2009 in Review
The 2009-2010 Ole Miss team was sort of an enigma. Under normal circumstances a 9-4 season with a Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma State would be considered a good year in Oxford. However, these were not normal circumstances. Ranked as high as #4 in the country in some preseason publications and a great home schedule it appeared as if last season was the year for Ole Miss to finally make it to the SEC championship game and compete for more than a New Year’s Day bowl. After laying a goose egg in Columbia, South Carolina on a Thursday night those dreams began to unravel and the team could never get into any kind of rhythm. The season played out by winning a game, then losing to Alabama at home, winning a couple games then losing to Auburn on the road, winning a couple of games then being manhandled by a revenge seeking MS State on the road. The team went as Jevan Snead went and he never found his form that he displayed his sophomore year, throwing as many interceptions as he did touchdowns. The offense was highlighted primarily by Dexter McCluster and without him the season could have been an epic meltdown. The Tyrone Nix rebel defense was a bright spot and kept Ole Miss in every game, minus the MS State match-up.
On to the 2010-2011 Rebels and the low expectations for this Ole Miss team appears to put them in an underdog position that they feel more comfortable in. The offense will undergo a major overhaul in regards to who will become the playmakers now that McCluster is playing for the Chiefs and Snead elected to enter the NFL draft, which he subsequently went undrafted and signed a free agent contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It wouldn’t surprise me if Snead became a serviceable NFL quarterback, call it Ole Miss luck but I digress. Offensive Coordinator Kent Austin has been replaced by Dave Rader and may work out for the best for the Rebels. Kent Austin was thought of as a great offensive mind and won a Canadian Football League title as a head coach, but things never seemed to coalesce with Houston Nutt. It is well known that Nutt has always been heavily involved on the offensive side of the ball and certain types of coordinators don’t do well working with him. Call it professional differences or whatever, but Dave Rader has a working history with Nutt and I think that it will work out well for the Rebels. Key replacements need to be found for the QB position and a wide receiver has to be developed to aid in the running game that everyone knows Nutt will always have with his teams. With Tyrone Nix electing to stay in Oxford, as opposed to accepting the Florida Gator’s offer for the same position, the defense has a chance to be downright nasty and hard to deal with. The defensive line may be the best in the SEC if not the country and the linebacker corps are heavily experienced with a talented sophomore DJ Shackleford sprinkled in the mix. The DB’s are somewhat untested but have the talent to develop as the season progresses.
The first half of the schedule sets up great for the Rebels. The first five games provide little competition (besides the traditionally pesky Vandy team that always plays Ole Miss to the wire). They should all be wins and they should be 5-0 heading into the Alabama game in Tuscaloosa. Barring some sort of miracle and the Rebel’s history in Bryant-Denny Stadium that will be a loss heading into a second half of the season that has games at Arkansas, at TN, and at LSU with home games with Auburn, LA-Lafayette, and MS State. The schedule is not bad at all for the Rebels and with a little luck at the QB position they could end up with another 8 or 9 win season.
QB: Number one question for the rebels is who will become the offensive leader? Sophomore Nathan Stanley appears to have a jump heading into the season with redshirt freshman Raymond Cotton only slightly behind Stanley in development. Nutt will take a wait and see approach and I wouldn’t be surprised to see both QB’s play a lot in the first five games. A wildcard is JUCO QB recruit Randall Mackey. Ole Miss has been cursed with all everything JUCO recruits and I won’t believe this one to be any different until I see hit. He is a little undersized at 6 foot but he’s an athlete and appears to be a winner turning East MS Community College into a force on the field. Look for Mackey to make his impact in the wild rebel offensive package.
RB: Ole Miss has plenty of RB’s with the size and talent to be excellent SEC running backs. One of them has to step up however and take the role of the go to guy. Brandon Bolden is a bull and dependable and will carry the ball a lot for the rebels this year. I struggle to think of a time when Bolden has been stopped for a loss. He has great lean and can get at least 2 or 3 yards on a running play where the blocks haven’t developed. A surprise could be Enrique Davis if he comes around. After being a 5 star recruit he hasn’t really done much in Oxford thus far but appears to be improving based on evaluations this spring. Korvic Neat is going to try and replace McCluster as the shifty back in the rebel offense.
OL: This group has some talent with two huge tackles in Bradley Sowell and Bobbie Massie. Sowell was thrown into the fire quickly last year at the left tackle spot and took his lumps but improved as the year went on. Rishaw Johnson and Alex Washington also provide some bulk and talent to the line. Where the Rebels fall short is depth. One or two injuries could decimate this line and things could unravel quickly. It also looks like they will be starting a true freshman center which could lead to problems.
WR: Ole Miss didn’t have a deep threat last year and it has been a struggle to find someone to replace Mike Wallace from two years ago. Lionel Breaux and Markeith Summers are seniors and decent possession receivers but not the deep threat answer that the Rebels need. Ja-Mes Logan has turned heads this spring and will need to continue in the fall if the Rebels want a passing game this year. Perhaps the most talented WR is Patrick Patterson but the kid can’t seem to stay out of the coaches doghouse and consistently violates “team rules”.
TE: What’s that? Ole Miss hasn’t utilized one of these in years.
DL: Something to get excited about here. These guys are big, athletic, and just plain mean. Ted Laurent, Jerrell Powe, Lawon Scott, Kentrell Lockett, Gerald Rivers, and newcomer Wayne Dorsey could be special. I could go on and on about these guys.
LB: No real superstars here, yet, but with seniors Jonathan Cornell and Allen Walker having been starters in what seems like forever, there will be plenty of experience. Sophomore DJ Shackleford is going to be a star at some point in his career. Maybe this year, who knows.
DB: Somewhat of an unknown. The corners are going to need some time with no returning starters and aside from Jeremy McGee not much experience. Redshirt freshman Charles Sawyer is supposed to be good according to spring reports, but we will see how he adjusts to SEC play. The safeties have experience with Johnny Brown and a few others and will be relied upon to help the young cornerbacks out.
K: No one in particular has any experience here. The Rebels have to find a kicker that can consistently get them 3 points if they are inside the 30 if they want to have a chance this year.
Overall, the rebels should have a decent to surprisingly good this year, depending on the QB play. It will be interesting to see how the young players step into the primary role which adds some excitement to an otherwise boring home schedule. I like the Rebels and Houston Nutt as an underdog though. Nutt thrives in this situation and there may not be a better motivator in the country for a team that doesn’t have a lot of expectations.