While many teams list Kentucky as their go-to sleeper team, I’ve already expressed my doubts about the Wildcats. Allow you to introduce you to my favorite SEC sleeper – the Ole Miss Rebels. Backed by head coach and Saban prodigy Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss returns a dynamic dual-threat signal-caller and their top receiver and could be a pretty scary offense in 2020.
Top Returners: John Rhys Plumlee, Sam Williams (or Lakia Henry)
My confidence in Ole Miss was shaken slightly with the recent suspension of Williams due to sexual battery charges, reported on July 26. If Williams plays, he will be the on-field leader for the Rebels, having piled up six sacks, an interception, and 38 tackles (9.5 for loss). If he’s not, some question marks arise, but Lakia Henry is another valuable piece on the defense after the former JUCO linebacker recorded 87 tackles and a sack last season, serving primarily as an effective run stopper for Ole Miss. However, while these players are good, the defense was not the reason I became high on the Rebels.
The SEC doesn’t have a most-improved player, or a breakout player, of the year award, but if they did, I would put my money on John Rhys Plumlee. As a freshman, Plumlee had his struggles at time, and I wouldn’t suggest he was near the top of the freshman quarterback starters, but he may just be the most dynamic quarterback in the conference. He led the Rebels with 1023 yards rushing and did so in just 8 games. He was responsible for posting 37 points on LSU’s championship defense, running for 212 yards and four TDs against the Tigers. If he becomes more polished in the passing game, Ole Miss could do some damage.
Biggest Concerns: Pass Rush
Benito Jones is gone, bringing with him his 5.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Can Ole Miss replace that production in 2020? What is Sam Williams’ indefinite suspension remains indefinite? And third-leading sack leader Charles Wiley remains in the transfer portal? Ole Miss could have a real hard time stopping some of these explosive offenses we’re bound to see in the SEC.
X-Factors: Jacquez Jones
Jacquez Jones will absolutely need to step up his production in order for the Rebels to make moves in 2020. He put forth a solid 2019 season with 71 tackles and 7.5 for loss, to go with two sacks. With the aforementioned questions regarding their pass rush, Ole Miss needs Jones to be firing on all cylinders and ready to be a game-changing force on the defensive line.
SEC Record Prediction: 5-3
Again, this is a risky prediction, but picks aren’t fun if you just go off of chalk and last year’s rankings. I believe that, under Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss is a team on the rise. Give me Ole Miss setting the tone with a home win versus Auburn in their SEC opener. They’ll beat Arkansas and Vanderbilt with no problem and should take back the Egg Bowl after Elijah Moore’s dog-pee fiasco last year. That’s four wins right there, and I like them to secure a home upset against the Florida Gators to polish it off. It’s bold. But safe picks are boring. Watch out for the Rebels.