How the SEC West Will Be Won: Ole Miss
Everyone and their mothers' knew Tim Tebow was running the ball on UF's final drive in Gainesville, and, most importantly, Ole Miss knew. It was nothing new, though, for the Rebels, who actually lead the Gators in their past heads-up battles, but it was the start of their giant slaying.
At first glance, Ole Miss' record of 9-4 is impressive in a tough conference like the SEC, but nothing to write a song about. Upon further observation of their losses, one thing stands out...the nail-biters, and their slim margins of defeat.
Miss lost by two points to an above-average Wake Forest squad that failed to meet preseason expectations but still capped the season with a bowl win and an 8-5 record.
Miss lost by six points to a pretty good Vanderbilt team, which far exceeded anyone's expectations in the early going, but hit some bumps along the tough road that is the SEC. The Commodores finished the season with a win over No. 24 BC and a 7-6 record.
Miss's third defeat came against the Spurrier led Gamecocks of South Carolina, Spurrier's squad won by a TD. The Cocks finished their season with a 7-6 record, numbers that Mr. Spurrier isn't too fond of.
Miss received its fourth and final loss while visiting Mr. Saban and his No. 2-ranked Tide. The rebels suffered a mere four-point loss.
Why list the Rebels' losses, you ask? Well, just look! Their average margin of defeat was exactly 4.8 points. In hockey? That's no good, but this is college football, and those games are considered "close." Very close.
Let's take a look at Ole Miss's strengths, and see why I think they will take the SEC west in '09.
Didn't know exactly where to put Dexter McCluster because he is more of a highly used "utility player". He had 44 snags on the season and went for 625 yards. While listed as a wide-receiver, don't hold him to that, McCluster was also the leading rusher for the Rebels with 109 carries for 655 yards. When the numbers are crunched, they reveal that Dexter averaged an impressive 6 yards per carry, and 14.2 yards per reception. Expect even bigger numbers from this special Senior next year.
Another returning Senior wide-out is Shay Hodge(pictured). Hodge led the Rebels in receiving TDs with 8, he had 44 receptions on season which went for 725 yards.
As Juniors next season, look for Lionel Breaux and Markeith Summers to step up in the absence of Mike Wallace.
Ole Miss signed Zaccheus Mason, a 6-5, 240 pound corn fed boy from Tennessee, who happened to be rated the 2nd best TE in the country.
At 6-3, 218 pounds, Pat Patterson could possibly be the most impactful recruit Ole Miss signed. ESPN has him rated as the 14th best receiver in the nation.
The Rebels return their 4 best running backs. As I stated in an earlier slide, McCluster is used at the RB position and is very explosive.
Cordera Eason had the most carries with 140 for 647 yards and nearly 5 YPC. Eason is yet another Senior who is returning to lead this Rebels' offense.
Now Sophomores, Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis, combined for 162 carries and 786 yards...Look for big things out of those two underclassmen.
Overall, the Rebels rushing attack combined for 21 TDs, and 4.7 yards per attempt.
Ole Miss will miss Jerry, Miller, and Oher. Top Lineman who should do well in the NFL.
Fortunately for the Rebels, they must only replace one defensive, and two offensive tackles.
The rebels return 10 O-lineman and 11 D-lineman, along with a few good recruits....
The Rebels signed the 7th best DE in the nation, Craig Drummond, and the #22 best DT, Eric Smiley.
The Rebels' Defense had two particularly impressive performances against the Championships Gators, in Gainesville, and against Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl. The Gators and the Red Raiders had two of the most explosive offenses in the country. Ole Miss' Defense held both opponents to WELL under their season average, on their way to victories in both games.
The rebels return all but 3 defensive starters, look for them to be another force next season.
The "life blood" of an offensive unit, Jevan Snead is that and more. Although Snead struggled hitting his mark from time to time, his leadership skills and will to win was evident in crucial situations.
He stepped up big, in big games. Snead completed 65% of his passes against in Baton Rouge on their way to routing the Tigers, and competed 62% and passed for 3 TDs against Texas Tech. He also threw for 2 and ran for 1 TD against the Gators.
This, now Junior, is the key to the offense, and he has the play-makers around him. It's all up to Jevan Snead as to what he wants to do.
You can say whatever you want about Houston Nutt, but what you can't deny, is his ability to prepare for big games.
In Nutt's first year as the Rebels' Head Coach, he goes into Gainesville and tops Tim Tebow and the Mighty Gators, something no other team in the country proved to do.
Next, he goes into Baton Rouge, and lays 31 points on LSU, in their 31-13 rout of Les Miles' clan.
In the Cotton Bowl, Nutt defied heavy odds, once again, by beating the No. 7 Red Raiders, 47-34. A whopping 94 percent of voters said they didn't stand a chance; MiamiMitch thought I'd escaped from the asylum when I told him Ole Miss would upset Texas Tech.
Case in point: Don't doubt the Rebels, if so, they are sure to surprise you.