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Previewing Ole Miss vs Mercer In Rebels’ Opener

Ole Miss vs Mercer

The college football season is finally upon us, which means plenty of heated discussions and debates surrounding the College Football Playoff and who is going to get into the last playoff of four teams before it expands to 12. But it also comes with an underrated matchup in Ole Miss vs. Mercer during its Week 1 slate.

There’s little history to go off of between these two teams, as they’ve only met once before. Way back on November 4, 1911, Ole Miss shut out the Bears 34-0. Now, over a century later, the two programs are ready to go head to head once more.

What to Expect

Despite being an FCS program, don’t confuse Mercer as being just another non-conference tune-up for a Power 5 team. The Bears have put together back-to-back seven-win seasons, including starting last year at 6-1, with the lone loss coming to the Auburn Tigers. A 1-3 finish to the season seemingly quelled some of the momentum, but the flashes were there. In fact, it was good for them to end the year ranked 22nd in the FCS coaches poll.

But arguably more importantly, the Bears offense should be a good opening test for what looks to be an improved Ole Miss defense under new defensive coordinator Pete Golding. A lot of Mercer’s team success last season was predicated on the performance of the offense. Averaging a touch over 38 points per game, the Bears’ offense put them at sixth in the FCS in scoring.

On the other side of the ball, the Mercer defense gave up 22 points per game during the 2022 season, which was good for 24th in the FCS. However, they have already played a game this season, a 17-7 victory over North Alabama. But despite only allowing seven points in the opener, it may be worth noting that the Lions finished the 2022 season at 1-10. So while an impressive defensive showing, an opponent like North Alabama may not be the best barometer for determining the Bear’s defensive outlook this season.

Can the Mercer defense slow down the high-powered Ole Miss offense, at least enough to give them the chance to sneak out of Oxford with an upset victory? This is potentially the biggest storyline of this matchup.

Players To Watch

Ole Miss

For the Rebels, the obvious answer is Quinshon Judkins. Last year’s SEC rushing leader returns as a sophomore, and with his return comes plenty of preseason hype. Can he pick up where he left off last season? A solid performance in this one would be a good start.

Also in the Rebel backfield, look for Jaxson Dart to be a big-time playmaker on Saturday. Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin has not officially announced a starter from a crowded quarterback room. All signs are pointing to Dart being QB1 this season in Oxford.

After a good, but sometimes inconsistent, season as the Ole Miss starter last season, Dart looked good during spring practice and has continued to impress with his progress throughout the summer. If this progression can continue, look for Dart to not only be the starter but to also receive some nationwide attention, as well.

On the defensive side of the ball, much of the attention should be on the Rebels defensive line. Between Jared Ivey, Isaac Ukwu, and Cedric Johnson, this unit is loaded. And with an aggressive defensive coordinator like Golding, the opportunities are going to be there for those guys to disrupt things in the backfield. Against an up-tempo Bears offense, they’re going to need to do just that.


On the other sideline, for the Mercer offense, look for junior running back Al Wooten II to try to be a difference-maker. Wooten II was the Bears leader in carries and rushing yards last season, and that shouldn’t change this season.

It’s also worth keeping an eye on wide receivers Devron Harper and Ty James. Harper is a senior who led the team in receptions last season and performs more as an intermediate route runner. White, on the other hand, is a deep threat. The team leader last year in receiving yards and TDs, White has averaged over 20 yards per reception each of the last two seasons.

In terms of the Bears’ defense, keep your eyes on junior linebacker Isaac Dowling. He is the unquestioned leader of the defense, partially due to his recording 100 total tackles last season. That performance was good enough for him to be named First Team All-Conference in the SoCon as a sophomore.

The Bottom Line

This is a good opening test for Ole Miss. Going up against a solid FCS opponent with a good offense should provide a quality challenge for Kiffin and Golding in the opener. But it shouldn’t be one that provides the chance for an upset.

Mercer is certain to arrive in Oxford looking to pull off the upset over a quality SEC opponent. In fact, expect the Bears to keep things close for the first half. But in the end, talent should win out. We can expect plenty of points to be scored. And there is the potential for big plays from both sides. But the Rebels offense should eventually prove to be too much.

Look for Mercer to bring lots of energy, but Ole Miss to find a way to close the door down the stretch.

Ole Miss 49, Mercer 24 


Ole Miss vs Mercer

Photo courtesy: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports



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