2009 SEC Preview: Ole Miss

2009 SEC Football Previews | Gate 21

I must admit, I was a little perplexed when Ole Miss hired Houston Nutt from Arkansas as their head coach after the 2007 season. While Nutt was an upgrade as a head coach from Ed Orgeron, Nutt didn’t exactly have incredible success while in Fayetteville. Sure, Nutt was a good coach, but how much success could he really have in Oxford?

Well, Nutt certainly made my thinking look foolish last year when Ole Miss burst onto the college football season after beating Florida in Gainesville. You almost forget it, but Ole Miss lost the game before – at home to Vanderbilt – the win in Gainesville and lost the two games after that – at home to South Carolina and at Alabama.

But the Rebels won the final six games of year in impressive fashion, including routs of LSU and Mississippi State and an upset win over “mighty” Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl (glad to see the Red Raiders won’t be terribly overrated again this year). Thus, you have the reason for the momentum and hype surrounding Ole Miss coming into this year.

While I still have my questions about Nutt’s recruiting ability (and his ability to do math when it comes to counting signees), he’s got a pretty stout team this year, he’s going to try to lead Ole Miss to its first-ever appearance in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game in December.

Schedule Breakdown

    Assumed wins:

  • at Memphis (Ole Miss has won four in a row over the Tigers)
  • Southeastern Louisiana, UAB, Northern Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Tennessee
  • at Mississippi State
  • Assumed losses:

  • There’s some tricky games, but actually none I see that Ole Miss can’t win.
  • Toss-ups:

  • at South Carolina
  • at Vanderbilt (the Dores have won the last two)
  • Alabama (Ole Miss plays these three games back-to-back-to-back)
  • at Auburn
  • LSU

Outside of Jevan Snead, Dexter McCluster may the second-most vital piece of the Ole Miss offense


QB Jevan Snead (Jr.): By now, you know Snead’s story. Recruited heavily, allegedly told by Urban Meyer Florida was recruiting Tim Tebow as a linebacker, chose Florida, switched to Texas, lost out to redshirt freshman Colt McCoy, and now he’s at Ole Miss. Snead was the biggest part of the Rebels’ win streak the close the year and biggest reason for optimism this year. Ole Miss hasn’t had a quality QB since Eli Manning, and Snead arguably has better players surrounding him than Manning did.

The backfield: The same group from last year returns – Dexter McCluster (who’s actually listed as a receiver but led Ole Miss in rushing last year), Cordera Eason, Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis. Those four combined for over 2,000 yards and 17 touchdowns last year rushing. Then there’s the Wildcat formation, of course, which Nutt used at Arkansas and used last year as well with McCluster and Bolden.

Defensive line: Ole Miss fans obviously have ill will towards former coach Orgeron, but they should be thanking him for recruiting this bunch of defensive lineman. You’ve got ends Kentrell Lockett, Greg Hardy and Marcus Tillman and tackles Lawson Scott, Jerrell Powe and Ted Laurent.

With Hardy consistently dealing with injuries, Lockett emerged last year, and Tillman’s started 36 games as a Rebel in his career. And how good is Hardy? He had 18 tackles last year, eight and a halfof which were sacks. Scott’s well over 300 lbs and was an honorable mention all-SEC player last year. Powe’s a slightly smaller Terrance Cody and Laurent started 7 games last year, and was only behind Hardy, Lockett, and NFL draft pick Peria Jerry in tackles for loss.

Can Houston Nutt lead Ole Miss SEC Championship Game appearance #1?


They’re Ole Miss: As I touched on in the introduction, Ole Miss has never been to the SEC Championship Game and hasn’t won an SEC title since 1963. Even when they had Eli Manning earlier this decade, all the Rebels managed was a split Western Division title with eventual national champion LSU in 2003. Now I know Ole Miss’ history won’t win or lose them a division or conference title this year, but the point remains.

Close games: Ole Miss went just 2-4 in games decided by less than a touchdown last year. Their four losses came by a combined 19 points, and it’s a similar situation to Alabama last year. The Tide saw all of their losses in 2007 by a touchdown or less and proceeded to do what they did last year. I’m not saying Ole Miss is going to do the same thing, but the Rebels hopefully used those close losses last year to their benefit (or they could just blow everyone out like they did at the end of last year).

October 10 vs. Alabama: I touched on the importance of this Tuesday with the Alabama preview, but I see these teams as slightly ahead of LSU in terms of picking the SEC West (as I discussed the situation with the Tigers yesterday). Though the media picked the Rebels third in the division, my opinion is the West could come down to this one game in October. Ole Miss get the Tide in Oxford, but they’ve lost five in a row to Alabama (13 of 15) and they’ve all been close.

What’s New, but Not Improved

Sneaky factor: Ole Miss surprised some teams last year, and they won’t have that last year. They’re a talented team, but it’s not crazy to think both Florida and Texas Tech overlooked and disrespected Ole Miss a little bit. As a contender this year, how will Ole Miss respond?

Offensive line: Ole Miss loses Michael Oher, Maurice Miller and Darryl Harris off last year’s line. They do have guard Reid Neely, who started 12 games in 2007 and just 7 games last year, so in effect they only lose two starters. It’s still a group with some quality players, but reasonably an area of concern, especially losing Oher, a first-round pick in the NFL Draft this past April.

Defensive line coach: By most accounts Tracy Rocker is one of the more well-known defensive line coaches in football. He coached at Arkansas with Nutt and followed him to Oxford last year. However, he’s now gone to take the same spot at his alma mater Auburn. In an ironic twist, Terry Price, who was at Auburn from 1999 through last year with Tommy Tuberville, takes over Rocker’s spot on staff. Not sure how much of an impact that might have, but it’s worth wondering what, if any, impact the switch is going to have on one of Ole Miss’ areas of strength.

Marcus Tillman and Cassius Vaughn celebrate a recovered fumble against Florida last year. Both return to the Ole Miss defense in 2009

HSH’s Bold Prediction

The Rebels have garnered quite a bit of media attention so far this summer, and deservedly so: they have the second-best QB in the SEC, and return most of a team that was the lone group to beat Florida, and finished very strong last year. They get both LSU and Alabama at home, and don’t play Florida or Georgia either. Houston Nutt took Arkansas to two SEC titles games in his ten seasons in Fayetteville, and will try to take Ole Miss there in just his second year.

But I just don’t see it happening. Not only do I think both the Crimson Tide and Bayou Bengals have more talent overall, but this is Ole Miss we’re talking about. I can’t pick Ole Miss to do something that they have never done before, despite what they return and how they finished last season. It’s not in their nature to reach Atlanta and win an SEC Championship, because it’s been something like 45 years since it’s happened. History – despite it never having an effect on any game or any action that will take place on the field this fall – is not on the Rebels’ side.

Having said that, I expect Ole Miss to be a very good team that’s going to probably win 9 or 10 games. But I’m not really expecting them be the West representative in Atlanta this first Saturday in September.

About Home Sweet Home... … to me.

Images Courtesy of: Rogelio V. Solis / APPhil Sandlin / APJohn Raoux / AP

About the Author: I'm from Memphis but I'm now entering my third year at the University of Tennessee here in Knoxville. I am majoring in Journalism/Electronic Media and hope to go into sports broadcasting/writing/something like that. I'm a huge Vol fan and have been going to games for as long as I can remember. I started my on blog called "The View From The Hill" but moved here to Gate 21 for bigger and better things. In addition to my passion for Tennessee football and basketball, I enjoy watching the NFL and the NBA as well. Basically, sports are a big part of my life. >> Read more from this author

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