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Vassallo: Strengths of Ole Miss Football Team Most Impressive

The Regions Bank Grove Bowl on April 11, 2015. Photo by Joshua McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics.
The Regions Bank Grove Bowl on April 11, 2015. Photo by Joshua McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics.

There is reason for optimism among the Rebel faithful as the 2015 chapter of Ole Miss football has a great deal to “rebel yell” about.

Let’s examine the many strengths of this year’s team starting with the defense. Last season’s defensive team led the nation in scoring defense which is no minor accomplishment. The bad news is that two All-American athletes are gone from the secondary. The good news is that this year’s unit has the ability to be as good or better. The defensive line anchored by Robert Nkemdiche is solid as a stone wall. Those supporting Robert are Victor Evans, Issac Gross, Fadol Brown, Marquis Haynes, D.J. Jones, Woodrow Hamilton and C.J. Johnson. Johnson will also see time at middle LB, but probably not so much on third downs.

In the 4-2-5 defensive alignment, Denzel Nkemdiche, Christian Russell, DeMarquis Gates and Johnson will be counted on to back up the line. The five-man secondary is loaded with talent led by AA candidate Tony Conner along with Tony Bridges, Tee Shepard, Mike Hilton, Trae Elston, Kendarius Webster, C.J. Moore and rising star C.J. Hampton. If this bunch stay healthy this could be one of the greatest defensive teams in the history of Ole Miss football. Before evaluating the offense, both kickers return with Will Gleeson as a punter and Gary Wunderlich as a placekicker. Last season Gleeson placed 24 of 58 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. Should this remain the same or improve, the defense will be playing with a major field advantage most of the time.

The offensive unit will be led by two probable AAs: Laquon Treadwell (wide receiver) and Laremy Tunsil (left tackle) who are both recovering from injuries. The offensive line has the potential to be equally as great as the defensive line. Aaron Morris (left guard), Justin Bell (right guard), Fahn Cooper (right tackle) and Ben Still (center) will join Tunsil. Others of note are Jeremy Liggins, Javon Patterson, Rod Taylor, Robert Conyers and Christian Morris. There is depth here this year unseen in recent years!

The receiving corps is another major strength. In addition to Treadwell, Cody Core, Markell Pack, Evan Engram and Quincy Adeboyejo will light up opposing defensive players. It truly doesn’t get any better than this. The running game will depend upon Jaylen Walton and Akeem Judd for the most part with possibly some unexpected stars coming out in August drills.

The biggest question mark remains at the quarterback position with a committee of three all challenging one another for the starting role. Chad Kelly, the nation’s number 1 JUCO, is predicted by some to lead the competition, however, third-year sophomores Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade are definitely in the mix. It’s a good problem to have.

Now to look at the opponents. The schedule is once again a nightmare prior to dusk as both Alabama schools are on the road along with State, Florida and Memphis. Home field challengers include Texas A&M, Arkansas and LSU. Following the October 10 home matchup against New Mexico State, any objective analyst could make a case for the remaining six games to go in either direction. As Ringo sang once upon a time…”It Don’t Come Easy.”

There you have it. Are we looking at 12 wins, 11, 10 or something less? The answer will depend on many variables with injuries, luck and the progress with the quarterback having the greatest influence. Whatever transpires, we haven’t seen this level of preseason hype since 1963! And according to my math, that is 52 years…but who’s counting?


Steve Vassallo

Steve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. Currently, Steve is a highly successful leader in the real estate business who lives in Oxford with his wife Rosie. You can contact Steve at sovassallo@gmail.com or call him at 985-852-7745.

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