For Ole Miss to make a run at the Southeastern Conference Championship a perfect storm of circumstances must collide. I have been pondering for weeks all the things that will have to go right for the Rebels and they are way too many to list, but I have narrowed down my choices to a few keys to victory.
Confidence in Oxford is at it's highest in decades. In fact I would have to say that it has not been this high since the 1970 season when all expectations were on Archie Manning carrying the Rebs to a fourth National Championship and winning the Heisman Trophy.
A poor performance against Mississippi Southern resulting in an early season loss coupled with Archie breaking his arm against Houston three weeks later and those hopes were dashed.
So that brings me to my first Key to victory and I believe this one just might make it onto everyone’s list....
#1. Injury Free Football:
The Rebels have one of the best returning casts in all of College Football, with only a few gaps to fill, but with those gaps coming at key positions such as Left Tackle and Nose Guard. The Rebels will have to stay healthy to compete in the SEC.
I do believe we have the best strength & conditioning program, headed up by Don Decker, in the Conference. This is not just bold ramblings here, I think it can easily be seen by the way we constantly rotated in players last year but had hardly any injuries.
In other words lots of players playing, but none were getting hurt. Depth helps, but being well conditioned is the key to playing Injury Free Football.
#2. Jevan Keeps On Jivin'
Game 1 in 2008, Jevan Snead has a good game, his passing was a little under where we wanted it, but he did toss two touchdowns and more importantly he didn't turn the ball over. Over the next 5 games Jevan threw ten interceptions, four in the Vanderbilt loss alone.
Both the INT's against Wake Forest led to Deacon points and the Rebs only lost by two. Take away those turnovers and you are looking at a 10-2 or possibly an 11-1 regular season mark for 2008.
The way Jevan Snead turned on in the latter part of the 2008 season is in the eyes of this Rebel fan a miraculous thing. Six game winning streak, only five interceptions over a seven game period, 18 touchdowns during that seven game period.
All of this is what we expected him to do all year. Snead will be a junior in 2009 and all he has to do is just keep on keeping on. He has a great start, his spring game stats were amazing—11/15 for 254 Yards. 3 Touchdown throws & No Interceptions. Jevan just needs to keep Jivin'.
#3. Brandon Bolden:
Houston Nutt has always been known for having some stud running backs. Brandon Bolden has the opportunity to be another one of those backs.
Brandon just has a knack for gaining yardage. At 220 Lbs, he reminds me a lot of Deuce McAllister.
Bolden will have a few 100 yard games, but I am more concerned with having a back that I can ask in the huddle if he can get me this long two that we are looking at to move the sticks, and his answer would be "Yes". We all know that in the SEC, moving the sticks and playing ball control wins games.
That is exactly how Ole Miss defeated the #7 team in the country in the Cotton Bowl, we kept their offense off the field. Brandon will get a lot of help from a stable of hosses such as senior Cordera Eason, sophomore Enrique Davis, and Devin Thomas, so he should be able to remain fresh and be a yard getter for the Rebels. If Bolden has a great year, Ole Miss will too.
#4. Jerrell Powe
This guy has the outright ability to be a great player. With the Rebels losing All American Peria Jerry, they will need a big body to plug up the holes that Jerry lived in last season.
A big body is exactly what Powe is; Listed at 6'-2" & 340 Lbs, no offensive lineman will be able to just push him around. Powe has been slimming down during the spring and that can only help him with his stamina.
If he can keep his wind, Jerrell will be a huge key for stopping the run and disrupting the passing game of opposing offenses. I for one think he will do what it takes to remain on the field.
I judge this by the journey he went through just to get to Ole Miss. Powe worked his butt off for three years to get his academics up to where they needed to be for admission.
Some kids might give you that kind of commitment for one year, but three? This kid has fortitude and will be the biggest key for the success of the Ole Miss defense.
#5. Dexter McCluster
I really don't have many words that can accurately describe what this kid does for the Ole Miss football team. I will say this though, when trying to compare him to other great players, the name Warrick Dunn comes to mind.
At 5'-8" and only a mere 165 lbs, McCluster is easily the smallest player on the team—the depth chart actually lists a Richie Contartesi[WR] as being 2 lbs lighter), but Dex is in almost every offensive play. I don't know how else to explain it other than just to say that Dex is something special. You just know that every time he has the ball that something great is about to happen.
I have a story from the 2008 game against ULM. We watched Dex get the ball and sweep to the right sideline only to see a huge host of ULM defenders.
Now almost everyone in the stands is thinking, most are screaming for McCluster to lower his head, protect the ball and try to get a few yards out of it, but he reverses his field and runs left, the whole stadium is screaming "NO!" but he breaks it and runs for a huge gain—I have actually taken a few naps since this game, part of me wants to say he scored, but I actually think he ran it down to around the 10 yard line. That is the McCluster factor.
Dexter had the fumbleitis early in the season, but he corrected it, that is what leaders do. This year will be his senior season, and there isn't a Rebel fan anywhere that isn't expecting big things from this small package.
#6. Deaf Ears & Blind Eyes
Ok, I have named four players that I believe to be keys to Ole Miss victory in '09, but here is another abstract key. Last year the Rebels were picked to finish last in the SEC west, this year the pundits are going the other way.
Some say 1st, some say 2nd, but nonetheless they are all picking Ole Miss to be great this year. Hype is for the fans.
Let us discuss amongst ourselves all the polls, and predictions. The team has to maintain deaf ears and blind eyes at the SportsCenters and Sports writers of the world.
The 2008 Rebels got to where they were because they didn't listen to the media, they just kept on with their daily regimen of work and determination. The motto of the team was "One Heartbeat" and that needs to continue on into 2009.
Take one game at a time, prepare as hard as you possibly can, stay focused, and just don’t listen to what the media is saying.
Ok Rebel Fans! I have given you six keys that I believe will be the determining factors in 2009. Of course we all know there has to be a perfect storm of "Keys" to win championships, but these are at the top of my list.
What say you Rebel Fans? ARE YOU READY?