Ole Miss Will be the “Can’t Miss” SEC Team in 2021

Quarterback Matt Corral is off and running during Mississippi’s win over Kentucky October 3rd, 2020, in Lexington KY. BRYAN WOOLSTON/AP

The Ole Miss Rebels football team haven’t finished a season over .500 since 2015. So, I would forgive you for balking at this choice of wording for my headline. However, let me explain before you immediately write me off as a hack.

Like I said before, Ole Miss hasn’t finished above .500 since 2015. In 2020, they finished with a record of 5-5, and had to win the Outback Bowl to even get to that mark. There were however huge signs of growth and potential for a magical 2021 season.

First, the Rebels found their quarterback in Matt Corral. Corral, who is entering his redshirt junior season, flashed remarkable abilities. He finished with the sixth highest number of passing yards in a single season for an Ole Miss quarterback, broke onto the career passing yards list at number ten, and broke the school’s single game passing record.

It wasn’t all roses for Corral, as he heaved up 14 interceptions to 29 touchdowns. In three of the Rebels losses, he tossed more interceptions than touchdowns. He also threw five or more interceptions twice, at both Arkansas and LSU.

Corral also won’t have the explosive Elijah Moore to throw to this season, since he’s now playing in the NFL. However, Ole Miss hopes to make up for the loss of Moore with some familiar faces on campus. Particularly with running back Snoop Conner and wide receiver Braylon Sanders.

Conner, a Junior this season, has had two solid campaign’s already, but is looking to fully breakout. He had 421 rushing yards in 2020 and added eight scores on the ground. For Braylon Sanders, he’s hoping to put up numbers that more closely resemble Moore as last season he was the Rebels’ fifth leading receiver.

Although the most intriguing offensive weapon, outside of Corral, may be swiss army knife John Rhys Plumlee. As a freshman in 2019, Plumlee was the starting quarterback in eight games for the Rebels. In 2020, he sat behind Corral for much of the season.

In Ole Miss’ bowl game, he was put into action as a wide receiver (with the aforementioned Moore sitting out to prep for the NFL Draft. During that game, he put 73 receiving yards. That doesn’t sound all that impressive, but this was Plumlee’s first real game as a receiver. Which means he put up those numbers on ability alone.

Plumlee being able to get his hands on the rock in any way possible can only benefit Kiffin’s offense. The Rebels offense put up 39.2 points per game in 2020, good for 14th best in the country. Unfortunately, they also gave up 38.3 points per game, which explains the record despite a high octane offense.

So, is their defense improved over last season? Well, it’s tough to say. Ole Miss does have some bright spots on defense. former Georgia safety Otis Reese only played three games for the rebels, but did put up good numbers with 24 tackles, an interception and a pass breakup. It’s a small sample size, but if he maintains that pace, he’s got potential to earn some honors.

It is also the second season for co-defensive coordinators D.J. Durkin and Chris Partridge. So, perhaps their scheme will truly come together in year two with some returning experience. If Corrall and the offense can keep the turnovers low, they may be able to help their defense significantly.

Now, back to the headline. I’ll admit, I am baiting a bit by calling Ole Miss “Can’t Miss.” However, I think they have a good chance to be the rising team in the SEC, and by extension the NCAA, this season. 2020 was a strange season and we didn’t see Lane Kiffin’s offense running full bore yet. If the Rebels can keep the points allowed to under 30, they could be in talks for the College Football Playoffs. Either way though, they will be one of the best teams to watch in college football in 2021, or at least their offense will be.