The cupboard at Ole Miss has been thoroughly replenished, but the Rebels are going to look a lot different than they did during their historic 2021 campaign.
Ole Miss won 10 regular-season games for the first time in program history last year and earned a berth in the Sugar Bowl. That feat was accomplished largely on the shoulders of seasoned veterans, with the headliners being quarterback Matt Corral and All-America defensive end Sam Williams. Corral and Williams are both in the NFL now, and the team's top four rushers, three leading receivers and top linebackers are all gone. Also departed are offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby (Oklahoma) and co-defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin (Texas A&M).
Head coach Lane Kiffin used the transfer portal to fill in the holes on both sides of the ball and did so with great success — the Rebels have a consensus top transfer class, due in no small part to the addition of quarterback Jaxson Dart. Charlie Weis Jr., who was most recently at South Florida but also worked under Kiffin at Florida Atlantic, was hired as co-offensive coordinator with passing game coordinator John David Baker. Former WKU assistant Maurice Crum will serve as co-defensive coordinator with Chris Partridge, who held the position last season.
Previewing Ole Miss' Offense for 2022
Dart played in six games for USC in 2021, throwing for 1,353 yards with nine touchdowns and five interceptions. With Corral's departure, the quarterback job comes down to him and fellow sophomore Luke Altmyer. Dart adds a running element reminiscent of Corral.
Ole Miss' top four rushers have departed — Jerrion Ealy, Snoop Conner and Corral all left early for the NFL, and Henry Parrish Jr. transferred to Miami (Fla.). That's 2,582 rushing yards gone from a year ago. Kiffin hit the transfer portal to reload the backfield, signing TCU's Zach Evans and SMU's Ulysses Bentley IV. Evans is a former five-star recruit who ran for 1,063 yards and nine touchdowns in two seasons with the Horned Frogs, while Bentley ran for 1,559 yards and 15 touchdowns in three seasons with the Mustangs.
Wide receivers Dontario Drummond and Braylon Sanders had a combined 1,577 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, and Jahcour Pearson added 392 receiving yards. All three are gone, leaving senior Jonathan Mingo as a focal point. Mingo played in only six games last season but has prior experience, having caught 61 passes for 897 yards and seven touchdowns in his career. Louisville transfer Jordan Watkins was second on the Cardinals in receiving yards (529) and touchdowns (four) in 2021 and will play a large role. UCF transfer Jaylon Robinson committed in May to give the Rebels another big-time playmaker on the outside.
The offensive line returns largely intact — albeit reshuffled — and fortified by the return of senior Nick Broeker. Broeker started the last two seasons at left tackle, opted against the NFL Draft and will play guard this year. WKU transfer Mason Brooks will start at one tackle spot, while junior Jeremy James will man the other side.
Previewing Ole Miss' Defense for 2022
Ole Miss' defense took a huge jump last season, surrendering two touchdowns less per game than the previous season in its base 3-2-6 alignment. Williams was a big reason why, setting the single-season school record with 12.5 sacks in 2021. Maryland transfer Chance Campbell filled a void at linebacker last season, as did Mark Robinson. All three are gone in 2022, and Ole Miss is particularly inexperienced in the middle.
Again, the Rebels worked the portal, nabbing three-time All-MAC linebacker Troy Brown from Central Michigan, Georgia Tech defensive end (and former four-star recruit) Jared Ivey and Auburn defensive tackle JJ Pegues. Junior defensive end Cedric Johnson (6.5 sacks in 2021) is the team's leading returner in sacks and will step into a bigger role with Williams gone. Ole Miss is the deepest it has been up front under Kiffin.
The Rebels' experience is in the secondary, where 12 players return. Starting safety AJ Finley, nickel back Otis Reese and cornerback Deantre Prince will play prominent roles. Reese made 90 tackles in 2021, and Finley led the Rebels with three interceptions to go along with 89 stops. Senior cornerback Miles Battle has bounced between offense and defense in his career but should be settled down on defense after leading Ole Miss with eight pass breakups. Iowa State transfer Isheem Young and Auburn's Ladarius Tennison should help ease the loss of starting safety Jake Springer. There's depth aplenty at safety and nickel back.
Previewing Ole Miss' Specialists for 2022
Four-year starting punter Mac Brown is gone and will be replaced by Australian juco transfer Fraser Masin. Sophomore Caden Costa was 14-of-17 on field goals last season but was ruled ineligible late last season for breaking NCAA protocol involving performance-enhancing substances. He was practicing with the team in the spring, though the status of his appeal remains unknown. Charlotte's Jonathan Cruz has since committed to the program via the transfer portal.
Ole Miss lost 11 starters from last year's team but reloaded as well as anyone through the transfer portal. Corral had a lot on his plate last season, and the winner of the quarterback derby will go a long way in determining whether or not the Rebels take a step back in 2022. Top to bottom, however, this year's roster is about as talented as the 2021 edition because of the additions. It should be another strong season in Oxford.
National Ranking: 28
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