2021 NCAA Top 25 Preview: No. 4 Ole Miss

Image credit: Doug Nikhazy (Getty Images)

Last season: 16-1
Final ranking: No. 8
Coach (record at school): Mike Bianco (767-440-1, 20 years)

Top 200 draft prospects: RHP Gunnar Hoglund (No. 23), LHP Doug Nikhazy (No. 113)

The good news: Ole Miss was on a 16-game winning streak when the season was halted, and its 16-1 record was tied with Alabama and Florida for the best in the nation. A big part of the reason the Rebels were off to such a strong start was their rotation of lefthander Doug Nikhazy and righthanders Gunnar Hoglund and Derek Diamond. That trio returns in 2021 and will again give Ole Miss one of the best rotations in the country. The rest of the pitching staff also offers strong depth and key relievers Taylor Broadway and Braden Forsyth are back to anchor the bullpen. As good as the pitching can be, Ole Miss had one of the best offenses in the early going in 2020. It averaged 9.5 runs per game (third in the country) and led the nation with 2.18 home runs per game. Seven players who hit at least two home runs return in 2021, led by second-year freshman catcher Hayden Dunhurst, who hit five in 17 games. The Rebels don’t have to be an all-or-nothing offense, however. They ranked 16th nationally in on-base percentage and Peyton Chatagnier, Tim Elko and Hayden Leatherwood all return after hitting better than .300.


The bad news: Though Ole Miss is not short on returning talent, it must replace shortstop Anthony Servideo and third baseman Tyler Keenan. Not only does their departure open up the left side of the infield, it also leaves a sizable hole in the lineup as they were the Rebels’ two best hitters in 2020. Elko, a fourth-year junior, has mostly played the outfield in recent seasons but will now move to third base, where he saw some time early in his career. The Rebels have several options at shortstop and this fall were impressed by true freshman Jacob Gonzalez. He stood out both at the plate, where he led the team in hitting, and defensively, recording the least errors of any infielder. Keenan and Servideo also combined for 12 home runs, a total that on most teams would raise questions about replacing that power. But with so many other sluggers back in the fold, replacing Servideo’s speed and on-base skills is perhaps a more pressing issue. Gonzalez has solid speed himself and John Rhys Plumlee, an outstanding athlete, has the ability to wreak havoc on the bases. True freshman T.J. McCants also could add athleticism to the lineup. Ultimately, it will take a group effort to account for the losses of such a talented, experienced infield duo.

Player to know: Gunnar Hoglund, RHP.

Hoglund came to college with a lot of hype after he was drafted 36th overall by the Pirates in 2018 but chose to attend Ole Miss instead of signing. He’s been in the Rebels’ rotation ever since and was off to a hot start in 2020. While classmate Doug Nikhazy was Ole Miss’ Opening Day starter in 2020, Hoglund is every bit as important to the team’s 2021 College World Series hopes and is likely to be the first of the pair drafted in June. If the Rebels are to reach their ceiling, they’ll need a strong spring out of Hoglund.

Path to Omaha: Ole Miss will have one of the best 1-2 punches in the country with Nikhazy and Hoglund leading the rotation. If Diamond builds on his strong debut, the Rebels will have a premier pitching staff capable of leading them deep into the postseason. With that kind of pitching, they won’t need their offense to perform at the high-octane level it was early in 2020. But if the lineup keeps rolling, Ole Miss could well be the class of the SEC West and reach Omaha for the first time since 2014.

2021 Lineup
C Hayden Dunhurst, R-Fr. .269 .355 .577 52 5 13
1B Cael Baker, R-Jr. .220 .349 .520 50 4 15
2B Peyton Chatagnier, R-Fr. .311 .449 .574 61 4 13
3B Tim Elko, R-Jr. .354 .373 .667 48 3 15
SS Jacob Gonzalez, Fr. HS — Glendora, Calif.
LF Kevin Graham, R-So. .237 .326 .579 38 3 9
CF Justin Bench, R-So. .295 .458 .386 44 1 11
RF Hayden Leatherwood, R-Jr. .361 .477 .639 36 3 11
DH Ben Van Cleve, R-Jr. .385 .529 .500 26 0 1
LHP Doug Nikhazy, R-So. 3 1 2.35 23 31 0
RHP Gunnar Hoglund, R-So. 2 0 3.48 21 15 0
RHP Derek Diamond, R-Fr. 2 0 3.48 21 15 0
RP Taylor Broadway, R-Sr. 2 0 0.56 16 18 0
RP Braden Forsyth, R-So. 1 0 1.23 7 9 5

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