The Ole Miss football program has a new vibe.
Prepping for the upcoming season with the NCAA investigation now behind them, Matt Luke and the Rebels are ready for a fresh start with a team that has his name on it.
Luke is 11-13 at his alma mater as he enters his third season. He was rushed into the job just days after the 2017 SEC Media Days when former coach Hugh Freeze was fired.
This past offseason, Luke further stamped the program as his by hiring coordinators Rich Rodriguez and Mike MacIntyre, both of them former head coaches at multiple stops.
“There’s a lot of excitement in our building right now for a lot of different reasons,” Luke said Tuesday at this year’s SEC event. “We had a very productive and very busy off-season.”
In all, five of the 10 current assistant coaches were not on the staff last season.
Part of the excitement comes from the free-and-clear chance to compete for a bowl game. A year ago the Rebels were in the midst of an unsuccessful appeal of the second year of the NCAA’s two-year bowl ban.
“It’s awesome. Coach Luke has instilled in us to play for each other and to play for something bigger than ourselves. Now with a bowl game, it’s scary for other teams. We have a lot more incentive,” senior offensive tackle Alex Givens said. “Playing for a bowl game brings a huge spark to our team. It’s a great vibe around the locker room.”
Ole Miss returns eight defensive starters as MacIntyre installs a new 3-4 scheme.
Three starters return on offense as Rodriguez installs a run-based spread option. “I would say it’s a little more up-tempo than last year,” Givens said. “We’ve been doing a lot of conditioning to get ready for it.”
The Rebels haven’t played in a bowl game since defeating Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl in 2015. They were not under a bowl ban in 2016 but failed to qualify at 5-7.
“It wasn’t too long ago that this program was competing for championships. This young team has to go out and compete. They’ve got to grow,” Luke said.
“The immediate goal is to get this team back to the postseason … then start getting back in the hunt for winning championships.”
Luke also made it known that freshman Matt Corral is his quarterback of the future.
The Rebel head man says Corral “was thrust into a leadership role, and I really think he’s done a great job of competing and carrying himself the right way.”
The 6-foot-1, 207-pound Corral was productive in limited action last season. He completed 16 of 22 passes (72.7 percent) for 239 yards, two touchdowns and one interception and also ran for 83 yards and two touchdowns.
Corral says the early leadership “doesn’t feel forced, I wanted it this way. It’s part of the reason I came here — being a leader, doing what you’re supposed to do and setting an example.”