Sunday, September 27, 2020

Vassallo: Sizing Up the Season…How Good Will We Be?

Photo by Josh Bonner
Photo by Josh Bonner

Hanging around the Ft. Lauderdale beach over the weekend, my thoughts turned to football after seeing so many people wearing their favorite school’s advertising messages.

And yes, there were several FSU sightings! Ft. Lauderdale always brings back pleasant memories as the Yankees won back-to-back World Series when I lived there, Lauderdale being the then home for spring training until Steinbrenner moved it to Tampa years later.

Instead of categorizing this season, as “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” what is more appropriate is “The Good, the Potentially Good and The Concerning.” Let’s go in reverse order and work up to all the positives.

The Concerning

The schedule is a nightmare, plain and simple. True, the Wofford Terriers will not give any of us heartburn, but any of the remaining eleven could. Here’s why. Ten of our opponents are bowl teams from a year ago, with ‘7’ winning! Two of our first three opponents are ranked 1-2 in the nation by several services. Any time you go into Tiger Stadium, it’s problematic even under the best of circumstances.

The schedule breaks down as follows:

The Easy Four: Wofford, Georgia Southern, Vanderbilt and Memphis.

The Winnable Four: Georgia, Arkansas Auburn and State.

The Difficult Four: Florida State University, Alabama, LSU, and Texas A&M.

Assuming we get breaks, stay healthy and our young guys produce, a 10-2 season is possible. Anything better than that, you’re looking at a national title.

The Potentially Good

According to Phil Steele, we return the fewest starters of any SEC team (12) which means many new faces will be making plays for the Rebs this fall.

Contrast this to our opponents’ starters coming back, beginning with Florida State who has 17 of 24 (Phil counts the kickers and rightfully so):
Alabama 13,
Auburn 14,
LSU 18,
Texas A&M 13,
Vanderbilt 17,
Georgia 14,
Mississippi State 13
and Arkansas 16…ouch!

If the Rebs want to be back in another New Year’s Six bowl, freshmen like Benito Jones (Defensive Tackle); Greg Little (Offensive Tackle); Deontay Anderson (Defensive Back); and Jaylon Jones (Defensive Back) are all going to have to perform like sophomores. Then there’s the MLB position with transfers Rommel Mageo (Oregon State) and JUCO Detric Bing-Dukes holding court. Mageo led the Beavers with 87 tackles last season, a good indication that he can fill in adequately for C.J. Johnson.

The Good

Starting with our returning QB, Chad Kelly, it doesn’t get much better. Chad’s 21 TD’s on 15 plus yard tosses was a huge factor in 2015. And with the receivers returning plus the new guys, this area will continue to stay strong. With Evan Engram back at Tight End, a smile surfaces every time I think about all the catches and key blocks in store.

The offensive line, defensive line and defensive secondary are all bright spots with the kicking game again in good hands (make that legs). Gary Wunderlich is getting close to Hoppy Langley fame as his accuracy is now legendary. He led the league in scoring at his position last fall! We haven’t yet mentioned the running game although much hope is being forecast on Akeem Judd, a returning senior. Judd and supporting member, Jordan Wilkins, both averaged more than five yards per carry in backup roles last season.

There you have it. The FSU game is going to tell us volumes. The Seminoles enter the game smarting from the Peach Bowl loss so we better be ready for war. Let’s hope the season doesn’t get late early, but instead the brightness from the Sunshine State finds a way back to Oxford.


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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