Ole Miss has lost a boatload of talent to the NFL but that won’t stop head coach Hugh Freeze and the Rebels from competing for the SEC West crown this fall. While Ole Miss will be relatively inexperienced on both sides of the ball, the coaching staff has done an excellent job of stockpiling talent over the past few seasons. It may take a few games, but Ole Miss should still be a factor when it’s all said and done.
The schedule doesn’t do Ole Miss any favors though. Honestly, the Rebels may have the toughest schedule in the country. For starters, Ole Miss resides in the SEC West, and this year’s road slate includes trips to Fayetteville, Baton Rouge and College Station. Additionally, the Rebels have challenging home games against Alabama and Georgia. All that comes after opening the season in Orlando against a team many consider to be No. 1 in the nation — Florida State.
Here is a look at Ole Miss’ 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to toughest:
12. Sept. 10 vs. Wofford
This is really the only “gimme” on Ole Miss’ schedule. Wofford is coming off a 5-6 season in the FCS’ Southern Conference. The Terriers did suffer a few close losses, so they have proven to be competitive. But against ACC powerhouse Clemson, Wofford fell 49-10. With a physically imposing roster, Ole Miss should be able to get through this one without too much trouble.
11. Oct. 1 vs. Memphis
Last year, Ole Miss lost to Memphis 37-24. It came as a bit of a shock to most people. However, things are totally different coming into this season. The Tigers lost their head coach, Justin Fuente, to Virginia Tech, as well as their star quarterback, Paxton Lynch, to the Denver Broncos. This year’s Memphis squad likely will take a step back. The Rebels should be alright with this game in Oxford.
10. Nov. 5 vs. Georgia Southern
It’s actually a different non-Power Five opponent Ole Miss will have to worry most about. Georgia Southern, out of the Sun Belt Conference, finished 2015 on a hot streak, winning four of its last six. That stretch included a decisive, 58-27 bowl victory over Bowling Green, as well as a close overtime loss at Georgia. The Eagles return an experienced quarterback and one of the Sun Belt’s best running backs in Matt Breida.
9. Nov. 19 at Vanderbilt
This game certainly won’t be easy. The Commodores may have one of the SEC’s strongest defenses headed into the fall. But while Vandy should be solid at stopping the run, it remains to be seen whether the secondary will be able to stop Chad Kelly and the Rebels’ receivers. Vanderbilt could be extra hungry for this one as well. The Commodores may be inching toward bowl eligibility.
8. Oct. 29 vs. Auburn
One thing we know about the Auburn-Ole Miss series under the leadership of Freeze and Gus Malzahn is that this game is always close. Over the last three years, these games have been decided by less than a touchdown on average. Even last year, in a not-so-great year for Auburn, the Tigers gave Ole Miss all it wanted. But even with quite a bit of roster turnover, the Rebels should still be favored this time around.
7. Nov. 26 vs. Mississippi State
Without a doubt, Freeze has gotten the best of Dan Mullen in the Egg Bowl in his four years at Ole Miss. The Rebels have won three of the last four meetings in this series, and each game has been decided by double digits. You never know what can happen during rivalry week, but if the trend continues, Mississippi State will have work to do in keeping up on the scoreboard – especially without Dak Prescott.
6. Oct. 15 at Arkansas
If there was one team the Rebels could vote to get rid of on the schedule, it might very well be Arkansas. The pesky Razorbacks have toppled Ole Miss in each of the past two seasons, winning 30-0 two years ago in Fayetteville, then 53-52 in a wild finish in Oxford last year. If Ole Miss wants to win the SEC West, it will have to win key games such as this one down the stretch.
5. Nov. 12 at Texas A&M
There are plenty of question marks surrounding Texas A&M in what could be a pivotal year for head coach Kevin Sumlin. It appears that the defense will be vastly improved under coordinator John Chavis, but what will the Aggies get from Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight at quarterback? Ole Miss handled A&M last year in Oxford, 23-3, but don’t bet your mortgage on the Aggies going without a touchdown again – especially in College Station.
4. Sept. 24 vs. Georgia
Ole Miss has an unreasonably-tough September, with three of its first four games being against ranked teams. With that said, Georgia will have major concerns in the running game if Nick Chubb and Sony Michel aren’t at full strength by week four. The Rebels definitely have an advantage at quarterback in this game but it should still be a stiff challenge against the Bulldogs. This comes just one week after what likely will be a slugfest against Alabama.
3. Sept. 17 vs. Alabama
Speaking of Alabama, if any team has the Tide’s number, it’s Ole Miss. The Rebels have won two in a row against Alabama and regardless of what Nick Saban says to the media about his “process,” this game is lurking on the mind of his players. There is absolutely no doubt that everyone who loves the Crimson Tide has this one circled on the calendar. If it’s anything like the last two, it’s going to be fun to watch. Maybe Katy Perry will show up again.
2. Sept. 5 vs. Florida State (Orlando, Fla.)
You know your schedule is brutal when Alabama is your third-toughest opponent. But Florida State is built just like an SEC team, and from a top-to-bottom talent standpoint, the Seminoles are just as stacked as Alabama this year. There is a reason many have FSU ranked No. 1 in the country in the preseason. Not to mention, this game will be played Labor Day night in the Sunshine State. It will be more like a home game for Florida State than a neutral site game. That’s a tough way for the inexperienced Rebels to open the season.
1. Oct. 22 at LSU
The Rebels have to travel to Death Valley the week after traveling to Fayetteville to play Arkansas. That’s a tall order, especially when the Tigers get to beat up on Southern Miss the week before. Ole Miss has won two of the last three in this series, but both of those games were in Oxford. LSU head coach Les Miles has always seemed to be at his best when the odds are stacked against him, and they are stacked higher than ever. This could be a big year for Miles and the Tigers.