Junior offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil won't face legal trouble after a fight with his stepfather, Lindsey Miller, in July (each dropped the charges), but an ongoing NCAA investigation into alleged improper benefits could affect his eligibility. His loss would devastate an attack relying on his return from a broken right leg suffered in the Peach Bowl. Junior receiver Laquon Treadwell (13.2 yards per catch) also broke his leg last year, but he has loaded his Instagram feed with videos showing how thoroughly he has recovered.
Junior tight end Evan Engram—who at 6'3" and 227 pounds could be a receiver—presents a tough matchup for safeties or linebackers with his athleticism; the Rebels will move him around to ensure maximum confusion. If junior Chad Kelly or sophomore Ryan Buchanan can take command at quarterback, then the offense could pair with a star-studded defense to produce another special season.
Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, a junior, helped Ole Miss limit opposing rushers to 3.5 yards a carry in 2014. Nickel Tony Conner will lead a secondary that might be better, thanks to the arrival of cornerback Tony Bridges, a junior college transfer, and the health of corner Tee Shepard, who missed 2014 with a torn toe tendon.
The first test comes on Sept. 19, when the Rebels travel to Tuscaloosa to face an Alabama team that hasn't forgotten losing 23--17 in Oxford last year. Ole Miss should be favored in six of its first seven games (excepting Bama) and needs to win them all entering a run of five straight SEC West matchups. If the Rebs don't come into that stretch with momentum, their season could stall.
Chad Kelly has the size (6'2", 215 pounds), the arm and the bloodline—he's the nephew of Bills Hall of Famer Jim Kelly—to be an excellent QB. He also wants to change his story. He was thrown off Clemson's team for a litany of transgressions, and last December he was arrested at a bar in his hometown of Buffalo after a brawl. (Charges were dropped.)
OPPOSING COACHES TAKE
Their front four has got speed, and they're just all over the place. Robert Nkemdiche can be anything from a noseguard to a defensive end—he's that big and that athletic.... They know how to defend the spread because they see it every day at practice. It's a unique defense versus the spread. They get that rover safety playing seven yards deep as an addition to the run defense. [Mike Hilton has moved there from cornerback.] You've got to be a physical cat to play that spot.... If you get on the edge, they're going to run you down, but if you run downhill on them, you can open things up and move the ball.... Their receivers are tall and rangy, and they come down with a lot of jump balls. If you pack a lot of guys up front to stop the run, they can go deep.... They also use a lot of motion, which forces you to be very disciplined.
JOE ROBBINS/GETTY IMAGES (TREADWELL)
ROGELIO V. SOLIS/AP (KELLY)