With the offseason here, we’re looking at the key questions facing each team in the SEC. Ole Miss is next on our list.
1. How will new offensive coordinator Phil Longo and quarterback Shea Patterson fit together?
Patterson's legacy began well before Longo left the FCS ranks at Sam Houston State, but now it'll be Longo's job to help Patterson become the star everyone in Oxford thinks he can be. As a freshman this season, Patterson showcased some excellent play with a limited playbook and his relatively raw collegiate skill once he earned the starting job for the final three games, but now we will really find out what his ceiling could be. Longo enjoyed some major success at the FCS level, but this is the FBS. This is the SEC. This is an Ole Miss team that went from a conference contender to 5-7 in 2016. Patterson has star written all over him, and Longo should have a lot of fun working with him.
2. How will new defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff clean up Ole Miss' defense?
As the season progressed and the defense regressed, the writing was on the wall that 2016 would be the last year for Dave Wommack as the Rebels' defensive coordinator. Ole Miss' defense ranked 100th or worse nationally in scoring, rushing and total defense in 2016. Teams averaged 6.2 yards per play overall against the Rebels, and SEC opponents got 6.5 yards per play. Injuries and a lack of firepower at linebacker really hindered Ole Miss, but the Rebels do bring back a solid core of young players. So McGriff, who helped Kevin Steele turn Auburn's defense around in 2016, is tasked with another rebuild. His expertise in the secondary will go a long way, and he has to be excited about the talent coming back along the defensive line, especially with explosive end Marquis Haynes returning. The Ole Miss defense has the talent, but it needs a lot more development in the coming months.
3. What will be Ole Miss' NCAA fate?
Head coach Hugh Freeze is tired of waiting and so is Ole Miss' administration, but at some point the NCAA will finish its investigation into Ole Miss' football program after four-plus years. The NCAA's infractions committee announced in October that it had found violations in Ole Miss' women's basketball and track and field programs but was separating its ongoing investigation into the football program after new allegations surfaced at the NFL draft with former offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil. The Ole Miss football program faces allegations of 13 NCAA violations, including eight classified as Level I, the most serious. Nine of the 13 alleged violations occurred under Freeze, including four Level I violations. Ole Miss self-imposed the loss of 11 football scholarships during a four-year period from 2015 to 2018, but the NCAA could add on to that and could levy harsher punishments if it deems appropriate. Right now, people on both sides are being quiet, but this is dragging out. This year could provide some light at the end of this dark tunnel for the program.