SEC preview: With cloud over program, Ole Miss could struggle

Tony Walsh/The Red & Black

Matt Luke, head coach of the University of Mississippi football team, speaks to reporters at the 2018 SEC Football Media Days in Atlanta last month.

Leading up to the start of the college football season, The Red & Black will preview each of the 13 teams Georgia plays alongside in the Southeastern Conference. Today, The Red & Black takes a look at the Ole Miss Rebels.

2017 results

6-6 (3-5 SEC); Finished sixth in the SEC West

Summary of last season

Ole Miss finished out the 2017 season as one of the worst teams in the SEC West, winning only three SEC contests. After beating Alabama two years in a row in 2014 and 2015 and losing a close game in 2016, they suffered a 66-3 defeat in Tuscaloosa at the end of September. While one of their SEC wins came against No. 14 Mississippi State to close out the season, the other two were against less than spectacular opponents in Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

Entrenched in controversy

Prior to the 2017 season, Ole Miss was forced to name an interim head coach after former head coach Hugh Freeze resigned in July 2017 amid allegations of misconduct stemming from his use of a university-issued phone to call an escort service. Assistant head coach Matt Luke was named interim head coach for the 2017 season and will remain in the same position after he was officially named head coach in November.

Shortly afterward, the NCAA extended the team’s bowl ban for another year, rendering the Rebels ineligible for the 2018 postseason. The ban stems from recruiting violations the NCAA found to have been committed by Ole Miss. In the wake of the controversy, quarterback Shea Patterson, who started the first seven games of the season before suffering a season-ending injury, announced his decision to transfer to Michigan last December.

Key returning players

• A.J. Brown, wide receiver: The junior wide receiver had a breakout season in 2017, playing in all 12 games for the Rebels. He led the team with 75 receptions for 1,252 yards and tallied 11 receiving touchdowns on the season. Brown has already received several preseason honors, including being named to the 2018 Maxwell Award Watch List.

Jordan Ta’amu, quarterback: The junior quarterback and junior college transfer took over for Patterson after his season ended due to injury. In eight games and five starts in 2017, Ta’amu threw for 1,682 yards and 11 touchdowns. With a strong receiving corps returning, Ta’amu has the potential for a lot of success in 2018.

Season outlook

With a cloud still hanging over the Ole Miss football program, the Rebels are not exactly set up for success in 2018. A matchup with Texas Tech to open the season presents an immediate challenge, and in the competitive SEC West, the Rebels will have their work cut out for them. Even if they manage to string together enough wins to qualify for a bowl, they will be left out of the postseason once again due to the ban.

Printed with permission from The Red & Black independent student media organization, based in Athens, Georgia. For more UGA sports news, visit www.redandblack.com/sports.

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