Lane Kiffin has produced a 23-13 straight-up record and an 18-18 against-the-spread mark through his first three seasons at Ole Miss. The Rebels went 5-7, 6-6, 5-7 and 4-8 in the four years prior to his arrival in Oxford.
They won their first seven games last season, jumping up to No. 7 in the national rankings before a 45-20 loss at LSU. Kiffin’s bunch bounced back the next week in College Station, where it beat Texas A&M 31-28 as a two-point road favorite.
The win over the Aggies allowed Ole Miss backers – like me and those that tailed my two-unit suggestion on the Rebels to go ‘over’ their season win total of 7.5 in this column from Aug. 2 of last year – to cash tickets on ‘over’ wagers for its season win total before the end of October. The victory also put Ole Miss at No. 11 in the first College Football Playoff rankings released on Nov. 1.
After playing nine games in nine weeks, Kiffin’s squad had two weeks to prepare for Alabama, the No. 6 team in those first CFP rankings. The Crimson Tide had to play at 10th-ranked LSU Nov. 5 before going on the road again to Oxford on Nov. 12.
With three games remaining, Ole Miss was in the mix for everything – a shot at winning the SEC West for the first time since its creation in 1992, a chance to end a six-year losing streak against Alabama and a realistic opportunity to make the CFP.
With the Rebels resting and relaxing on Saturday night in Oxford on Nov. 5, they watched LSU and Alabama battle through eight lead changes and one tie in four quarters and overtime. The Tigers came out on top, 32-31, in OT when QB Jayden Daniels found Mason Taylor on a two-point conversion play.
Nick Saban’s team was still an 11-point road ‘chalk’ at Ole Miss the next week. The Rebels had advantages in first downs (22-18), rushing yards (191-108) and total yards (403-317), and they had two separate 10-point leads in the second quarter (10-0 and 17-7) and a 24-17 lead late in the third quarter.
However, Kiffin passed on a 29-yard field goal on the opening drive of the game and Ole Miss was stopped on a fourth-and-two play. Trailing 27-24 midway through the fourth quarter, the Rebels failed again on a fourth-and-eight play from ‘Bama’s 41.
The Crimson Tide went ahead 30-24 nine plays later on a 49-yard field goal by Will Reichard. Ole Miss advanced to the Tide’s 14 on the ensuing drive, but it lost six yards on the next four plays and lost by six.
Kiffin’s name started to increasingly become connected to the then-vacant Auburn job over the next two weeks, especially after a 42-27 loss at Arkansas. Despite the media intensity, Kiffin did next to nothing to shut down the rumors ahead of the Egg Bowl.
Mississippi St. went into Oxford and won, 24-22, as a two-point road underdog. Kiffin ended up staying at Ole Miss, which fell out of the rankings going into the Texas Bowl vs. Texas Tech.
Sticking to his knucklehead mantra of “live by analytics, die by analytics,” Kiffin basically lost the game vs. the Red Raiders with four failed attempts on fourth down in the first half. Those failures resulted in 17 points for Texas Tech, which led 26-7 at halftime and went on to win, 42-25, as a 3.5-point underdog.
Ole Miss finished the 2022 campaign on a four-game losing streak and lost five its last six games. Nevertheless, Kiffin continued to thrive at re-tooling the roster via the transfer portal.
According to the 247Sports Composite, the Rebels have the nation’s No. 18 overall recruiting class in 2023, but the transfer-specific group is ranked sixth. Ole Miss has 19 incoming transfers, seven of which are four-star players.
The overall class includes one five-star prospect (6-foot-3 linebacker Suntarine Perkins, the Magnolia State’s No. 1 player and No. 23 prospect in the country) and 11 four-star players.
Ole Miss returns nine starters on offense and seven on defense, according to Phil Steele’s preseason magazine. Steele’s National Unit Rankings have the Rebels No. 9 at the QB position, No. 7 at RB, No. 19 at WR, No. 6 on the offensive line, No. 58 on the d-line, No. 23 at LB and No. 54 at DB. The special-team units weren’t ranked nationally and they’re No. 12 in his SEC Unit Rankings.
Jaxson Dart started 12 of 13 games last season, completing 62.4 percent of his passes for 2,974 yards with a 20/11 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The transfer from USC also made plays with his legs, producing 614 rushing yards (741 before subtracting sack yardage) and one TD with a 4.8 yards-per-carry average.
Dart’s backup last year, Luke Altmeyer, has transferred to Illinois. But Dart will have plenty of competition for the 2023 starting gig. Kiffin has a stacked QB room with Oklahoma St. transfer Spencer Sanders, LSU transfer Walker Howard and incoming freshman Austin Simmons, who reclassified from the 2025 class to 2023.
Sanders had his 2022 campaign end prematurely due to a shoulder injury. In 2021, he was a first-team All Big-12 selection who led the Cowboys to the Big 12 Championship Game. Sanders completed 62.0 percent of his passes for 2,839 yards with a 20/12 TD-INT ratio. He ran for 668 yards and six TDs, averaging 4.6 YPC.
Sanders has started 41 career games. His 9,553 career passing yards ranks second in Oklahoma St. program history behind only Mason Rudolph.
Sanders has a 67/40 career TD-INT ratio, in addition to 1,956 career rushing yards. He has 18 career rushing TDs and a 4.0 YPC average.
Howard spent one season at LSU after signing with the Tigers as a four-star prospect in the 2022 class. 247Sports had the 6-foot-1 Howard ranked as the No. 6 QB in the class and the No. 6 overall player out of the state of Louisiana.
As a true freshman RB last season, Quinshon Judkins garnered first-team All-SEC honors and was the SEC’s Freshman of the Year. He also won the Conerly Trophy given out each year to the best college football player in the state of Mississippi.
Judkins ran for 1,567 yards and 16 TDs, averaging 5.7 YPC. He also had 15 catches for 132 yards and one TD.
There’s depth in the backfield, too. Ulysses Bentley was limited to six games due to injuries last year. He had 73 rushing yards and four TDs on just 16 attempts for a 4.6 YPC average.
Bentley has plenty of experience, though. From 2019-2021 at SMU, Bentley played in 24 games and rushed for 1,559 yards and 15 TDs.
The Rebels also have incoming freshman Kedric Reescano, a New Caney, TX., product who is a four-star prospect that was ranked as the nation’s No. 8 RB in the 2023 class at 247Sports.
Whether it’s Dart or Sanders under center, he will have a plethora of talented targets. Zakhari Franklin was a late entrant into the portal and a huge get for Kiffin and his staff.
Franklin, a four-star transfer from UTSA, is the Roadrunners’ all-time leader in career receiving yards by more than 800 yards. In four seasons at UTSA, Franklin had 262 receptions for 3,348 yards and 37 TDs.
In 13 games in 2021, Franklin had 81 catches for 1,027 yards and 12 TDs. In 14 games last year, he had 94 receptions for 1,136 yards and 15 TDs.
The portal also provided former La. Tech WR Tre Harris, who had 65 catches for 935 yards and 10 TDs in 12 games for the Bulldogs in 2022.
Veteran WRs Jordan Watkins and Dayton Wade are back in the mix. Watkins caught 40 balls for 449 yards and two TDs last season, while Wade had 27 grabs for 309 yards and three TDs.
TE Michael Trigg, a four-star transfer from USC who spent 2021 with the Trojans, was limited to six games for Ole Miss last year. He had 17 catches for 156 yards and three TDs before sustaining a season-ending injury.
He’ll compete for the starting TE job with Caden Prieskorn in August. Prieskorn enjoyed a breakout 2022 campaign at Memphis before entering the portal. He had 48 receptions for 602 yards and seven TDs to earn first-team All-AAC honors.
Ole Miss returns four starters from an offensive line that helped the Rebels rank third in the country in rushing yards in 2022. They allowed only 15 sacks after giving up 34 in 2021.
This group has 131 career starts between them. In Steele’s preseason magazine, OG Jeremy James is a first-team All-SEC selection, while OT Micah Pettus is a second-team All-SEC pick and a fourth-team All-American.
Steele has Judkins as a first-team All-American and a first-team All-SEC choice. The Rebels’ offense also has Prieskorn as a third-team All-SEC selection and Franklin as a fourth-team All-SEC pick.
Pete Golding is the new defensive coordinator after holding the same job at Alabama for the last five seasons. He takes over a unit that gave up an average of 25.5 points per game in 2022.
Ole Miss has to replace its four leading tacklers, who were Troy Brown, Otis Reese, Tysheem Johnson and AJ Finley. The Rebels added 11 defensive players from the portal in the offseason, including six players in the secondary, three defensive linemen and two LBs.
MLB Monty Montgomery played 13 games for Louisville last season, recording 70 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, six sacks, four forced fumbles, two interceptions and two passes broken up. He started 18 of 37 career games for the Cardinals in four years, producing 160 tackles, 23.5 TFL’s, 15 sacks, seven forced fumbles, four PBU, three interceptions and one fumble recovery.
After playing at TCU for two seasons, LB Khari Coleman started four of 11 games for the Rebels in his first season in Oxford last year. Coleman produced 42 tackles, 10 TFL’s, 4.5 sacks and one forced fumble.
He and Montgomery will start at two of the LB spots, while UCF transfer Justin Hodges is expected to start at the STAR position. In three seasons with the Knights, Hodges started 25 times in 26 career games, recording 78 tackles, 16 PBU, 6.5 TFL’s, three sacks, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
Three starters from the secondary return. Strong safety Isheem Young started 21 games in two seasons at Iowa St., and then he started in nine of 13 games for the Rebels in 2022. Young finished the year with 66 tackles, two PBU, 1.5 TFL’s, one interception, one fumble recovery and 0.5 sacks.
Free safety Ladarius Tennison played in all 13 games for Ole Miss last season, contributing 54 tackles, 10 TFL’s, two PBU, two fumble recoveries (with one scoop-and-score TD) and one sack. True senior CB Deantre Prince has played in 36 games for the Rebels across three years, starting all 13 games in 2022 and 20 in the last two seasons. He has 110 career tackles, 16 PBU, five interceptions, one TFL and one forced fumble.
The other starting CB will likely be Ga. Tech transfer Zamri Walton, who started 39 times in 42 games for the Yellow Jackets from 2018-22. He has 123 career tackles to go with 17 PBU, three interceptions, two TFL’s, one sack and one fumble recovery for a TD.
Miami (OH.) transfer CB John Saunders will add depth at the position. The four-star transfer was a second-team All-MAC selection in 2022 when he contributed 52 tackles, 10 PBU, two interceptions, one forced fumble and 0.5 TFL’s.
Ole Miss returns one of its best pass rushers in DE Cedric Johnson, who is entering his fourth season in Oxford. Johnson has played in 28 career games, recording 71 tackles, 15.5 TFL’s, 13.5 sacks, 13 QB Hurries, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble.
The three other starters on the defensive front will likely be nose tackle Joshua Harris, DT JJ Pegues and DE Isaac Ukwu. Harris was a four-star recruit out of high school, but he’s a three-star transfer from NC St. The 6-foot-4, 325-pound space eater has had issues staying healthy.
Ukwu started 25 games at James Madison in the last two seasons, producing 83 tackles and 16 sacks. Pegues had 26 tackles, five TFL’s, three sacks and three QB Hurries for the Rebels last year.
Circa has Ole Miss’s season win total at 7.5 (‘under’ -115, ‘over’ -105). DraftKings is using those same numbers and has the Rebels in a matchup prop with Texas Tech for regular-season victories, listing Ole Miss at -120 with the Red Raiders at -110. DraftKings also has Kiffin’s team with a win total of 4.5 in SEC play (-240 for the ‘under,’ +190 to the ‘over’).
Looking at the schedule, Ole Miss will be favored in its first three games: vs. Mercer, at Tulane and vs. Ga. Tech. The Rebels won 42-0 as 17-point road favorites over the Yellow Jackets on The Flats in Midtown Atlanta last year.
Games of the Year spreads at DraftKings have Ole Miss as a 15.5-point road underdog at Alabama in Week 4. In Week 5, the Rebels are 4.5-point home underdogs vs. LSU.
After hosting the Bayou Bengals, Ole Miss is at home again vs. Arkansas on Oct. 7. Following their open date on Oct. 14, the Rebels play at Auburn. They ended a six-game losing streak to the Tigers with a 48-34 non-covering win as 15-point home ‘chalk’ in 2022.
After the trip to The Plains to face former head coach Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss gets three of its next four games at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Kiffin’s team will host Vanderbilt and Texas A&M on Oct. 28 and Nov. 4, respectively, before going to Athens to face the back-to-back national champions.
Ole Miss is a 3.5-point home favorite vs. Texas A&M and a 19.5-point road underdog at Georgia. The Rebels host ULM on Nov. 18 before going to Starkville for the Egg Bowl. They’re 1.5-point underdogs at Mississippi St.
Although Willie Fritz, Michael Pratt and Tulane will offer a tough test in New Orleans on Sept. 9, I think Ole Miss will survive and take a 3-0 record to Tuscaloosa. I definitely lean to the Rebels as 15.5-point underdogs, but they’ll take their first loss to the Crimson Tide.
Ole Miss is certainly capable of beating LSU in Week 5, but I’m giving that game to Brian Kelly’s team. The Rebels could fall to Arkansas, but they catch the Razorbacks in a third consecutive travel spot off a rivalry game vs. the Aggies. I think the home team will prevail for the fifth straight season in the Ole Miss-Arkansas series, leaving the Rebels with a 4-2 record going into their bye week.
With two weeks to prepare and Auburn returning home after a tough game at LSU, I think Ole Miss will get a rare win at Auburn. Next, I’m confident Kiffin’s team will extend its winning streak to four games with home triumphs over Vandy and Texas A&M.
After losing to Georgia, look for Ole Miss to improve to 8-3 with a home win over Terry Bowden’s ULM squad. That’ll give Ole Miss ‘over’ backers a ticket to cash before the Egg Bowl.
In review, I think we’ll all agree that Ole Miss is going to lose at ‘Bama and at UGA. Furthermore, not many people will refute that the Rebels will collect victories vs. Mercer, vs. Ga. Tech, vs. Vandy and vs. ULM.
With a 4-2 record in those games, Ole Miss will have to find four wins in its six other games to cash ‘over’ tickets. I’m saying those four wins will come at Tulane, vs. Arkansas, at Auburn and vs. Texas A&M, with the Rebels losing at home to LSU.
If Ole Miss drops two of the four games I say it’s going to win, those would likely be at Auburn and vs. Texas A&M. But even if that scenario occurs, there are still the games at home vs. LSU and at Mississippi St. that are winnable contests. And if the Rebels lose only one of the four I think they win (either at Auburn or vs. A&M), we can still hit the ‘over’ with a win in Starkville.
PREDICTION: Give me 1.5 units on Ole Miss to go ‘over’ 7.5 wins at a -105 price (DraftKings or Circa).
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
-Since Kiffin took over in Oxford, he’s gone 2-0 vs. Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies.
-Ole Miss finished last season +1,411 in net yardage and -1 in turnover margin. The Rebels were +200 in total yards in their loss at Arkansas, but they were -3 in turnover margin. Kiffin’s team had 74 more yards than Texas Tech, but it was -2 in TO margin.
-The 247Sports Composite currently has Ole Miss’s 2024 recruiting class ranked No. 10 in the SEC and No. 25 nationally. The 17 verbal commitments include three four-star prospects and 14 three-star players.
-Ole Miss is in a 1-6 ATS slump in its last seven games as a home favorite.
-Auburn is 33-6 in its last 39 head-to-head meetings against Ole Miss.
-The ‘under’ has cashed in six straight Egg Bowls. In the last eight meetings in this bitter in-state rivalry, the road team is 8-0 ATS with six outright wins.
-Ole Miss has already faced Freeze once since his controversial departure from the school back in 2017. The Rebels beat Liberty 27-14 as 8.5-point home favorites in 2021.
-We shall see who wins the QB job next month between Sanders and Dart. I think Dart is the more consistent passer and although both are excellent scramblers, I think Sanders is the better runner. In Steele’s preseason magazine, he has Dart at No. 39 in terms of QB prospects that’ll be eligible for the 2024 NFL Draft. Sanders is at No. 43 on the same list.
-Bentley is No. 26 on Steele’s list of RBs for the 2024 NFL Draft. Franklin is No. 70 at WR, Prieskorn is No. 3 at TE, Trigg is No. 13 at TE, Caleb Warren is No. 39 at center, James is No. 56 at OT, Johnson is No. 17 at DE, Jared Ivy is No. 37 at DE, Ukwu is No. 51 at DE, Pegues is No. 43 at DT, Coleman is No. 25 at OLB, Prince is No. 29 at CB and DaShawn Gaddie is No. 32 at free safety.
-Gaddie is a transfer from North Texas who is listed as Hodges’s backup at the STAR position. He started 33 of 37 career games for the Mean Green from 2019-22, contributing 149 tackles, 21 PBU, four forced fumbles, two interceptions, two TFL’s and one fumble recovery.
-Ivey will be in the DE rotation. He’s started 20 career games in two seasons at Ga. Tech and one at Ole Miss. Ivey had 38 tackles, 5.5 TFL’s, 4.5 sacks, three QB Hurries, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries last year.
-Ole Miss has 20/1 odds to win the SEC West at FanDuel and 45/1 odds to win the SEC Championship Game. Since the conference split into two divisions in 1992, the Rebels are the only program that’s never won the SEC West. Texas A&M hasn’t won it, either, but the Aggies didn’t join the SEC until 2012. Kentucky and Vandy are the only other SEC schools that have never made it to Atlanta for the SECCG.