It’s finally here. That’s right, college football season is now upon us. For any SEC fan, football season is like Christmas come early, and luckily for us we have some big games coming up that will have major SEC implications.
On ESPN this Thursday at 7 pm Central time, the Boise State Broncos will take on the 18th ranked Ole Miss Rebels in a battle of two former Arkansas State Red Wolf head coaches. This game kicks off one of the most exciting seasons for Ole Miss since they were ranked eighth in the AP preseason polls in the 2009-10 season. Boise State is also breaking in a new era, lead by their first-year coach Bryan Harsin.
There’s a lot to be excited about in Oxford. Hugh Freeze has made much more progress in his two seasons with the Rebs than expected, leading to a substantial amount of hype. The Rebels return nine of their defensive starters, as well as six on the offensive side. On defense they should be stacked, particularly in the secondary and defensive line. They return guys like All-American safety Cody Prewitt and 2013 consensus top recruit Robert Nkemdiche. If you haven’t watched Cody Prewitt play, I highly suggest checking out some of his highlights: this guy is an absolute stud. His balanced mix of coverage skills as well as his ability to lay the wood is impressive to see. He led the SEC in interceptions with 6 a season ago and gave the Rebel fans plenty of big hits as well. This secondary also features senior cornerback Senquez Golson, junior safety Trae Elston, and sophomore Tony Conner. These three are all expected to play big roles in a secondary that’s expected to be among the top in the SEC. Along the defensive line there is plenty of depth, including CJ Johnson, Fadol Brown, and Isaac Gross. This line will be deep and able to swap in guys at multiple spots to generate a good pass rush. At linebacker, there is a ton of experience between seniors Deterrian Shackelford, who has been at Ole Miss for what feels like 30 years, and All-SEC guys Serderius Bryant and Denzel Nkemdiche. The trio has a knack for getting to the ball-carrier. Overall, the Rebel defense has the experience and talent to be one of the SEC’s best.
On offense, the Rebels return the SEC’s most experienced quarterback in senior Bo Wallace, who has been dealing with nagging shoulder injuries over his last two seasons. Reports suggest that his shoulder appears to be stronger and he looks ready for the season. They also bring back their top two rushers from last year in I’tavius “I-Train” Mathers and Jaylen Walton. On the offensive line, stud sophomore left tackle Laremy Tunsil will be back to anchor this unit. Outside of Tunsil, the line will have some questions to answer throughout the season. With injuries and transfers, the O-line looks to be the weakest link of this team. At receiver, the Rebels has some potentially great talent. Although Donte “Feed” Moncrief took his talents to the NFL, sophomore Laquon Treadwell comes back to be the teams go-to guy. He has put on some muscle and looks to be on pace to battle for the title of college football’s best receiver. Next to him, the Rebels have sophomore tight end Evan Engram, freshmen All-SEC player last year despite missing several games with a nagging ankle injury. Senior Vince Sanders also comes back to bring his consistent hands to this receiving core.
Overall, this Rebel team looks to be an up-and-comer in the SEC West, ready to make some noise and move up in the college football ranks.
For Boise State, there is a new regime taking the reigns from Chris Peterson. Bryan Harsin comes to Boise from Arkansas State, and is looking to keep this team at the competitive level it has come to know over the last decade.
Boise State is best known for the Statue of Liberty play against Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. The team hasn’t had much star power since Kellen Moore was running the show, but they still managed to go a respectable 8-5 a season ago. Although Chris Peterson departed for Washington in the offseason, the new man in charge is not unfamiliar with the team. (Harsin graduated from Boise State and spent a few years coaching there.)
On offense, the Broncos return their star running back Jay Ajayi, after rushing for 1,425 yards and earning All-MWC honors last year. They also bring back two receivers who enjoyed very good seasons a year ago in Matt Miller and Shane Williams-Rhodes. On the offensive line, Boise State lost three seniors from last year. Finally, at quarterback, the Broncos will look to senior Grant Hedrick to replace Joe Southwick. With the teams top two receivers and top running back returning, I expect Hedrick to be just fine.
On the defensive side of the ball, Boise struggled a bit last season after being great in the previous seasons. They were good enough to play well against mid-major teams, but struggled against teams from bigger conferences. Things won’t get easier after losing Demarcus Lawrence and his 10.5 sacks from last year, as well as two other starters on their defensive line. The pass defense already struggled, and losing their top pass rusher certainly doesn’t help. The back half of the defense wasn’t much better, but they do bring back essentially their whole linebacker and secondary group. Overall, the strength of this defense will come from the experience among the back seven.
For the matchup on Thursday, I expect the Rebels to execute on offense, and move the ball well on the Bronco defense. Walton and Mathers will be a good 1-2 punch and play well against the weak and inexperienced Boise St. defensive line. I also expect Wallace to find Treadwell early and often, on their way to a big day on offense. Look for the Rebel defense to play lights-out, but the Broncos will still manage a few touchdowns courtesy of their talented skill position players.
My Prediction: Ole Miss 42 Boise State 21