Mississippi is turning to an array of new players after a big season, while Troy will have a first-year coaching staff on the sidelines.
All those new faces add an element of mystery for Saturday's season opener between the No. 21 Rebels and Trojans in Oxford, Mississippi.
Lane Kiffin and Ole Miss are trying to follow up their first 10-win regular season, minus quarterback Matt Corral and a number of other stars. Kiffin plucked considerable talent from the transfer portal, including tailback Zach Evans from TCU and quarterback Jaxson Dart from Southern California.
“This one's a wild card because we've got so many new players,” said Kiffin, who pulled in the nation's No. 2 transfer class, according to 247Sports.
The Sun Belt Conference's Trojans, meanwhile, had far less turnover from a 5-7 season — on the field, at least. Former Kentucky assistant Jon Sumrall took over the program, and he has a big test in his head coaching debut.
“We’re not easing into the season,” Sumrall said. "We’re getting to measure ourselves against a really good team Game 1.
“I just want to see us play with great energy and enthusiasm and urgency. We’ll put a blanket over the scoreboard and look up and see what happened at the end of the game.”
WHO’S THE QB?
The Rebels’ starting quarterback is ... Dart OR Luke Altmyer. Kiffin hasn’t announced his choice as Corral’s successor.
“We have not made a decision, so it’s not a competitive withhold or anything,” Kiffin said Wednesday. “The guys are extremely even.”
Troy incumbent Gunnar Watson held off challenges from two transfers, Peter Costelli (Utah) and Jarret Doege, a two-year starter at West Virginia who made a brief stopover at Western Kentucky this year. Doege, the active FBS leader with 10,494 yards passing and 79 touchdowns, didn’t join the team until Aug. 18.
A few of the transfers expected to make an immediate impact for Ole Miss include Evans, fellow tailback Ulysses Bentley IV (SMU), tight end Michael Triggs (USC), wide receiver Jaylon Robinson (UCF) and linebacker Troy Brown (Central Michigan).
Evans averaged 7.3 yards per carry in two seasons at TCU.
“He’s a big-time back,” Sumrall said. "He’s as good as anybody in the country at running back from a physical ability (standpoint). He could play for anybody in America and be anybody’s No. 1 running back.”
Troy middle linebacker Carlton Martial, says Sumrall, was his biggest recruit. Martial opted to finish his career with the Trojans instead of transferring after the coaching change. He leads active players with a career average of 9.40 tackles per game. Martial's 442 career tackles ranks 18 shy of the Sun Belt record of 460.
“Maybe the most instinctive linebacker I’ve ever been around, and I’ve been around a few of them that were pretty good,” Sumrall said. “I’ve coached a couple of first-round draft picks at that position. He’s very, very instinctive. Great leader.”
Ole Miss has won nine straight games at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium dating to Nov. 14, 2020. The last loss was against another team from Alabama, 35-28 against Auburn.
TROY VS. SEC
The Trojans are 3-23 against current members of the Southeastern Conference, with wins over LSU, Missouri and Mississippi State. Troy is just 2-28 against Top 25 teams with six straight losses.
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