Rebels are excited. Summer is coming and Ole Miss baseball is in full swing with Ole Miss football just around the corner.
It’s late April and graduation at Ole Miss is in a couple of weeks. The Ole Miss Baseball team is in the home stretch of trying to secure a regional, a Super Regional and ultimately a trip to Omaha. Anything less will be disappointing for this infamous junior class which was the nations’ top Baseball recruiting class in 2016.
This class came to campus arguably the best class in program history. All eighteen members of that recruiting class, including five selected in the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft, decided to continue their careers at Ole Miss. The Rebels brought in five freshmen who were ranked among the top-100 high school baseball players nationwide, more than any other school in the country. Baseball America’s 2016 Top 10 classes are listed below. Also, Mississippi State did not even make the Top 25 yet they’ve had better results on the field.
2016 Baseball America Recruiting Rankings
Ole Miss Rebels
1. Ole Miss
2. North Carolina
7. Arizona State
8. Florida State
You can understand why expectations run high. Last year’s team seemed ready to make a run after winning the SEC Tournament title only to lose a home regional to Tennessee Tech. Yes, Tennessee Tech was good, but that series loss was unacceptable.
I won’t go as far to say Mike Bianco is on the hot seat, but Rebel fans patience is running thin. It’s time for Bianco to get them back to Omaha. Anything less will leave one thinking about what could have been with that 2016 class.
Gridiron Not Far Away
Football season will be here before we know it and the 2019 football season is much like baseball. Progress needs to be made with any bowl game as a minimum. The spring game didn’t tell us a lot as new coordinators Rich Rodriguez and Mike MacIntyre did not show much which was by design. What it did tell us was they will be better coached, especially on defense.
Unlike in the 2018 season, the defensive players knew where they were supposed to be on the field during the spring game. That alone will be an upgrade. Offensively with Rodriguez, you will see much more imagination in the play calling. Phil Longo’s offense put up big numbers in 2018 but with that talent, any coach could have done that. The red zone failures exposed the lack of creativity in his playbook.
Because of the NCAA sanctions, this team is very young and depth will be an issue. Forty-Eight players are freshmen and sophomores. There’s no doubt that Matt Luke has a huge challenge in front of him and you have to applaud his decision to put his ego aside and bring in great coordinators who have more head coaching experience than he does.
There is talent on both sides of the ball but the Rebels will need to stay pretty much injury free to be successful. The quarterback position is in good hands with Matt Corral but there is nothing but freshmen behind him which is risky at best. But Luke has to play with the hand he was dealt.
So how much pressure is on Matt Luke? How many games does he have to win to keep his job? Is he even on the hot seat? Logic would tell you he should get two more years including 2019 no matter what the record is. But let’s say that Ole Miss goes 4-8 or worse.
Can Ole Miss afford to continue to lose season ticket sales, donations and more importantly watch apathy set in on the program? It puts Athletics Director Ross Bjork in a tough position. I believe that if Ole Miss can win at least six games, then Luke should be nominated for coach of the year with the difficult schedule that awaits him.
Strong Start A Must
The key to the entire season are the first four games. Starting with Memphis followed by Arkansas, Southeastern Louisiana and California they need to go 3-1 worst case but three of those games could go either way at this early juncture. If the Rebels go 3-1 or even 4-0 then the six-win plateau is certainly achievable. But let’s say the Rebels go 5-7 again. You can’t just look at the overall record, but did this young team get better as the season went on. That will be the best indicator as to where this program is headed.
In the meantime, Rebel fans need to take a deep breath, go to the games and support this team and be patient. Everybody knew that the 2019 season would pose the biggest challenge with the impact of NCAA sanctions. If Luke can get this ship moving forward in 2019, then we will be able to see light at the end of the tunnel. I hope everyone has a Hotty Toddy summer!