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2021 SEC Football Season Preview: Ole Miss Rebels

The Rebels packed a punch on offense last year, and were punchless on defense. So what does 2021 have in store?

Mississippi v LSU Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

2020 at a Glance

Record: 5-5
SRS: 8.07
SOS: 7.57

2021 Schedule

(All times are Eastern)

9/6: Louisville (8 p.m., ESPN)
9/11: Austin Peay (7:30 p.m., ESPN+/SEC Network+)
9/18: Tulane (8 p.m., ESPN+)
10/2: at Alabama
10/9: Arkansas
10/16: at Tennessee
10/23: LSU
10/30: at Auburn
11/6: Liberty
11/13: Texas A&M
11/20: Vanderbilt
11/25: at Mississippi State (7:30 p.m., ESPN)

Overview

Year 1 under Lane Kiffin for the Ole Miss Rebels was about where everyone thought it would be. After three seasons under Matt Luke that saw the Rebels go 15-21, Kiffin oversaw a squad that went an even 5-5 on the season. The offense looked great at times, and the defense... well, it was lacking to say the very least. They gave up a whopping 383 points, which put them 118th out of the 128 FBS squads in PPG.

The complete opposite happened on offense, as the team scored 392 points, good for an average that ranked them all the way up at 14th in the nation. Matt Corral stood out at quarterback, as the former Florida Gators commit really came into his own. This wasn’t too surprising given Kiffin’s strengths as a coach. His offenses are typically very robust, and his first year in Oxford showed that particular trajectory was not going off course.

Last year’s shortened season saw them rack up just two road wins against the likes of Kentucky and Vanderbilt. They went 2-3 in their home games, and we’re sure that many Rebel fans were happy that one of those two wins came at the expense of rival Mississippi State. They capped off the year with an impressive 26-20 win over the Indiana Hoosiers in the Outback Bowl. That IU team was pretty rock solid and gave Ole Miss fans a reason to be happy to start 2021 off.

As they walk into the 2021 season, Ole Miss has a pretty favorable schedule. No, it does not help matters that they have to go to Tuscaloosa or the plains, but they do host LSU and Texas A&M at Vaught-Hemingway. Additionally, their premiere nonconference game against Louisville is at a neutral site out in Atlanta. Will this all play out in their favor? Ole Miss is a very intriguing team because of their dynamite offense... but it will likely come down to that defense. And if that’s the case, more of the same may be expected in Oxford this year.

Biggest Questions

Thanks to Zach Berry of Red Cup Rebellion for answering our questions!

Matt Corral emerged as one of the more intriguing quarterbacks in the truncated 2020 season. What do you think he has in store for an encore in 2021?

Zach Berry

Early reports from fall camp and sources around the program say that Matt Corral has a laser-type focus about him this year. He has been incredibly meticulous with his preparation from everything from the film room to the weightroom. I expect a quarterback that is, for lack of a better term, out for blood in 2021. There are some pundits (we still don’t know why) that question his arm strength and hold the Arkansas and LSU games against him. This year is one that is going to have an enormous chip on its proverbial shoulder. Both Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby have praised him since the start of fall camp and I expect him to have a big year.

The defense was an obvious weak spot in 2020. Based on any and everything that you’ve heard, should Ole Miss fans expect improvement, decline, or just about the same?

Zach Berry:

I typically lean towards the notion that returning bad experience does not equal improvement. The defense was awful last year. The Rebels finished 107th in Bill Connelly’s SP+ rankings a year ago and were THE liability that kept them from two or three more games in 2020. With all that said, they have added a few impact transfers in Maryland’s Chance Campbell and Navy’s Jake Springer and they will have former Georgia transfer Otis Reese for the entire season. Along with that, there are a few incoming freshmen in the secondary that they are excited about and it allows them to rotate more players on the back end, keeping them more fresh in these track meet-style games. I don’t think they’ll be as bad as they were a year ago and with Corral and the offense doing what they do, if they show the slightest bit of improvement, this team could be very dangerous.

Are there any players you expect to break out this year?

Zach Berry:

Lots of buzz about Braylon Sanders and Dontario Drummond at wide receiver. Both were instrumental in the passing game in 2020, but I am going to go to the running back room for this one. Sophomore Henry Parrish closed out the 2020 season emphatically with strong showings against LSU and Indiana. The former four-star could be used a lot more this year if the offense is forced to utilize preseason All-SEC selection Jerrion Ealy in the slot. Parrish has a similar game to Ealy and is very versatile, running hard between the tackles and having the home run speed to make you whiff in space. He is also a weapon in the passing game, sneaking out of the backfield for screens and being a reliable checkdown for Corral when looking to move the chains.

Projection

Christopher Novak: This team is so interesting to me. There’s a ton of firepower on offense, and Lane Kiffin's offenses should not be doubted at this point. Matt Corral is amongst the elite QBs in the SEC, and may well have a run at being the best. As Zach said though, there is plenty of depth on defense to give credence to the belief that maybe they’re able to have better stamina for the style of play they have. I fully expect a 3-0 start for Ole Miss and, in their best-case scenario, 5-1 going into the LSU game. This team might really surprise a lot of people. I’m going to say 8-4, with a chance if everything goes right, to go 9-3.

Zach Berry: Even without second-round pick Elijah Moore and tight end Kenny Yeboah, I think the offense has a chance to be even better. The offensive line has a ton of talent and returns a ton of experience. The running game led the SEC in yards a season ago and returns everyone. That combined with enhanced depth on defense and the best quarterback in the conference in year two of the offense bodes well for a team that, if they stay healthy, has a real chance to win eight or nine games.