The Ole Miss Rebels, under the leadership of head coach Lane Kiffin, had their best regular season in program history last year.

Ole Miss went 10-3 in 2021. They had a shot at 11 wins but they lost the Sugar Bowl to Baylor.

Expectations in 2022 should be high, right? Kiffin is entering his third season with the program. He made progress in each of his first two seasons. The next step should be competing for the SEC West division title.

I feel like that’s what most Ole Miss fans and SEC fans expect from the Rebels this season. And they should — we’ve seen plenty of magic happen in year three for programs.

Well, Kiffin has other ideas. While I’m sure he’d love to win the SEC West, he’s already preparing fans for a letdown season.

Former Vols Lane Kiffin Ole Miss
Jul 18, 2022; Atlanta, GA, USA; Mississippi and former Tennessee Vols head coach Lane Kiffin speaks to the media during SEC Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Kiffin met with reporters this week as Ole Miss opens fall camp and he made several comments that sound like excuses for the upcoming season.

“We have a lot of moving parts as we’ve discussed all spring and good players, and like we told the team in the team meeting, this is a different era nowadays in general,” said Kiffin. “You don’t have programs where everyone has been there for years in your program understanding what the expectations are. I’m sure a lot of people are doing this, but especially us with the amount of transfers and having some many people and guys who are supposed to be big players for us being new, it’s a big challenge of ours.”

“It’s about how well we can get the players to buy into the values and principles of our organization and what we do here because we know that’s not just gonna happen overnight.”

When Kiffin was specifically asked if winning the SEC West was the next step for the program, he offered a response that has to be less than satisfying for Ole Miss fans.

“I don’t think like that, and I may be wrong, but I think each year is so new especially nowadays with the turnover of your roster,” said Kiffin. “To think that we left off here and we’re supposed to be here, this isn’t the NFL where you have most of your roster returning next year and taking the next step. Not just our roster is different, but the people that we play are different.”

“So no I don’t look at it that way, that’s looking so far ahead. I’m not saying that it isn’t achievable, but that’s just so far from today. We’re still on today and trying to get guys better today and trying to figure things out, so we’ll worry about that down the road.”

If you’re a big Kiffin fan, maybe you’re ok with that answer.

But I don’t think that’s a good answer at all.

Kiffin didn’t have to say explicitly “yes, we want to win the SEC West this year”. That wasn’t necessary. But he could’ve said something like “we don’t want to put limits on what we can accomplish”. That’s a vague enough answer that it won’t generate headlines and it also doesn’t feel like he’s casting doubt on the program’s ability to compete against Alabama.

I like Kiffin. I think he’s good for the SEC and I think he’s done a terrific job at Ole Miss. But these answers feel like a coach who is preparing the fan base for a letdown season after one of the best years in program history.

Maybe I’m wrong. We’ll see in a few months (and I’ll revisit this). But for now, I’m looking at Kiffin’s words this week as excuses.

Featured image via Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports