I've sat and read the preseason polls over the last few months and have certainly been intrigued by the "love" the Ole Miss Rebel football team has been receiving.
Please, don't get me wrong.
I do understand where it's coming from—and I don't mean from whom.
If we took that aspect, from whom, in consideration for just a moment we could come up with a number of points that would rival a MBA student's dissertation in length. So, that's an aspect I want to set aside for the time being.
What I find intriguing about these rankings is where they are ranked, specifically which teams they find themselves ranked above.
The reasons are evident.
There is the indisputable fact that Ole Miss was the only team that beat the eventual national champions last year. Add to that, it makes the second year in a row a Houston Nutt coached team has beaten the eventual BCS champion.
A solid foundation exists for those thoughts based solely on Jevan Snead returning.
Experience at the QB position is a huge plus in a college football season. We need to look no further than LSU, or Auburn, or Tennessee, or...you get my point.
Then, we have the schedule the Rebels face in 2009. With two games at home against the two teams considered "the ones to beat in the SEC West," it would seem to give even more credence to their rankings.
But, I still don't buy it.
Specifically, I don't buy that Alabama has a reason to fear the Rebels, and there's no reason as well for fans to look at the matchup on October 10 with any trepidation.
A few reasons...
Ole Miss and Home Field Advantage
I'll admit, I don't look at LSU's stadium and automatically think "home field advantage."
But, there's reason behind that considering how often Alabama and LSU win on the road versus each other.
That said, Vaught-Hemingway is not even in the same league as Tiger Stadium when it comes to a crowd having an impact on an opposing teams offense. Of course, having a difference in attendance of close to 30,000 people tend to impact the noise a crowd can make.
The capacity isn't the reason I look at Alabama playing at Vaught-Hemingway and see nothing to dread.
History indicates it means very little when it comes to the success of the Rebels.
If you take a moment and look at the record Ole Miss has posted at home this decade versus SEC opponents, you see a record that doesn't eclipse the .500 mark (19-21.)
Does the experience last year change that? They were .500 at home last year so how would it?
But Ole Miss Has Houston Nutt Now
I have respect for Houston Nutt. I do consider him to be a good team motivator.
But, there is a reason Arkansas fans don't care for HDN, and it has nothing to do with the fact he's now coaching at a fellow SECW school.
It all comes down to expectations and the lack of fulfillment of those expectations.
Each time his former Razorback teams were thought of to be "a team to beat" they did fulfill that expectation—they were a team beaten.
If history is an indicator on his coaching ability, he'll lose games he's supposed to win. In this case, enough to prove the lofty preseason ranking is undeserved.
Using Last Year as an Indicator of This Years Results
That's where the love is coming from for reasons we briefly discussed earlier.
Alabama fans, here is where it doesn't get any prettier for the Rebel faithful.
Sure, the final score of last years game in Tuscaloosa was close; a 24-20 Alabama victory.
Any fan of the SEC will readily admit, if they chose to look at last year realistically, that Bama started off strong in the first half and then hit a lull in the second half of some of their games last year.
It was a trend that continued until mid-October when they faced Tennessee.
In fact, it was almost the biggest dichotomy found in collegiate sports last year—a true Jekyll and Hyde. A great example of how this game has two halves.
Alabama jumped out to a 24-3 lead by the half, and allowed Ole Miss back in the ball game. The last scoring drive to put Ole Miss back in the ball game was one handed to the Rebels on a silver platter due to an interception thrown deep in Bama territory.
But, those are the breaks of the game.
This season, I don't see Ole Miss any more than a one dimensional team when they face the Tide in Oxford.
Last year, they had success (to the tune of 158 net yards rushing) against the Alabama defense. Yet, in that statistic there is a huge caveat; 118 of those rushing yards came over the left tackle.
Twenty-five of those rushing yards came from draw plays, specifically from Jevan Snead in the form of QB draws. (OH, by the way, those draw plays also came after Terrance Cody left the game with his knee injury.)
This also comes back to "who." In this case, who isn't on the offensive line at Ole Miss.
The success Ole Miss enjoyed in that game running the ball came behind left tackle Michael Oher and left guard Darryl Harris—neither of the two will be on the field for the Rebels this fall.
Should I go into detail on the returning players on defense for the Tide this fall? I won't, but I'm sure you understand the rhetorical question.
If Alabama can, and you can see why I suspect they will, make Ole Miss a one dimensional offensive team this game rides on the shoulders of Jevan Snead.
Tim Brando, CBS's football analyst and commentator, when discussing last years Bama vs Ole Miss game said,
Ole Miss would have been better last year if they had a running game. Snead would have been better, as in more consistent, if he had a running game to take the pressure off of him.
"Tim, the Ole Miss rushing attack won't be as good against Alabama this fall as it was last fall."
John Jerry, the Rebel right tackle, does return. His compadre, right guard Maurice Miller, isn't even listed on their depth chart.
And, as we just discussed, we see the damage success results the Ole Miss running attack had behind the right side of their line.
Let's not forget the vaunted "Wild Rebel formation." The same formation that had zero success against the Bama rush defense last season.
Snead completed just over 50 percent of his passes against Alabama last year with two interceptions. While that was a few percentage points lower than his season average, the losses along his offensive line don't bode well for a better showing in 2009.
To Me, All This Means
I don't have a problem admitting I was high on Ole Miss last year.
I saw a team that could beat Auburn.
I saw a team that could challenge LSU.
I suspected it was a team that would give Bama a run for their money as well.
This year, that doesn't change a lot.
The Rebels can challenge LSU. Just as LSU's secondary is going to challenge Snead.
The Rebels could challenge Alabama for the SECW title. But, without the ability to run the ball with any degree of success I see a Nutt coached team failing to live up to fans' and media members' expectations.