Breaking down Ole Miss’ 2016 schedule
All eyes are on the remaining games of the 2015 season, but it’s hard not to look ahead and start handing out wins and losses when you go down the 2016 Ole Miss football schedule that was released on Thursday.
It’s a tough schedule with plenty of great matchups, so let’s take a look at what stands out:
Best matchup: Auburn (Oct. 29)
From a pure X’s and O’s standpoint, any time you see Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn go head-to-head, it’s fun to watch. The two have a lot of similarities in what they want to do, and when you look ahead to what both rosters may look like next season, it’s intriguing. Ole Miss will likely have an experienced quarterback in Chad Kelly, but they will probably be without offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, assuming all declare for the NFL draft. Throw in a potential junior college quarterback stepping in for Auburn, and the matchup is full of intrigue.
Toughest matchup: Alabama (Sept. 17)
Can the Rebels take down the Crimson Tide three years in a row? That will be the storyline next fall, and if Alabama was supposed to be motivated in revenge games, how motivated will they be for a double-revenge game? Throw out the storylines and it’s still a tough matchup for Ole Miss. The Rebels are losing a lot, and Alabama will be breaking in its third quarterback in three years. Ole Miss gets the advantage of being at home, but to me, until someone dethrones the Crimson Tide as the gold standard in college football, that will be regarded as the toughest game going in.
Toughest stretch: Sept. 5 – Oct. 1
You can argue that the three week stretch in October with road games against Arkansas and LSU and a home game against Auburn is the toughest stretch, but I’m going with the first five right out of the gate. Sure, you get a break with Wofford in the home opener on Sept. 10, but anytime you have Florida State, Alabama and UGA on your schedule in three out of four weeks, it’s tough. Add in a matchup against rival Memphis after you’re beaten up, and it gets even tougher. The Rebels could be at risk of starting the season 1-3. If that were to happen, how will this team respond? That’s what sets that stretch apart. Ole Miss needs to start strong and if it does, the back part of the schedule sets up for a nice run.
Biggest trap game: at Vanderbilt (Nov. 19)
This game could go two drastically different ways. On one hand, you get a relatively easy road contest after being tired and beaten and get a bit of a break before the always important Egg Bowl against Mississippi State. However, those characteristics could also be a reason to think upset in Nashville. The Commodores have greatly improved in Year 2 under Derek Mason, and they could take another step forward next fall.