Last season: 42-23 (14-16 in SEC), won national title
Final ranking: No. 1
Coach (record at school): Mike Bianco (864-485-1, 22 seasons)
The good news: Ole Miss last season won the program’s first national championship in stunning fashion, going from one of the last four teams in the NCAA Tournament field to dogpiling in Omaha. While some key players like captain Tim Elko and CWS most outstanding player Dylan DeLucia are now gone, a strong core remains, led by shortstop Jacob Gonzalez and lefthander Hunter Elliott. The Rebels also welcome back second baseman Peyton Chatagnier and outfielder TJ McCants, both of whom could have gone to pro ball last summer, and brought in a strong class of newcomers, both of traditional recruits (No. 2) and transfers (No. 12). Put it all together, and the Rebels have another impressive array of talent.
The bad news: While Ole Miss has a strong returning core, it does have some big holes to fill. Elko, Justin Bench and Kevin Graham were program stalwarts who brought big offensive production and leadership to the lineup. DeLucia was only in Oxford for a year, but quickly became integral to the staff. Finding new leaders and building the kind of chemistry that helped propel the Rebels during the second half of the season takes time. More immediately, Ole Miss needs to find a new formula on the mound. It took the Rebels much of last season to find the arrangement that worked best, with DeLucia and Elliott leading the rotation, leading to Brandon Johnson at the end of the game. Look for newcomers Grayson Saunier and Xavier Rivas to quickly take on key roles on the mound, joining Elliott, Mason Nichols and Jack Dougherty.
Player to know: Jacob Gonzalez, SS.
Gonzalez has starred at shortstop for the Rebels since arriving in Oxford two years ago. He last season hit .273/.405/.558 with 18 home runs and now enters this season among the favorites to be the No. 1 draft pick. Gonzalez has all the tools scouts look for in a shortstop and he now will be the focal point of the Rebels’ lineup.
Path to Omaha: Ole Miss took one of the most unusual paths to Omaha a year ago, so the Rebels know how hard it can be. But the Rebels have the talent for a repeat trip to the CWS—and more. To make it happen, they’ll need some new leaders to emerge to replace Elko and the other veterans. If they find those players and the pitching staff gels—ideally sooner than it did a year ago—the Rebels look like a tough out. They again figure to have a…