Dale McKee Column 8/6/18
Football season began last week as Mississippi State, Ole Miss and USM opened their fall camps.
Mississippi State football made history this week as they were ranked No. 18 in the coaches Top 25 preseason football rankings. It is the highest preseason ranking since 1981 and the first time since 2011 (No. 20) that MSU will enter the season ranked. New Bulldogs head coach Joe Moorhead is not shying away from the preseason hype. “We look at the preseason polls and what people say about our team because we have a lot of starters returning and a lot of production coming back. No one is going to have higher expectations than us,” said Moorhead. Part of the higher expectations is because of the return of quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and running back Aeris Williams. Also add in the mix that four offensive linemen return. Moorhead is bringing a somewhat different version of offense than his predecessor Dan Mullen ran. The foundation was laid for this year’s team to have success. Led by the likes of nose guard Jeffery Simmons, linebacker Willie Gay and a couple of talented safeties in Mark McLaurin and Jonathan Abram, the defense is strong.
Rebels’ late wins give hope
The 2018 Ole Miss Rebels will be one of the most exciting teams to watch this football season. The Rebels’ football fortunes came tumbling down on July 20, 2017, when Hugh Freeze resigned. The NCAA then gave the Rebels a trio of blows that included a bowl ban, reduction in scholarships and permission for the remaining players to transfer if they chose to. Several did transfer including starting quarterback Shae Patterson. The Rebels under the leadership of Matt Luke did not fold under all the unfortunate events. Ole Miss rebounded from a 1-5 stretch during the 2017 season by winning three of their last four games, including the Egg Bowl. “That’s why the end of the last season was so important, to really build that momentum, to still be able to sign a top-25 recruiting class and go into the season with a good taste in your mouth,” stated Luke. Ole Miss returns eight offensive starters, including a trio of wide receivers considered the best in the SEC. A.J. Brown, DeMarkus Lodge and D.K. Metcalf are considered future NFL players, and they have Jordan Ta’amu returning to lead them. Ta’amu, a native of Hawaii, threw for 1,682 yards and 11 touchdowns as he filled in for Patterson over the last half of the season. The Rebels also return all five offensive linemen. The defense is another story, but Ole Miss has some solid players in tackles Benito Jones and Josiah Coatney.
USM is the sleeper in C-USA
Many Conference USA media experts say the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles are a middle of the pack team going into the 2018 season. This biggest question for any success this season will they be able to replace all four defensive backs from last season. The good news is that USM returns quarterback Kwadra Griggs to lead the offense. Griggs has battled injuries throughout his stay in Hattiesburg but provides a big play spark in leading the Eagles offense. Sophomore transfer Jake Abraham will push Griggs this year for playing time. The Eagles’ running game will miss Ito Smith but seniors George Payne and Tez Parks and a couple of freshmen in Steven Anderson and T’Rod Daniels will make the ground game deeper this season. USM’s biggest offensive concern will be the receiving corps that is talented but inexperienced. Ty Pollard leads the offensive line as three starters return. The defense will be led by linebackers Racheem Boothe and Jeremy Sangster. The schedule is set for success with the opening four games against Jackson State, ULM, Appalachian State and Rice all winnable.
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