1. The NCAA investigation seems to cast a bit of a pall on Ole Miss right now. Any sense of that during spring practice?
From what I can tell, not really. I think the players have accepted their fate and the fact that they have no direct control over it. Internally, it's probably had more of a rallying, us-against-the-world effect. There's a hashtag and everything!
2. New offensive coordinator on hand in Phil Longo. Do y'all expect the offense to change much?
Longo runs a spread no-huddle very similar to that of Hugh Freeze, so don't expect a drastic overhaul. Longo was brought in to patch up holes, not rebuild the roof. He's been tasked with retaining a similar offensive identity while putting new focus on improving run game efficiency and red zone effectiveness, areas in which Longo's Sam Houston State teams excelled. Perhaps the biggest difference will be that Freeze is finally relinquishing play calling duties in full, something Ole Miss fans have been clamoring for over the past couple of seasons. Those will be ceded to Longo... at least until Freeze gets the itch to call some damn reverse pass on a critical third down.
3. Any word on Shea Patterson's progress?
The coaches praised him for picking up the offense quickly because that's what coaches are supposed to do, though Patterson did seem authentically comfortable while going 21-for-30 for 341 yards during the spring game. His youthful tendency to bail from the pocket and lean on his athleticism was the biggest knock against him during his brief starting stint last season, so it was nice to see him making quick decisions and getting the ball to his receivers. The system Longo ran at Sam Houston State simplified things as much as possible for the quarterback (adjustments to routes, for example, were made by the receivers instead of the QB), which could help Patterson settle in.
4. Defense was pretty rough and had a coordinator change. Any sense that's improving so far?
How nice of you to say "pretty rough" instead of "rancid garbage." Wesley McGriff is a hell of a recruiter and a hell of a secondary coach (LSU fans probably know he was with the Saints for a while) but is wholly unproven as a coordinator (the only other time he's held that title was with a DII school in the mid-90s). Hell, he's so inexperienced at leading an entire defense that LSU's old linebacker coach, Bradley Dale Peveto, has been named the "run game coordinator" and given control of the front seven.
Still, I do expect a significant defensive improvement, if only because of the statistical improbability of repeating last year's debacle. McGriff should be able to coach up a talented young secondary to avoid the sort of back-breaking coverage breakdowns it routinely had last year, while some reinforcements at linebacker should help that whole "dude ran 60 yards without being touched" problem.
5. There's no real postseason to play for in Oxford, so what does that do for fan expectations for this team?
I think most fans legitimately think the bowl ban will make this team perform better in the regular season because nothing would be more Ole Miss than to go 12-0 the year during postseason ineligibility. The ban will put a bit of a damper on the mood (especially if the team gets off to a hot start), but unless you're making the Playoff, a bowl isn't much more than a fun trip for fans and some extra cash for the athletic department.