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Scouting Ole Miss

Pat Dooley
Gator Sports
New Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin isn't promising a repeat of his near-instant turnaround at Florida Atlantic. This time he inherits a Rebels team coming off a 4-8 season and playing in likely the most brutal gauntlet in college football, the Southeastern Conference Western Division. With the challenges of trying to field a football team during the COVID-19 pandemic added to the mix.

Ole Miss Rebels

When: Noon Sept. 26 on ESPN

Where: Vaught Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, Miss.

Last year: Ole Miss played a lot of teams close — losing five games by eight points or less — but it still finished with a 4-8 record, 2-6 in the SEC. Elijah Moore caught the first and last touchdown passes of the season, but it was what happened after the last one that changed the direction of the program. Moore simulated a dog relieving himself on a fire hydrant in the end zone and the ensuing penalty forced a missed extra point that lost the Egg Bowl to Mississippi  State. Head coach Matt Luke was let go after guiding the Rebels through the wasteland of NCAA probation.

Outlook for 2020: This is still a program reeling from the restrictions and stigma of the NCAA issues — along with the social justice issues that have plagued the program. There is talent for new coach Lane Kiffin to work with and this is an offense that finished second in the SEC in rushing last season. But can Ole Miss stop anybody? The Rebels were 12th in conference play in total defense and former UF assistant D.J. Durkin will be co-defensive coordinator. The schedule was front-loaded, but now it appears to be more back-loaded with A&M, the Egg Bowl and LSU to close out the season.

Best offensive player: Because the quarterback situation is still a mystery, you have to go back to Moore, who was the best threat in the passing game last year. He had 67 catches and was fifth in the SEC in catches per game despite being the one guy his quarterbacks could count on. Moore figures to flourish in the Kiffin attack.

Best defensive player: MoMo Sanogo was a force in 2018 when he had 112 tackles and was fifth in the SEC. An ankle injury cut his season short last year and the loss hit the Ole Miss defense hard. If this middle linebacker can stay healthy, he could be an All-SEC performer this season.

Fun fact: The last time Florida opened the season with Ole Miss, it did not go well. The Gators lost 24-19 in Gainesville in a game where Florida basically handed it away. Florida had 25 first downs to nine for Ole Miss, but two Kyle Morris interceptions and a bad pitch that was fumbled negated a 177-yard rushing performance by Emmitt Smith. Morris was booed unmercifully by the home crowd.

Quote: "I think this team will get better as the season goes on. That's what Lane's teams did at Florida Atlantic. They will probably start slow because of no spring and not your regular fall camp, but I think you'll see them improve. They'd be fortunate to make a bowl game, but it's not an SEC football team right now." — Richard Cross, Ole Miss sideline report.