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Prelude to a Season: #5

5.) Mississippi Rebels

MississippiWhat You Need to Know
It’s certainly been an interesting couple years for the Ole Miss Rebels, and this offseason has been an exercise in optimism for those closest to the program while an equally stringent exercise in cynicism has begun with those who feel Ole Miss is getting a little too much celebration.

For the optimists, there is certainly valid reasons to be positive. 16 returning starters, an impressive close to 08 with a demolition of Texas Tech, a post-season #14 ranking, and most importantly, a 2009 schedule which is far from exceptionally difficult. Those looking for reasons to not believe in Ole Miss will point to their weakened schedule as a negative. They’ll say it can’t prepare them and certainly won’t help them in their computer numbers. Those pessimists will point to the three years before Houston Nutt arrived and their 3 total SEC wins as the norm and not the 9-4 exception they believe last season was. Those pessimists will also point to the games lost season without paying attention to the fact that it was by a combined 19 points. Losses against Wake Forest, Vandy, and South Carolina overshadow the close loss to Bama and the mighty upset of Florida in the minds of those looking for a reason to pass on Ole Miss.

It’s certainly an interesting argument to watch unfold. One thing that is without question is that Houston Nutt found himself in possession of an impressive cupboard stocked full of highly touted recruits brought in under the regime of former coach Ed Orgeron. Nutt’s 75-48 record at Arkansas wasn’t terrible, but Nutt and the fans never seemed happy with each other. His 10 seasons with the Razorbacks were an up and down back and forth sort of experience. Making fans ecstatic with upsets they delivered and frustrated beyond belief with the times they themselves were upset. His first season at Ole Miss could be characterized the same way in terms of who they beat and lost to, but so far so good with the fans, the administration, and the players.

Offensively for the Rebels in 2009, they return 8 starters from a unit that averaged 32.1 points per game, their best total since 2003 and a 12 point jump from 2007. 2003 was also the last time they averaged over 400 yards per game before last season’s 408. The QB of that 03 squad? Eli Manning. Leading the Rebels now is junior Jevan Snead, a consensus 2nd Team All SEC Preseason pick. After transferring from Texas and sitting out 2007, Snead certainly made the most of his first of three remaining seasons of eligibility. The leading returning rusher for the Rebels is senior Dexter McCluster, a wide out who runs mostly from the Wildcat, or Wild Rebel as it’s called in Oxford. When the Rebels do run a conventional running play, senior RB Cordera Eason returns, as does sophomores Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis. Returning besides McCluster in the receiving unit is senior Shay Hodge, the team’s leading TD catcher in 2008. The unit has lost their top yardage gainer in 08 when Mike Wallace was drafted by the Steelers, but 7 of their best 8 from 2008 all return. The impressive group of wideouts benefits from not only a strong QB, but also a large collection of talent and skill. On the line, the Rebels lose LT Michael Oher, a 1st Team All American drafted by the Ravens and RG Maurice Miller. It’s a collective unit that is talented, deep, and stockpiling even more exceptionally talented highly touted recruits.

Defensively, the Rebels were an impressive unit last season and got stronger as the year went on. Their final 4 games of the regular season? 20 total points given up. They do lose 3 starters, all of whom were integral to the success of this unit in DT Peria Jerry, LBs Ashlee Palmer and Tony Fein, along with SS Jamarca Sanford. They lose 4 of the top 5 tacklers from the 2008 team, as well as their outstanding DL coach Tracy Rocker. Despite those losses, you’ll see an Ole Miss defense that may not be as dominant early this season but will be impressive by season’s end. They litter the field with either starting experience or high accolades out of high school. There is a rotation of sorts up front, where multiple players will rotate in and out of the game. That means by conclusions of games you’ll see an Ole Miss defense that is relatively fresh. Great news for them, terrible news for opponents.

The schedule for the Rebels is as good as it could be. Out of conference, it’s exceptionally weak, with two FCS schools on the schedule in SE Louisiana and Northern Arizona. Their other non conference battles are @ Memphis and against UAB at home. In SEC play, the Rebels get road contests against South Carolina, Vandy, Auburn, and Mississippi State along with home dates against Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, and LSU. Florida, Georgia, and Kentucky do not appear.

As 09 dawns, the Rebels find themselves in a very precarious position. Certainly receiving a ton of exaltation but also not receiving anything remotely similar to conference foe Florida as well as a large group of detractors invalidating their highly ranked position in the polls. How these Rebels manage not only the detractors but also the pressure and expectations of their fans and supporters will prove one of those two groups absolutely correct.

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
QB Jevan Snead: 184-327, 2762 yds, 26 TDs, 13 INTs
WR Dexter McCluster: 44 rec, 625 yds, 1 TD, 109 att, 655 yds, 6 TDs
FS Kendrick Lewis: 85 tkls, 1 sack, 1.5 TFL, 4 INTs

Game to Watch
For the Ole Miss Rebels to be considered a success this season, they must make it to the SEC Championship game in Atlanta. Their biggest roadblocks to winning the West division are their contests against Alabama (10/10) and LSU (11/21), both at home. On the road, their toughest contest may be South Carolina (9/24), but with the Gamecocks and Rebels playing on a Thursday night and it being the SEC Opener for Ole Miss, that won’t be much of a game.

They’ll Do Well If…
… the Rebels don’t get caught up in believing or listening to either side of the Ole Miss preseason argument. Ultimately, the only thing hindering Ole Miss’ ability to succeed this season is Ole Miss and their ability to live up to their talent.

Season Outlook
For the Rebels, 2009 looks to be an unbelievably special season and one that I believe will culminate in an undefeated regular season and their first ever berth in the SEC Championship game. Unfortunately for the Rebels, they won’t be carting home an SEC title, and their weakened strength of schedule won’t make them a sure-fire at-large BCS selection, but the Rebels will be an integral part of the discussion.

One Response

  1. This is an excellent analysis. The single biggest factor in our loses last year were turnovers. We turned the ball over numerous times last year against Vandy,SC and Wake Forest. IF Snead has learned not to force the ball into coverage we will be very difficult to beat. I think our defense will be better than last year. More speed and experience in the secondary(our weakness early in the season last year) and alot of depth in defensive line. When you have Greg Hardy and Jerrell Powe on the 2nd team you are loaded. MY biggest concern is left tackle on the OL and we can’t afford any injuries here, especially at the tackle position. Thanks for the report.

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