And yes, that even includes Alabama. It doesn’t mean they’ll win all those games, though.
With non-conference games being added back to the schedule, I’m going to take a leap of faith and say Kiffin and company go 8-4. Keep in mind, I’m making this prediction in February. There is so much that can — and will change — so don’t hold me to that. But I like their chances for a decent leap forward.
Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.