We continue our SEC season preview with the Ole Miss Rebels.
Key question heading into Week 1: The Rebels are still trying to figure out who will play left tackle. True freshman Greg Little is clearly the left tackle of the future, but he still has a ways to go when it comes to learning the Rebels' scheme and adapting to the speed of the college level. Junior Rod Taylor and redshirt freshman Alex Givens have also seen reps at left tackle during the preseason.
Make-or-break stretch: From Sept. 17 to Oct. 22, the Rebels have easily one of the toughest schedules in America. It starts with Alabama, then Georgia and Memphis, at home before the Rebels travel to Arkansas and LSU in consecutive weeks. And don't forget that Ole Miss opens the season against Florida State. If the Rebels want a chance at the SEC West, they'll have to beat Alabama and get through this stretch without more than one loss.
Position battle to watch: Left tackle has to be at the top of the Rebels' list. The loss of Laremy Tunsil will be tough to deal with for a while. Taylor is one of the Rebels' top athletes, regardless of position, but Little has the potential to be the most talented offensive lineman on the team. Whether that happens this season or not is a major question. If Little can eventually take the left-tackle spot, that frees up Ole Miss’ coaches to put Taylor, Javon Patterson and Jordan Sims at guard, which gives the Rebels a talented interior.
Instant-impact freshman: People will look at Little, but keep an eye on wide receiver A.J. Brown. He's wearing Laquon Treadwell's No. 1 and he might make the same sort of splash in Year 1 as Treadwell made a few years ago. Brown is a superior athlete and has all the makings of being a red-zone machine with his 6-foot-1, 225-pound frame. He should rise up the depth chart sooner rather than later in Oxford.
Best case: The offensive comes together, allowing the Rebels to develop a true downhill running game with Akeem Judd and Eric Swinney. That will allow senior quarterback Chad Kelly to continue his tear through the SEC skies and keep this one of the conference's best offenses. The secondary has no problem replacing Mike Hilton and Trae Elston at safety, and Rommel Mageo becomes a force at middle linebacker to keep this defense salty. Ole Miss defeats Alabama and gets to Atlanta for the first time with 10 wins.
Worst case: The offensive line just can't get over the fact that it lost 156 career starts. Little just takes too long to develop and the unit has too many inconsistencies for Kelly or this running game to flourish. The secondary continues to give up too many big plays and the defensive front continuously wears down in games. Losses to Florida State, Alabama and LSU knock Ole Miss out of playoff contention, and a couple more league losses put Atlanta well out of reach.