Ole Miss-Mercer: Who has the edge?

Sep. 1—Quarterbacks

Mercer featured one of the most prolific offenses in the FCS last season, averaging 38.2 points per game. A big piece of the puzzle was quarterback Fred Payton, who threw for a school-record 3,019 yards and 32 touchdowns . Payton is gone, leaving Carter Peevy with the reins to the offense. Peevy threw for 115 yards and a touchdown in the season opener against North Alabama. Ole Miss returns junior Jaxson Dart, who threw for just under 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns and added more than 600 yards on the ground in 2022. Behind him is Spencer Sanders, who started 41 games at Oklahoma State.

Edge: Ole Miss

Running backs

Anytime sophomore Quinshon Judkins is your running back, you're probably going to win the head-to-head matchup of tailbacks. Judkins ran for an Ole Miss record 1,567 yards and 16 touchdowns as a true freshman. Behind him are seniors Ulysses Bentley IV and Jamious Griffin. Ole Miss was third in the FBS in rushing last season .

Edge: Ole Miss

Wide receivers/ tight ends

Returning Mercer receivers Ty James and Devron Harper were both first-team All-SoCon picks in 2022. They caught a combined 130 passes and 23 touchdowns. The Rebels added first-team All-Conference USA receivers Tre Harris (Louisiana Tech) and Zakhari Franklin (UTSA); the duo caught 158 combined passes and 25 touchdowns last season. Franklin wore a no-contact jersey for much of fall camp, however.

The Rebels also added All-AAC tight end Caden Prieskorn and freshman Ayden Williams and return seniors Dayton Wade and Jordan Watkins and junior tight end Michael Trigg.

Edge: Ole Miss

Offensive line

Ole Miss brings back four of five starters on the offensive line in 2023; the lone exception is at guard where junior Eli Acker — who has made nine-career starts — will take over for All-American Nick Broeker. Redshirt sophomore tackles Jayden Williams and Micah Pettus got better as their freshman seasons progressed, and senior Jeremy James has starting experience at guard and tackle. Senior Caleb Warren started 12 games at center last season.

Edge: Ole Miss

Defensive line

Ole Miss returns a trio of key seniors in defensive ends Jared Ivey and Cedric Johnson and tackle J.J. Pegues. The Rebels also added a handful of key defensive line pieces in the portal, including Nebraska's Stephon Wynn Jr., NC State's Joshua Harris and James Madison's Isaac Ukwu, among others. First-year defensive coordinator Pete Golding had success in the trenches with his defenses at Alabama, and he figures to get the most out of a deep group.

Edge: Ole Miss


Linebacker may be one of the biggest questions for the Rebels defensively, though the transfer portal has strengthened that group significantly as well. Former Louisville linebacker Monty Montgomery and former UCF linebacker Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste — both seniors — will likely join fellow seniors Ashanti Cistrunk and Khari Coleman as the key pieces in the linebacking corps. Freshman Suntarine Perkins has been a standout this fall and should see time as well. Mercer's top two leading-tacklers last season were returning linebackers Isaac Dowling and Ken Standley. The Bears ranked 21st in the FCS in rushing yards per game allowed (120.1).

Edge: Ole Miss

Defensive backs

Senior cornerback Deantre Prince, senior safeties Isheem Young and junior nickel Ladarius Tennison return for Ole Miss. The Rebels also added talent in the transfer portal in Georgia Tech cornerback Zamari Walton, North Texas cornerback DeShawn Gaddie and Miami (Ohio) safety John Saunders. Mercer was tied for third in the FCS with 17 interceptions last season.

Edge: Ole Miss

Special teams

Harper ranked eighth in the FCS in kick return average at 29.1 yards per return and averaged 16.9 yards on 10 punt returns. He also scored a touchdown on both a kick and punt return. Ole Miss senior punter Fraser Masin returns, as does redshirt sophomore kicker Caden Costa, who missed 2022 after a suspension but made 14 of 17 field goals in 2021.

Edge: Even