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Rebels largely overlooked by SEC media

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Ole Miss football head coach Matt Luke talks about the expectations of his team and the sanctions being lifted coming into the 2019 season.
Mackenzie Salmon, Clarion Ledger

HOOVER, Ala. — If you spent four days in the main ballroom at the Wynfrey Hotel for last week, no one would blame you if you forgot Ole Miss ever made an appearance.

If there’s anything we can learn about the 2019 Ole Miss football team from SEC Media Days, it’s that the Rebels likely rank last in the SEC in intrigue. That’s not to say Ole Miss has the lowest expectations of any team in the league. It just means that without the specter of NCAA violations and bowl bans and scholarship restrictions looming over the program, the league’s coaches and players and the national and regional media didn’t have much to say about Ole Miss this year.

Need proof? Ole Miss was the only team in the conference shut out of preseason All-SEC recognition. No Ole Miss player was named first-team, second-team or third-team All-SEC by the media this year. Not running back Scottie Phillips, who was named to the watch lists for the Maxwell Award and the Doak Walker Award given to the nation’s best player and best running back, respectively. Not linebacker MoMo Sanogo, who is one of four players in the SEC returning after making 100 tackles last season. Not even kicker Luke Logan got a nod after making the sixth-most field goals in the FBS last season.

To be fair, Ole Miss was picked to finish in sixth place in the SEC West, not last. Arkansas holds that unfortunate distinction. But even being picked last feels more notable than being picked second-to-last. Last place is motivation. Sixth is just the same spot Ole Miss has finished the last two seasons. No higher. No lower. Just more of the same.

To be even more fair, Ole Miss didn’t help itself much when it came to notability in the actual media sessions. Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said significantly fewer words than any other coach in the conference during his podium session. Luke said 2,487 words in his press conference, which was 1,218 words fewer than the next most tight-lipped coach (LSU’s Ed Orgeron) and barely half as many as Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt’s conference-leading 4,733-word session.

It’s not as if Ole Miss didn’t bring built-in storylines. Offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez and defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre — neither was present — were two of the most notable coordinator hires in college football this offseason. The Rebels signed a 31-player recruiting class in 2019, the largest class of any Power 5 school. And with six players picked in the 2019 NFL Draft, Ole Miss has plenty of talent to replace.

The Rebels were even the only team to send an underclassman to SEC Media Days, and it was a freshman quarterback no less.

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Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral talks about the 2019 expectations, as well as southern hospitality and SEC competition.
Mackenzie Salmon, Clarion Ledger

But Matt Corral wasn’t even the most notable new starting quarterback in Hoover. Missouri’s Kelly Bryant, fresh off a transfer from Clemson, took that distinction. And with Georgia and Texas A&M speaking on the same day as Ole Miss, the Corral conversation was dwarfed by conversations about Jake Fromm and Kellen Mond, both on the preseason Davey O’Brien Award watch list.

Overall, there was virtually nothing about Ole Miss that any other team felt worth mentioning. The 13 head coaches in the SEC combined to mention Ole Miss just three times in their main room press conferences. Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher brought up Ole Miss’ seven-overtime game from 2001, which barely counts. Alabama coach Nick Saban referenced former Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe, which also barely counts. And Kentucky coach Mark Stoops mentioned hiring linebackers coach Jon Sumrall away from Ole Miss this offseason.

As far as players, a few Arkansas representatives were asked about the importance of their game against Ole Miss on Sept. 7, but their answers didn’t yield any headlines. 

There’s obviously interest about Ole Miss in Mississippi. None of this is to say fans aren’t or shouldn’t be excited. And fans have every right to feel optimism. With new coordinators, new offensive and defensive philosophies and a full scholarship count for the first time in Luke’s tenure as head coach, there’s reason to believe 2019 could be better than 2018. Or at the very least different than 2018 was.

But that outlook didn’t translate to Hoover. Maybe that means Ole Miss is flying under the radar in the SEC. Or maybe it means the rest of the league has no opinion on the Rebels.

Either way, this means Ole Miss will have quite an opportunity to make its presence in the league known this season, for better or worse. 

Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or nsuss@gannett.com. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.



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