Ole Miss mailbag: Who should the Rebels prioritize in the transfer portal?

Dec. 3—OXFORD — It's a different sort of week with there being no Ole Miss game, so I asked for questions about the Rebels. And you certainly delivered. I tried to answer as many as I could.

I'm hearing a lot about Dillon Gabriel, Spencer Rattler, and now possibly Bo Nix entering the portal. If you were Lane/Lebby who would you prioritize as the next QB to take over?

Also who are some other transfer portal players to keep an eye on? Maybe even some under the radar guys or people that would be a good fit in the system.

What positions do we need to hit the biggest in the portal and guys that could help and what positions should they look to extend more high school players with?


The quarterback quandary for 2022 is one I think we all have in the back of our heads. You don't necessarily replace Matt Corral — I don't think you can plug in somebody and expect the same presence. I've said it before, and I still firmly believe it: No player means more to his team than Matt Corral does to Ole Miss. So much in college football hinges on the quarterback now. Heck, even Alabama, who was winning titles with "eh" quarterback player early, has elite guys under center. And Ole Miss has had one of the best.

That being said, I think that the roster is set up that if you do get someone who can play right away, there's a chance to have another nice season. Would it be 10-2? Who knows. But someone who can step in immediately instantly makes this a bowl team again. Rattler and Gabriel are hot names, and I personally like Gabriel's fit a bit better given his familiarity with Lebby's offense when he was at UCF. He also has a longer track record of production, while Rattler has been erratic. Either would lead this team back into the top-25, in my option. According to 247Sports' Brandon Marcello, Gabriel is visiting this weekend.

None of this is to say that Luke Altmyer won't be great, either. But for a roster that can win immediately, you want a sure thing at the most important position.

I think around the roster, the big things I see are pass rusher, tackle, defensive back, linebacker and receiver. Sam Williams was historic this season, and to expect Cedric Johnson to duplicate Williams' sack numbers isn't fair. That isn't to say he can't — but a proven pass rusher would help all around. I also think an offensive tackle would be prudent, as there's a chance Nick Broeker goes pro. You don't ever want to lose your left tackle, and even if you think Jeremy James can play there, you still need someone on the other side. We saw this year that the offensive was somewhat thin, with guys switching sides of the ball midseason. A center might not hurt, either, given Orlando Umana will be gone, though Bryce Ramsey might be a good option.

Defensive back is always a need for pretty much any college football team, but there were times the Rebel's secondary was burned. Linebacker is a priority too even if Chance Campbell comes back, as Mark Robinson and Lakia Henry will be gone and MoMo Sanogo is transferring.

With Dontario Drummond and Braylon Sanders leaving, I think an instant playmaker could really help out wide as well. Jonathan Mingo is a great player, but he has been inconsistent at times. The same can be said of John Rhys Plumlee and Dannis Jackson.

I personally think this is going to be a year where Ole Miss hits the portal really hard, as there are a lot of pieces in-place to have a successful follow-up season.

Parrish reported on contract talks for Kiffin about a week ago. He said the sides were close. Are there any updates? Along those lines, it seems several other programs — with coaches who are hot prospects for other jobs — are locking those coaches down with improved contracts. Ole Miss has not done so yet. So one point of view might be that, although he is out recruiting really hard, Kiffin is also waiting it out to see what other opportunities he might have before signing the previously reported potential new contract. Would love to get your thoughts on this as I'm sure you are much closer to inside info than the rest of us are.


Parrish and I have both been trying to get something firm on this front, but it's been to no avail. Kiffin is out recruiting currently, as are his assistants. I'm not sure when it will all be finalized, but I do think it's in the works. This is the week (or couple of weeks) when things get done. I do think the contracts of Lincoln Riley and Brian Kelly are potentially making the move more expensive. I also think that raises for assistants might be a factor as well, given a guy like Lebby is a hot commodity.

I think coaches are always aware of what's out there, but I don't necessarily think they are always looking for the opportunities. Sometimes they kind of fall in your lap, and you listen. But I don't think that has really happened yet. The jobs to look out for are Oklahoma and Miami (if it opens). But I don't think those are instant "gimmes" in terms of Kiffin leaving should the right offer arise. They're attractive, for sure, but Kiffin has a pretty good thing going here right now. I also think Ole Miss is going to be pretty competitive on matching contracts of any other potential suitors.

Long story short — there's no reason to be worried yet.

You are a staff reporter for Ole Miss, a team that I am guessing was not on your mind on a daily basis prior to joining the Journal. How do you balance being a journalist vs. getting caught up in what has been, at least for Ole Miss fans, a magical year. Were there times when you felt a conflict in those roles? Did you ever feel like Trent Crimm of The Independent in developing a fondness for your subjects? And, for the record, I think that is okay when it is well-deserved.


This is a really interesting question, and one that I know a lot of reporters grapple with. I think the best way to put is that I think all reporters root for good stories and seek those out. However that manifests itself depends on the circumstances of the team you're covering. I've covered some really, really mediocre or bad teams that had great stories — one of the most fun experiences I ever had writing a story was about a high school program in Southern California that was so bad, their quarterback didn't know which hand he threw with.

With this Ole Miss team, I think its success has opened up more storylines and has created a buzz around the program that encourages the sort of in-depth stories I love. The Matt Corral and Sam Williams profiles I was able to write worked and got a ton of traction because people wanted to read about a top-10 program. When the team you cover is good, you have the luxury of thinking a bit bigger in terms of what you want to write. And that's a really, really cool feeling.

Trent Crimm's fondness for Ted Lasso (I love that show, by the way) I think is a sort of exaggerated example of how things could look. Relationships are really important in this business (and life, really), and it's OK to talk to people you work with or around casually. You keep it professional, of course, but you can be a human being in this setting. It not only leads to potentially getting better stories down the line because you have a stronger relationship, but it's also just sort of a good life lesson to get along with people. It never hurts to be friendly.

Does Matt Corral have a future in the NFL? Like a Marcus Mariota/ Jake Fromm career, or None at all? Also, scale 1-flavortown, how pissed are you that you weren't in Laradise (Laramie, Wyoming) yesterday?


Let me start with the second part first — full disclosure, I love to cook and watch way too much Food Network. I love Guy Fieri and "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives." So when I got a text that he was in Laramie, Wyoming, where my last job was, to say my heart sank a bit was an understatement. Guy, you had two years with me in town to come and you pick NOW? That's just cruel. But honestly, I am really excited for Laramie. It's a great little town with some awesome restaurants, and I'm happy they will be profiled and get some much-deserved attention.

Now, about Corral: I think the NFL has changed a lot in the last few years. The days of the prototypical 6-foot-5 quarterback are more a luxury than necessity now. We've seen guys like Baker Mayfield get drafted extremely high and other guys like Russell Wilson thrive despite not being extremely tall. Drew Brees falls in there too, though he bucked the trend a bit earlier.

I think Corral has a couple of things going for him. 1) He's tough as nails, and general managers love that, as do potential teammates. 2) He has a big-time arm. There aren't many quarterbacks at the college level who air it out as much as Corral has the last two years, and there's a reason: he has a rare arm. 3) He's mobile. That is a huge plus these days, as NFL teams have trended toward college offenses (run-pass options, etc.). 4) He made people around him better. There are a lot of quarterbacks who enter the NFL these days and struggle because teams end up finding that they were as much a product of elite talent around them as they were their own abilities.

That's not to say Corral hasn't had talented guys around him — Elijah Moore was pretty dang good — but this year, particularly, we saw him raise his teammates up when players were out with injuries. I think that's a really, really important trait. Andrew Luck was a guy who did that, and he had to do it for the Colts as well. I think Corral has those same traits.

Quarterbacks are always a coin flip. If it was an exact science, the Miami Dolphins wouldn't be on their 100th quarterback since Dan Marino. But I do think Corral has a good chance of success if the right team takes him and invests around him.

What do you see that Ole Miss people don't see even though it's right in front of our eyes? What surprised you? What have you learned about the South, the SEC, Mississippi, and Ole Miss that was contrary to what you thought when you got here?


Another fun question I've been asked by family and friends. I don't know if there is anything that I see more clearly than Ole Miss fans, but I will say this — I hope fans understand just how special this season has been within a historical context. Most fans I've interacted with have been ecstatic about this season, and they should be. But there are some people that aren't happy with "ugly wins" or rankings or certain position groups, etc. And I get that; it's part of being a fan, and fans always want the best from the teams they bleed for.

But I can tell you, as someone who grew up during the Pete Carroll USC era in Los Angeles, you sometimes don't realize how special a season is until it's too late. During that run in the mid-2000s, it was a given USC was a title contender and a conference champion. There was no reason to think it would ever stop, until it did. And USC hasn't really had that same magic since. There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the future of Ole Miss football, but a season like 2021 is really rare. Appreciate it for what it is.

In terms of being surprised, I guess the thing that has surprised me most is how much the job translates no matter where you are. I covered Mountain West schools before this, and I wouldn't say I was intimidated by an SEC beat, but there is naturally a part of you that wonders if you'll be overwhelmed. And there have definitely been moments where it's been a little too much, but for the most part the job has been the same. And there is something reassuring knowing that the way you do a job translates, regardless of the level.

I didn't really have a ton of preconceived notions when I came to the South which, admittedly, I had never set foot in. I think the overall transition would have been a lot harder if I hadn't lived outside California previously. I lived in Idaho and Wyoming for six years, so getting used to somewhere that wasn't "home" wasn't super difficult.

In a similar way to how you naturally wonder about stepping up in jobs, I think you worry about how you'll fit in a place you don't know much about. I've been watching SEC football on CBS my whole life; was I ready for that life? But when it comes down to it, people are people, no matter where you go. There's always an adjustment period, but you figure things out pretty quickly if you decide you want to. I've always made sure to be invested in communities I've lived in, and Oxford isn't any different.

If there is one thing that surprised me in the SEC, it's the passion from fans. Don't get me wrong, I expected it. But I didn't think I would see Texas A&M fans tailgating at 5 p.m. the night before the actual game. One of the cool things about this job is seeing other stadiums and how their fanbases embrace their teams. Every place I have been has had an amazing tailgating scene and fans that love the school. I had some pretty cool awesome tailgates at USC, but it was nothing like what I've encountered here.

MICHAEL KATZ is the Ole Miss athletics reporter for the Daily Journal. Contact him at