• 77°

Managing expectations for Ole Miss’ football season

One year ago, just before No. 11 Ole Miss kicked off a season of high expectation against No. 4 Florida State, I wrote about expecting too much.

“Being a Rebel isn’t always easy, especially when expectations are high,” I wrote. “We have too many memories, like Laquon Treadwell breaking a leg on the one-foot line and fumbling away chances at a Southeastern Conference football championship. Or of Bryce Drew sinking a bucket for the other team at the last second in the first round when Ansu Sesay, and our team, belonged in the Final Four.

“So as Ole Miss approaches its 2016 opener against No. 4 Florida State, when the Rebels are ranked No. 11 in the preseason poll, forgive me for having a bit of home-brewed queasiness.”

We know how it turned out, of course: A losing season filled with injuries, defensive newcomers that never jelled and some players that appeared to give up on head coach Hugh Freeze by the time Mississippi State closed out the season in Oxford, dropping 55 points on the Rebels.

That was Freeze’s last game as a Rebel coach, paving the way for this season first for new interim head coach Matt Luke. With a self-imposed bowl ban for NCAA violations and thin numbers in depth, Ole Miss enters this season with much lower expectations than one year ago.

And it is completely captivating, the kind of scenario that can make Ole Miss seasons quite enjoyable.

With the pressure gone and expectations lower, the Rebels as underdogs is endearing, a stance we know what to do with. Consider only that the most fun seasons of Rebel football have typically come when the Rebels surprised and delighted on the field, rising above expectations.

Seven wins when you expect to compete for a national championship can feel like a failure. But seven wins in a season with lower expectation can be thrilling. And that’s likely where these Rebels are heading this year.

They have one of the best quarterbacks in the country and excellent receivers. They have more depth at running back and are working to make the defense more competitive.

That’s the secret to success, of course. Ole Miss will score points. Lots of them. But they will need decent linebacker play to convert some close games into wins.

This team could be a bit better than expectations and more enjoyable to watch than many are expecting in the first season after Freeze and under the haze of NCAA probation.

The Rebels could absolutely wreck things for a couple of good teams in the SEC with just one surprising win. Two surprising wins and then Rebel fans will quickly forget about the bowl ban.

The truth is that Matt Luke is a good coach and Shea Patterson is a good quarterback and those factors plus others mean that this year’s team should be better than last year’s, the one that began the season ranked No. 11 in the country but ended up with a losing record.

Let’s not expect anything more than enjoying the competition of our favorite team. That way, anything better will be riveting.

David Magee is Publisher of The Oxford Eagle. He can be reached at david.magee@oxfordeagle.com.