Some national pundits believe Ole Miss is under the football radar this season.
The Rebels should be better IF they play better defense.
Last season, the first under Lane Kiffin, their offense was their defense. They won five games because of their ability to score.
They beat Kentucky 42-41 in overtime, topped Vanderbilt 54-21, bested South Carolina 59-42 and won the Egg Bowl 31-24.
The Rebels then beat Indiana in the Outback Bowl 26-20, which represented the second fewest points they scored all season. The lowest total was in a 33-21 loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Their offense shot itself in the foot against the Hogs with six interceptions, but Arkansas had put in a defense that Rebels quarterback Matt Corral had never seen.
In his defense, he had only eight other interceptions the entire season.
Kiffin and Corral, although they never would admit it, probably have the Arkansas game circled for some vengeance. Of course, Alabama will be a focal point as the Tide are for everyone in the SEC.
There's no doubt that Kiffin is a brilliant offensive mind.
The Rebels lost to Alabama, the eventual national champion, 63-48. They were tied at the half at 21-21, but the Tide rolled in the second half.
They lost to LSU in Death Valley 53-48 when the Tigers scored 14 unanswered points in the last 5:31.
So if you throw the Arkansas game out, the first season under Kiffin was not bad except for the lack of defense.
Maybe it is good news that nine starters return on defense, or maybe not.
The Rebels also have eight starters back on offense, and Corral has been named preseason SEC first-team quarterback by just about every preseason publication.
Ole Miss should be 3-0 when it travels to Alabama. It opens in Atlanta against Louisville before hosting Austin Peay and Tulane.
The Rebels once again catch the Razorbacks the week after playing the Crimson Tide, but this year's game is in Oxford.
The remainder of their schedule is on the road to Tennessee (with a first-year coach), host LSU (a game the Rebels always circle), at Auburn (another first-year head coach) and then host Liberty (a return of former head coach Hugh Freeze, who beat Alabama twice as the Rebels coach and was 10-1 last season).
They finish by hosting Texas A&M and Vanderbilt before traveling to Mississippi State.
Considering the schedule and the return of the eight offensive starters, it is easy to see why some think Ole Miss should be improved.
The Rebels, on paper, look good enough for at least eight wins.
IF the defense has improved.
Last season, Ole Miss rushed for 2,374 yards but gave up 2,249. The Rebels averaged 344 yards per game passing but allowed 312. They averaged 39 points per game but gave up 38 ppg.
If not for the Vanderbilt game, they might not have won the battle of statistics.
Co-coordinators for defense D.J. Durkin and Chris Partridge have reputations for being better than what the defense showed last year. Of course, they didn't get a spring practice and only August and September to install their defense.
Kiffin is a big part of the Rebels winning five games last year, and for the first time in his head coaching career he didn't get into any controversies because of his mouth.
The offense played hard for him. Even when Corral suffered six interceptions against the Razorbacks, Kiffin remained positive, at least publicly.
And someone at Ole Miss is looking forward to playing Arkansas, because it was selected as the homecoming game.