Perhaps the most interesting thing to speculate about concerning this season for the Ole Miss Rebels is whether the wins will ultimately count in history. There is so much turmoil and scandal surrounding this team that any punishment possible could conceivably come down. There is also the possibility that head coach Hugh Freeze could face a suspension at some point this season - a first for a coach since the rules were changed and coaches can now be suspended for NCAA violations under their watch. Chaos reigns in Oxford, and it could be a distraction for this team. Are they good enough to overcome it and put together a strong season?
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One thing this team has lacked, and has hopefully worked on, is institutional stamina. The last two years they have jumped out of the gate and made big statements early, but they have faded down the stretch. This team, remember, boasts two straight wins against Alabama and has been highly-ranked early on both times, yet they have ultimately won just nine and 10 games the last two years. That's obviously not horrible, but they need to do better if they want to go from a team that recruits very (suspiciously) well to one that is an elite contender.
Key Additions and Departures
The offensive line is scary right now - and not scary good. Chad Kelly is the best QB in the SEC by a wide margin, but he will not be able to maximize his advantage if he can't be protected. Laremy Tunsil left in the draft, and three other offensive line starters are gone as well. Replacing Tunsil at left tackle will likely fall to Greg Little. His upside is massive - he was the second overall ranked recruit last year. He's a true freshman, though, and starting one of those at left tackle is harrowing no matter how good he is. Starting him on a very raw line is potentially terrifying. The season for this team will be made or broken by how quickly the line can come together.
The team also needs to find a way to replace all-World receiver Laquon Treadwell, now with the Vikings. With Kelly under center, though, that task isn't nearly as daunting as it could be.
The losses on the defensive line weren't as big as they could have been - loss of talent is outweighed by the loss of the distraction - so this defensive line should be very solid. The middle linebacker position is a real concern, and they will be hoping they struck gold with some desperation juco and grad transfer additions. Safety also saw both starters depart, but they have depth in hand and should be fine there.
Ole Miss Rebels Schedule Analysis
Only Oklahoma plays as tough an early schedule amongst the top contenders as the Rebels do. It's really ugly. They open with Florida State at a neutral site. Then they have a joke of a game against Wofford, but they can't rest because Alabama and Georgia come into town the next two weeks. Ouch. They then get a bit of a reprieve with Memphis followed by a bye, but then it gets rough again with back-to-back trips to Arkansas and LSU. If they survive that, though - and that is far from guaranteed - then they can coast home because their last five games are much easier than they have been in recent years. Still, though, it's not tough to imagine them winding up with four losses in their first seven games. This is far from the ideal schedule to break in a new offensive line with.
2016-17 Ole Miss Betting Odds and Trends
Bovada has the Rebels at +2500 to win the national title, which makes them the 10th choice. They are the fifth choice to win the SEC at +1000 and the fourth choice to win the SEC West at +1200. Interesting that the odds suggest they are less likely to win the West than the conference - you really can't win one without the other. I see no value there anywhere.
The team was solid to bet on last year. They were 8-5 ATS and went "under" the total in nine of their 13 games.
2016-17 Ole Miss Predictions and College Football Picks
The offensive line disqualifies this team from earning real respect in my eyes - at least against a front-loaded schedule like this. Add in the potential distraction of the looming NCAA investigation and punishment, and you have a team that could suffer. A record of 8-4 is a baseline for this team in my eyes - better than that and their season has been solid. I am not truly optimistic. If I was Chad Kelly I would be mourning the lost potential my college career has been filled with.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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