All those countdown clocks hit zero today as college football returns at full speed.
There are 27 FBS and FCS games this evening, another 11 tomorrow. That’s 38 games before Saturday even arrives.
I was thrilled to see the Rebels’ opener against Tennessee (the Martin campus) set for 11 a.m. It won’t take long for the other shoe to drop with the Alabama game already set for 8:30. I expect much more late football than early.
But let’s talk about what to expect Saturday.
This is the long and rambling predictions post, a Thursday morning blog tradition.
Leave your predictions and your logic at the bottom.
I’ll say 35-6 Ole Miss. It may be a lot worse than that, but I don’t typically predict massive blowouts.
Martin put up 367 yards against MSU last year and almost 400 (398) against Kentucky. Both games were blowout wins for the SEC, but it does indicate that the Skyhawks had stretches of success on offense.
When the rubber meets the road Ole Miss will be much better in the red zone and will clamp down there if not over the entire field all the time.
Respect for opponent is important here. You won’t catch that theme in much media coverage, but it is worth noting.
Occasionally Appalachian State beats Michigan. Occasionally Jacksonville State beats Ole Miss. Those were really good FCS teams. Martin is competitive at its level, but not like those teams were.
We become cynical for these games because they so often play out like we expect. That’s a credit to the big-school coaches who have their teams prepared and help them deal with the mental realities. It’s natural for SEC players to expect themselves to be much better than FCS level players. Their recruiting experiences tell them this, and you don’t have to be a coach to see that big school players typically are bigger, stronger, faster.
There is talent at the FCS level. There just isn’t as much elite talent spread among FCS teams, and there isn’t great depth of talent.
So, small teams have a chance to win at kickoff. After that it often depends on the mental make-up of the big school, and I think Ole Miss will be prepared. We’ll see.
What could keep the Rebels from 50 points is Hugh Freeze’s intention of playing all three quarterbacks.
The likelihood that all three will be pressing to get something done in their limited window of opportunity could cause things to bog down at times.
As late as last night Freeze was unwilling to fully commit to Chad Kelly as the starter. I suspect it will be Kelly, but this is not a scenario where a guy with a hot hand stays in the game. There will be a lot of moving parts among the quarterbacks.
There’s all that goingt on plus the fact that Martin will run a 3-3-5 defense, which is not a look the Rebels will see a lot.
The FCS game is often one in which the SEC team has a huge size advantage in the trenches. Not so with Martin. The Skyhawks average 283 with their DL starters, 285 with their OL starters.
A lot of eyes willl be on the Ole Miss quarterbacks, no doubt, but just as many should be on the offensive line. The run game was dreadful last year and needs to take a major step forward. Obviously running backs come into play, but I put more of that on the offensive line.
I think this group will be better. There are certainly more players that Freeze appears to trust. That leads to more depth and to Freeze’s announcement that he’ll play 10 offensive linemen and will play them early in the game Saturday. The heat comes into play there, but it’s more about getting snaps for these guys and trying to see who he can really trust in game conditions.
Maybe Ole Miss comes out, plays to its ranking and off-season hype and dominates wire to wire. I suspect, however, that some first-game kinks will be evident.
For that reason, it’s good to start off with the FCS game.
Personally, I like to see the FCS game later in the year, like November, especially since the Rebels have just one open date this season.
So, a few predictions.
Kelly shines, Judd shines. Treadwell takes a lick, bounces up and does Treadwell type things. D.J. Jones does something to make people say, ‘Wow,’ and so does Kendarius Webster.
The run game looks fantastic, and media come back and say, “Yeah, but it was Tennessee-Martin.”
That in fact will be the correct response to any great team or individual success in this game.
Remember the opponent, temper expectations and don’t expect the Rebels be in mid-season form, because that’s not what time it is.
Prediction: Ole Miss 35, Tennessee (the Martin Campus) 6