Charles Sawyer could prove to be a factor for Ole Miss again on defense.
It's not mean to wonder how much Ole Miss is going to, pardon the pun, miss any of the players that won't be back this season. It's not that those players weren't good, at least relative to the other players who were taking the field in Oxford; it's that there just aren't that many of them. Seven of Ole Miss' top 10 players in terms of all-purpose yardage are back this season. So are seven of the Rebel Black Bears' top 10 tacklers. If you're looking for a reason for optimism -- and there aren't many -- the fact that the team isn't losing that much would be a good place to start.
BIGGEST RETURN | DB Charles Sawyer
The defense overall was nothing to write home about last year, but Sawyer was a bright spot. He intercepted four passes and returned them for a combined 101 yards while breaking up nine more. Sawyer also had 70 tackles, good enough for second on the team. The question this year will be the same as it was last season: How much will it matter if the rushing defense continues to give up 5.4 yards per carry and the other team doesn't need to pass that much?
BIGGEST LOSS | RB Brandon Bolden
If there is a player on offense whose absence Ole Miss is really going to notice, Bolden's a solid candidate. His 4.8 yards per carry was best among players with more than 30 attempts on the season; overall, he had 462 yards and four touchdowns, both of those numbers good for second on the team. Bolden also grabbed 14 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown -- which might not seem like a lot, but the yardage total was fifth-best for the Rebels. Bolden's production wasn't as high as it could have been due to injury; he played in 10 games and started in just four.
BREAKTHROUGH POSSIBILITY | QB Bo Wallace
Ole Miss needs a quarterback. When you're left thinking back to the halcyon days when Jevan Snead was chucking the pigskin down the field, you really need a quarterback. Enter Wallace, who has experience in Hugh Freeze's new passing attack and a relatively clear shot at the starting job. Barry Brunetti might be a solid dual-threat quarterback, but I'm not sure that Brunetti has the skill set that fits Freeze's offense. (Ole Miss attempted 313 passes last season; Arkansas State attempted 500 even.)
JUCO statistics have to be taken with a grain of salt, of course, but even if you do -- Wallace was very, very good for East Mississippi Community College. Wallace completed 336 of 502 attempts for 4,604 yards, 53 TDs -- no, that's not a typo -- and 14 interceptions. The yardage and touchdown totals are National Junior College Athletic Association records. The only way Ole Miss will be competitive on offense is if Wallace is able to put up comparable numbers in the SEC.