The University of Mississippi, or as it is better known among college football fans, Ole Miss, is looking to the 2009 season as a one of movement. Movement up the ranking and a possible bid for winning the Western Division of the SEC and completing the movement by winning the SEC title at the end of the season.
Head coach Houston Nutt returns with his staff mostly intact. He has a good crop of lettermen returning along with a group of very talented freshmen. Nutt, a former college QB and Head Coach at Arkansas came to Ole Miss starting with the 2008 season. His arrival made national sports news and came to a school in turmoil after a 0-8 SEC winless and 3-9 overall season. He had a lot of talent to work with, but brought in a few choice players and rebuilt the coaching staff.
Coach Nutt’s staff includes a name that a true Ole Miss fan will instantly recognize. Former Ole Miss QB Kent Austin is the Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach. With 15 years as a Canadian Football League professional QB that took his Saskatchewan Roughriders to their version of a Super Bowl, by winning the Grey Cup. A feat he repeated as both an Assistant Coach with the Toronto Argonauts and again as a rookie Head Coach and CFL Coach of the Year with Saskatchewan in 2007. He joined Nutt’s staff on Jan. 16, 2008.
Wide Receivers Coach Ron Dickerson played with SEC rival Arkansas as a Running Back and Wide Receiver, before playing professionally with the Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL and NFL-Europe’s Scottish Claymores. His coaching experience includes stints at Temple, Alabama State, Missouri State, University Louisiana Monroe, plus XFL and NFL experience with Las Vegas Outlaws and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He joined Nutt’s staff on Dec. 4, 2007.
Running Back Coach Derrick Nix was a record setting RB for the University of Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles. He was the 1st RB to gain over 1,000 yards in a single season for the Eagles and was named C-USA Freshman of the Year, 1st team Freshman All-American and Senior Bowl standout. After severe kidney problem sidelined his playing career, he began a notable coaching career as a graduate assistant with Southern Miss as the RB coach that produced 2,378 yards and 23 touchdowns that cumulated in a New Orleans Bowl victory and a rushing record or 161 yards on 37 carries. He joined Nutt’s staff on Jan. 2, 2008.
Former University of Southern Mississippi LB and Assistant Coach Tyron Nix is one of the SEC’s most recognized Defensive Coordinators. His time at Southern Miss and the University of South Carolina has produced some of the best defensive squads in the C-USA and SEC. His Southern team ranked in the top-15 from 2001-2003 in total defense while his South Carolina defense ranked 5th in passing and 29th in scoring nationally in 2007. He is considered one of the up and coming defensive coordinators in the country.
Nutt’s remaining staff is of the same caliber and is the nucleus of possibly the most improved team in the SEC.
Leading this year’s team will be junior QB Jevan Snead, a 2009 Heisman candidate and preseason All-American Honorable Mention. Joining Snead in the backfield is returning 12 game starter Cordera Eason at HB and Andy Hartman at FB. The wideouts look to be returning starters Shay Hodge and Dexter McCluster with Gerald Harris at the TE position.
The interior line looks to be a mix of starters and newcomers. The returning starters include Daverin Geralds, John Jerry and Reid Neely. New Junior College transfers Taylor Quick and Mark Jean-Louis look to make up the remaining positions along with some very talented backups.
The defense should have an outstanding season. Returning CB Cassius Vaughn and Marshay Green look to be the obvious starters on the corners with Johnny Brown and Chucky Mullins Award winning Kendrick Lewis at Safety. The backups are a mix of returners and freshman that look to be able backups.
The LB group includes an outstanding senior, Lamar Brumfield that posted a career high 9 tackles against Wake Forest last season along with junior Jonathan Cornell and Sam LB Allen Walker. The backups are mostly untested yet look to be a talented mix of mostly previously Red-shirted players including HS standouts Jason Jones, Josh Lancaster, and Trey Trip.
The defensive line includes All-American Greg Hardy and Kentrell Lockett at the DE positions. Jeff Hamm Memorial Award winner junior Jerrell Powe and junior Ted Laurent look to plug the middle along with a group of young talented backups.
The kicking game will be taken care of by Preseason All-American senior Joshua Shene with transfer junior Brian Powers as the punter.
Looking at the 2009 Ole Miss team leaves me wondering just how far they will rise this season. The SEC West is a good bet and with a little luck the SEC Championship.