Confetti is still blowing across some of America's football stadiums. The end of bowl season is almost here and signing day feels like it's tomorrow. So naturally, it's never too early to look ahead to next season. Below are four returning players -- in no particular order -- who Mississippi State and Ole Miss need to step up if the Rebels and Bulldogs are to remain relevant in 2016.
We'll start with probably the most obvious: Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly
The gun slinger is fresh off of a record-breaking campaign in Oxford where he annihilated Ole Miss' passing records.
The Rebels graduate Laquon Treadwell but return a handful of experienced receivers like Evan Engram, Quincy Adeboyejo, Damore'ea Stringfellow and Markell Pack with highly-touted youngsters Van Jefferson and Damarkus Lodge waiting for their turn.
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Assuming Kelly returns -- he has until Jan. 18 to declare early for the draft -- expect more records to fall. If not, the Rebels will likely turn to uber-recruit Shea Patterson to lead the way.
2. RB Eric Swinney
Learn this name: Eric Swinney. The Rebels thought so highly of the 2015 signee that they didn't recruit another running back in his class. Ole Miss hoped he would step in this year, but the Georgia product suffered a stress fracture during the summer and redshirted. Jordan Wilkins and Akeem Judd will likely start the year atop the depth chart, but don't be surprised if the versatile Swinney steps into Jaylen Walton's spot and eventually passes them by.
3. S Tony Conner
When the Rebels inked their 2013 signing class, Conner was mentioned in the same breath as Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil as one of the nation's elite prospects. Conner made 66-plus tackles in his first two seasons but suffered a meniscus tear in September and missed the majority of 2015. Expected to make a full recovery, Conner should lead the Rebels' defensive backfield along with former Gulf Coast standout Tony Bridges.
4. DE Marquis Haynes
Rising junior Marquis Haynes registered 31 tackles and 7.5 sacks during an All-American freshman campaign. He followed it up with 43 tackles and a whopping 10 sacks as a sophomore in '15. With playmakers like Nkemdiche and C.J. Johnson leaving, opponents will look to key in on the 6-foot-3, 220-pound end even more in '16. If past production is a predictor, Haynes should be up for the added attention.
5.QBs Nick Fitzgerald, Elijah Staley and Damian Williams
Replacing Dak Prescott won't be easy. I think it's debatable where the Dak Attack ranks as far as the pantheon of SEC quarterbacks is concerned -- a column for another day, I suppose -- but there's no question he was a transcendent player for the Bulldogs. Does the saying "you don't want to be the guy after 'The Guy,' but the guy after that guy" apply to era-defining quarterbacks? Junior Damian Williams has seen spot duty during his career but was actually redshirted this year because coach Dan Mullen felt he was even with underclassmen Elijah Staley and Nick Fitzgerald. It appears the quarterback competition will span spring ball right up to the start of the 2016 season. With the Bulldogs opening against South Alabama, don't be surprised if at least two of the QBs see playing time early unless one has a stranglehold of the job. I might make the more experienced Williams a slight favorite with Fitzgerald right behind him.
6. WR Fred Ross
Whoever ends up starting at quarterback, they'll have a safety net in receiver Fred Ross. One of the SEC's top receivers in '15 will be back to build on his 88-catch season where he finished with 1,007 yards and five touchdowns. The 6-foot-1 receiver has made plenty of highlight reel grabs, but he's also proven to be a reliable target. Even with De'Runnya Wilson leaving early, MSU has a solid stable of receivers returning in Ross, Fred Brown, Malik Dear and Donald Gray.
7. LB Richie Brown
He's a tackle machine. Long Beach's Richie Brown racked up tackles in high school and he continues to do it at the college level. Brown was among the SEC's leaders with 109 tackles in 2015. He also registered 13 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. With the quarterback position up in the air and the Bulldogs searching for a consistent rushing attack, don't be surprised if Brown and the defense lead MSU in '16.
8. LB Gerri Green
The Greenville native bulked up 20 pounds to 243 while reshirting in 2014. This year, the 6-foot-4 linebacker made big strides helping the Bulldogs fill the production lost with Benardrick McKinney's departure to the NFL. Green finished 2015 with 49 total tackles with two interceptions. Green checks a lot of boxes defensive coordinators look for in a linebacker. Although fellow linebackers Brown and Beniquez Brown seem to gobble up most of the tackles for MSU, expect Green to inch closer to the top of the Bulldogs' tackles list in 2016.
9. The (Other) Patrick's Picks
The newest class of Baseball Hall of Famers will be announced today, which I'm sure will lead to even more debate when it comes to snubs and overrated players.
Here's who will likely get in: Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines.
Here's who I'd vote for if I had a ballot: The previous four plus Edgar Martinez, Curt Schilling, Alan Trammell, Mike Mussina and Jim Edmonds.
I read what St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Derrick Goold wrote about his ballot and I tend to agree. If the Hall would add a line on the plaques stating a player's transgressions (i.e. PED use, gambling, etc.) my fictional ballot would include Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. But until then ...
As always, thanks for reading.
Patrick Ochs, a Sun Herald sports reporter, can be reached at email@example.com or followed on Twitter at PatrickOchs.