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Spring Football Five Questions: Ole Miss

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Michael Borkey of Red Cup Rebellion fills us in on spring time in Oxford.

1. Ole Miss is coming off a pretty great season with a Sugar Bowl berth, loses a lot, but has a lot back, including a stud quarterback. What was the general vibe in Oxford this spring?

To be honest, there wasn't a ton of "buzz" that came from spring practice for Ole Miss this year. Hugh Freeze and company decided to dramatically limit the access given to the media at spring practice, and fans were completely cut off from any sort of spring viewing. As a result, the information that came from those practices was almost non-existent, other than the basically worthless short media viewing period, and the reports you get from the school itself (which are also basically worthless. Controlling the message and whatnot).

Part of that is due Ole Miss not having a spring game because of stadium renovations (FWIW, they're bowling in the open endzone, adding a couple new video boards, and removing the turf to put in natural grass), but for the most part access limitation is a growing trend in college football. I don't blame Freeze and staff for this, by the way, Ole Miss had way too many people with far too much access into the program.

As far as vibes go, I think the general feeling for Ole Miss fans is a cautious optimism. They did lose a lot, as you mention, but they feel as though they do have the talent, and the star quarterback, to still remain competitive in the SEC west in 2016.

2. Obviously, Robert Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil and Laquon Treadwell are all huge losses -- which one do you think will be the hardest to replace for the 2016 team?

Can I cheat and say two names? Laremy Tunsil and someone not from the "big three" in Fahn Cooper.  If you remember, Tunsil had to sit out the first seven games of 2015 due to NCAA stuff, so Ole Miss was forced to move the right tackle Cooper over to left. Cooper, who was a fifth-round pick by San Francisco in this past draft, did very well at the LT spot in place of Tunsil. When Laremy came back he continued to be his dominant self, but Ole Miss had stability in Cooper during Tunsil's absence.

With both of them gone Ole Miss has massive question marks at the OT position. People expect 5-star incoming freshman Greg Little to step in and start at LT on day one, but who knows quickly he will transition from high school to the SEC. There are a few options at RT, however none of them, in my opinion, give Ole Miss the stability that Cooper did.

Although Robert Nkemdiche is a physical freak and Treadwell is the best receiver to put on an Ole Miss uniform, the Rebels are very talented at those two spots. Will Ole Miss miss both of them? Absolutely. But the abundance of talent lessens the blow of their absence.

3. Any pleasant surprises this spring?

From the little you did hear from spring practice, redshirt freshman wide-out Van Jefferson was always mentioned.  His dad, Shawn Jefferson, is a former 13-year NFL veteran and the current wide receivers coach for the Miami Dolphins. Ole Miss still has some pretty good depth at the position, but according to people around the program he has the makings of being an impact guy this season. Considering the stock he comes from, I guess you shouldn't really be SURPRISED that he is expected to do big things, but he is drawing rave reviews from the coaching staff.

4. Any concerns or major question marks?

Besides the aforementioned offensive tackles, Ole Miss has questions at linebacker and safety. The Rebels did give themselves some help at linebacker with the signing of Oregon State grad-transfer Rommel Mageo. He lead the Beavers in tackles a year ago and Ole Miss NEEDS him to come in and be an immediate impact guy. Other than Mageo, they have DeMarquis Gates (a quality SEC linebacker) returning and then just a bunch of dudes. The position is thin and seemingly pretty weak depth wise.

The safety position is another animal. Ole Miss loses Trae Elston, a four-year starter, and Mike Hilton, who the Rebels may miss the most from last season's team. The secondary got torched more than a few times last season already, so losing those two guys is painful. There is some talent back there, but it is talent that is most certainly unproven.

5. The Rebels will likely start out the season in the top 15, but that schedule is pretty tough early on with a pair of top-five opponents in the first three weeks in Florida State and Alabama. What are fans expecting from this team in 2016?

With any fanbase, it depends on who you ask. There is a subset of Ole Miss fans that expect 10 regular season wins, and I'm just not seeing that. They have a hard time remembering that this team did lose three regular season games in 2015, one was to Memphis, another was an ass-kicking in Gainesville, and the other was to Arkansas in a game where they gave up 600 yards of total offense.

If Ole Miss can get out of the first four weeks at 2-2, any fan should be okay with that. The schedule is brutal on the front end and they still have to go to College Station (I think they're going to be bad, but 100,000 people is 100,000 people) and Fayetteville later on in the year. But it is certainly a front-loaded schedule with a navigable back end.

The X-factor is Chad Kelly. If he is as good as he was last year Ole Miss has at least a shot in every game they play.  But I wonder about their ability to protect him, and that secondary has a lot to prove.

If I was an odds maker in Vegas I'd probably set Ole Miss o/u win total at 8.5. I think that's a pretty fair expectation.