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Vassallo Breaks Down the Upcoming 2018 Ole Miss Football Season

A.J. Brown Conerly Trophy
Ole Miss’ record-setting sophomore wide receiver A.J. Brown won the fan voting portion of the 2017 C Spire Conerly Trophy. Photo courtesy of C Spire

What an unusual year that awaits. There will be five contests in the month of September with 4 of the first 6 games versus nonconference foes. An October date in Little Rock, plus the tag team of Alabama both coming to Oxford. And last but not least, Reb fans will be sharing Thanksgiving with the Bulldogs from down under. Here’s how this analyst anticipates the results:

Game 1 versus Texas Tech in Houston:
One ranking service picks the Red Raiders 54th in the nation and 8th in the Big 12….not the numbers that you would panic over. Coming off a 6-7 season, Texas Tech is similar to the Rebs in some respects. With their QB position up in the air, the Red Raiders should rely on an aggressive ground game (unusual for them) as all five offensive linemen return. Tre King averaged 4.8 yards per carry last year. Tech returns nine defensive starters… a unit that allowed 32.2 points per outing. The Ole Miss defense will be severely tested in attempting to stop the run. If successful, expect a 35-28 victory. If not, the season will turn ugly early.
Game 2 versus Southern Illinois in Oxford:
The Missouri Valley Conference opponent went 2-6 in 2017, tied for 8th in their league and lost eight games in all. Their senior QB, Sam Straub, will be the focus for Rebel defenders to contain. They open the season on August 30 at Murray State, a game to pay attention. All in all, you won’t find the Salukis on anyone’s preseason watch list. A rather uninspiring opponent as Ole Miss trounces 52-21, 2-0 on the year.

Jordan Ta’amu standing in the pocket. Photo by Randall Haley

Game 3 versus The Alabama Crimson Tide in Oxford:
Ouch! The national champions humiliated Ole Miss 66-3 last year, in one of the worst defeats in Ole Miss history. They should arrive as a 4 TD favorite, however, the opener versus Louisville may shed some light on a team with a great deal of new faces, both on and off the field. The dual QB threat of Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa will be as dangerous as last year. With four quality running backs, Bama will attempt to run long and often. Our best hope in this one is to keep it respectful. Anything beyond will be reminiscent of Dusty Springfield’s “Wishin’ and Hopin'”. Alabama 35-21, Ole Miss 2-1, 0-1 in the SEC.
Game 4 versus Kent State in Oxford:
The Golden Flashes should definitely be the easiest opponent of the season, ranked 129th in one poll. The MAC East squad is coming off an embarrassing 2-10 season. Playing at Penn State the week prior, this should provide some insight into how bad it will be. At age 31, Sean Lewis is the youngest head coach in the nation. Woody Barrett, an Auburn transfer, is competing at QB. Over the past four years, Kent State has scored the fewest points nationally. They gave up 35 points per game in 2017. A walk through the park, and the Grove, as Ole Miss rolls 42-7 going 3-1 on the year.
Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke taking the field. Photo by Randall Haley

Game 5 versus LSU in Baton Rouge:
This one is never easy, especially in the den. Coming off a 9-4 season while losing the Citrus Bowl to Notre Dame, the Tigers will be looking for a year of redemption. Their first key game will be right out of the starting gate, as No. 7 Miami matches up in Arlington against No. 30 LSU. Returning 13 starters overall, the offense must be rebuilt. According to Coach O commenting on his tandem of three QB’s, “Sometimes they’re doing well, sometimes they’re not.” With that introspection, this one will be easy to predict. Team speed is LSU’s strength while their defense may be the SEC’s best! Having said this, eight potential “L’s” reside on their schedule including Ole Miss. A tough loss is predicted, but nonetheless a loss as LSU prevails 17-14. The Rebs fall to 3-2, 0-2 in the league.
Game 6 versus ULM in Oxford:
The Warhawks are coming off a 4-8 worksheet, representing the Sun Belt’s western division. Preseason 98 by Athlon, their Sept. 15 matchup against Texas A&M will tell us all we need to know. Returning eight starters on offense, this unit will have to be extra good as their “D” gave up 41 points per outing in 2017. An Alabama transfer, Derrick Gove, will be in the mix at running back. This one should be a no contest as Ole Miss scores routinely in a 42-21 laugher. 4-2 on the season.
Game 7 versus Arkansas in Little Rock:
The Hogs are getting “no respect” this preseason as most of the services have them trying to escape the SEC’s cellar. Playing in LR will help the Rebs considerably. With the 38-37 Oxford loss still smarting from last season, the Rebs should be more than inspired to break into the win column in the league. Can you recall a year when Arkansas State was picked ahead of Arkansas? My memory is not that good, assuming it did occur. This is definitely a rebuilding year in Fayetteville. The three weeks prior to this Oct. 13 contest, the Hogs must face Auburn, Texas A&M and Alabama. The A’s have it as will Ole Miss trouncing the Hogs 35-17. 5-2 on the year, 1-2 in the league.
D.K. Metcalf, photo by Steven Gagliano

Game 8 versus Auburn in Oxford:
Losing 44-23 in 2017, the Rebs will find no relief this fall either. Coming off a 7-1 SEC record, the Tigers will first be tested this season at MSU on Oct. 6. Their Allstar QB, Jarrett Stidham, returns with a number of offensive weapons. The defense is solid as well with one of the best DL’s nationally. Their OL must be rebuilt as 4 starters departed. Lindy’s ranks the SEC by position. Here’s how we compare with Auburn:QB AU 2 OM 6   RB AU 8 OM 14  Receivers AU 7 OM 1  OL AU 10 OM 3 DL AU 1 OM 13  LB AU 2 OM 14  Secondary AU 7 OM 14 Spec Teams AU 1 OM 10. Auburn dominates 35-17 to ruin a beautiful Oxford October fall setting. Ole Miss falls to 5-3 on the year and 1-3 in the SEC.
Game 9 versus South Carolina in Oxford:
Coming off a 9-4 season including an Outback Bowl victory over Michigan, the Gamecocks will be a real challenge. The offense—deep and talented—led by Will Muschamp’s superior QB, Jake Bentley… who completed 62 percent of his passes a year ago! Having two weeks to prepare for this one, Ole Miss should be rested while SC is toying with TN. Having faced GA on Sept. 8, the Gamecocks will find out early on how good they will be. Predicting the upset special of the 2018 season, Ole Miss holds on to a 27-21 thriller going 6-3 overall and 2-3 in the conference.
Game 10 versus Texas A&M in College Station:
Having lost to the Aggies 31-24 in a game the Rebels clearly should have won, this one stacks up as much more difficult. Seven starters return on ‘D’ making the DL a definite strength. One service ranks the Aggies 30 slots higher than Ole Miss in the preseason. New Head Coach Jimbo Fisher will be attempting to make his first year in Aggieland a memorable one, as A&M hasn’t won a conference title in 20 years.  Not a fun day for Ole Miss as A&M wins easily 42-21. The Rebs now 6-4 and 2-4.
Game 11 versus Vanderbilt in Nashville:
This one couldn’t arrive fast enough. In recent years, this game has been anything but a sure bet. Vandy only returns four defensive starters, which should be their primary weakness. Ole Miss dominated in 2017 by a score of 57-35. This year should not be too much different, especially with the Dores’ great RB Ralph Webb departed. Derek Mason will require a miracle to stop the Reb scoring machine as a 35-17 victory is anticipated. Ole Miss now 7-4, 3-4.
Ross Bjork and Matt Luke at Egg Bowl
Ross Bjork congratulates Coach Matt Luke after the Rebels’ Egg Bowl victory over Mississippi State. Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics

Game 12 – MSU in Oxford for Thanksgiving:
With no bowl forthcoming, the Egg Bowl is this year’s bowl. Very few expected a “W” last season in Starkville which calls for a win here so much more digestible. State may have its best team in many, many years coming off a 9-4 season with 16 returning starters. The defense is simply outstanding. State plays Auburn at home on Oct. 6 which will tell us volumes. With new Head Coach Joe Moorhead at the controls, State will be attempting to continue its streak of bowls, but hopefully not at the Rebs’ expense. Oxford becomes “upset city” as the overmatched Rebels stun State 35-28 ending 2018 with 8 wins and a 4-4 conference scorecard. Book it Dano!

Steve VassalloSteve 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 an active Economic Development Consultant working with communities globally 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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