Ole Miss Football: Can Rebels get out of their own way in 2017?

Coaching changes, sanctions and defense are the major concerns as Ole Miss football heads into 2017.

Saying the Ole Miss Rebels took a step backwards in 2016 doesn’t quite describe things accurately enough. They didn’t just have an off year. They were knocked backwards and into a seated position.

A recruiting class that was seen as the fifth-best in 2016 gave fans hope. They’d become more of a force on the recruiting trail following the previous year. Moreover, 247Sports thought enough about their efforts to rank them as the 17th-best class in 2015.

Head coach Hugh Freeze and company looked to improve on a 2015 season where they went 9-3 in the regular season. Then, expectations for 2016 went through the roof following the Sugar Bowl. It was on that night that everyone saw them upend the Oklahoma State Cowboys by 28 points in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. They had a legitimate contender for the Heisman Trophy at the quarterback position in Chad Kelly.

Well, at least we thought so at the time, but they had beaten the Alabama Crimson Tide in consecutive seasons. There was even talk that they had all of the tools to do so again for a third time.

A disappointing 2016 campaign

Then the season kicked off against the Florida State Seminoles, and everything, at that point, began to come unglued. There were also distractions hanging over the team all season long.

As stories involving both Laremy Tunsil and former coach David Saunders continued to dominate headlines, the NCAA was forced into action. Freeze and athletic director Ross Bjork tried to hold things together. In the end it wasn’t enough. The Rebels would see their season come to a crashing halt, finishing with a 5-7 record. In the process, they’d miss the opportunity to compete in a bowl game.

The silver lining

Rebel fans, however, hope that a rose has grown from the proverbial concrete. Their team has reloaded once again, and they seem better prepared for 2017. In fact, 247Sports sees the Rebels’ most recent recruiting class as the 30th best in the nation.

It’s highlighted by the presence of newly acquired Breon Dixon. He’s a linebacker from Loganville, Ga., and he’ll join a defense that’s received some criticism but has a lot of talent. He’ll need to look no further than defensive end Marquis Haynes for assistance. They and the rest of the defense will need to improve under new coordinator Wesley McGriff. With the offensive firepower around the SEC West, seemingly, growing by the day, it won’t be easy.

The other side of the ball is now in the capable hands of a former five-star recruit, Shea Patterson.  He’s a pro-style quarterback from Bradenton, Fla. He gives the offense something that’s been lacking in quite a few locker rooms around the SEC for a while, consistency at quarterback.

If the offense can consistently do what they did in the Rebels’ most recent Grove Bowl, it should be some good football played on that side of the ball. If the defense can do a better job of slowing teams down in 2017, the Rebels may be a force to reckon with all season.

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