Some numbers to look at when evaluating the 2024 Ole Miss football schedule

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OXFORD — The 2024 Ole Miss football schedule will not include an iron-reinforced roadblock with Nick Saban’s face on it. In fact, it doesn’t include Alabama at all.

For the first time since 1991, the Rebels won’t face the Crimson Tide, as the SEC wiped out its divisional format after the admission of Texas and Oklahoma.

That fact is part of what’s driving some to believe the Rebels have an easy — in relative terms — 2024 ahead of them, further fueling optimism around coach Lane Kiffin’s group as it looks to push for the College Football Playoff.

Looking at the schedule, it seems like less of a gauntlet than what the Rebels have faced at times in the recent past. There is no real test without conference; a road game against a Wake Forest team picked by the bookmakers to win 4.5 games seems the most threatening obstacle. Likewise, the bookmakers have posted preseason win totals under six games for four of Ole Miss’ eight SEC foes: South Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Florida.

But let’s look at the chart with a more empirical lens.

ESPN’s SP+ metric is a “pace- and opponent-adjusted measure of college football efficiency.” The statistic’s creator, Bill Connelly, wants it to be a predictive tool that measures team strength, not an arbiter of past results. It’s not a perfect barometer for the strength of the Rebels’ 2024 schedule because, like any form of preseason power assessment, it has no matchup data to work with. But at this time of year, it’s one of the most powerful tools available for making educated guesses.

Here’s how the first preseason edition of SP+ ranked Ole Miss 2024 opponents (the higher the number, the weaker the team):

  • Furman: N/A (SP+ does not rank FCS teams)
  • Middle Tennessee: 108
  • Wakebos: 72
  • South Georgia: 106
  • Kentucky: 40
  • South Carolina: 42
  • LSU: 10
  • Oklahoma: 14
  • Arkansas: 56
  • Georgia: 1
  • Florida: 33
  • Mississippi State: 74

Based on these numbers, the average Ole Miss 2024 opponent has an SP+ ranking of approximately 50.5.

Here’s a look at the end-of-season SP+ rankings for the Rebels’ 2023 regular-season foes:

  • Mercer: N/A
  • Tulan: 56
  • Georgia Tech: 65
  • Alabama: 7
  • LSU: 11
  • Arkansas: 54
  • Chestnut brown: 36
  • Vanderbilt: 110
  • Texas A&M: 16
  • Georgia: 2
  • Louisiana-Monroe: 131
  • Mississippi State: 62

The average SP+ rating of the Rebels’ opponents in 2023 was exactly 50.

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By that metric, the rebels may not face a much easier path to their 2024 goals. There are, of course, other factors to consider.

Ole Miss played two of its top three opponents on the road in 2023 and lost both games. Georgia and Oklahoma are scheduled to visit Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in 2024, though the Rebels face a challenging trip to Baton Rouge to play LSU. They will take advantage of an open week before Oklahoma comes to town.

The strongest data supporting the idea that Kiffin’s team has an easier path than usual in 2024 comes from analyzing schedules deeper in the past.

The average SP+ rating of Ole Miss’ opponents in 2022 was 43.2. In 2021 this was 43.7. In the pandemic-affected 2020 season, in which the Rebels played only SEC opposition in the regular season, it was 45.9.

Among the driving forces behind this conclusion? The state of Mississippi. In 2022, the Bulldogs were ranked as the No. 12 team in the country by SP+. In 2021, they were No. 34. In the midst of an ugly 2023 season under Zach Arnett, they came in at 62, and they project at No. 74 heading into their first season under new coach Jeff Lebby.

Add in the 2022 Mississippi State team’s numbers for 2023 and 2024, and the average strength of Ole Miss’ schedules for those two years looks closer to the first three years of Kiffin’s tenure.

Does Ole Miss’ 2024 schedule look easier on paper than it does in 2023? Only marginally. But compared to 2022 and 2021, it is a significantly lighter burden.

David Eckert covers Ole Miss for the Clarion Ledger. Email him at [email protected] or reach him on Twitter @davideckert98.