Ole Miss Football: Progress Since Nov. 23, 2007

Derek StephensSenior Analyst IJuly 3, 2008

Around midseason last year, Ole Miss AD Pete Boone and Chancellor Robert Khayat came out in support for Coach Ed Orgeron. They said he'd be the coach for the 2008 season. 

Nobody, and I mean nobody, expected the Rebels (0-7 in the SEC at the time) to be leading their archrival Mississippi State 14-0 with less than 10 minutes to play in the Egg Bowl.

With that being said, nobody expected State to storm back with 17 points and take the win with a game-winning field goal with less than 25 seconds to go. 

The next morning, I woke up after what felt like one of the worst losses Ole Miss had suffered in a while. I was watching SportsCenter and all of the upcoming games for the day, and I saw something scroll across the BottomLine. 

"Ed Orgeron fired as Mississippi Head Coach after three seasons."

I respected Coach Orgeron and the great recruiting he had done for Ole Miss, and all the hard work and enthusiasm he brought to his job, but he was not suited for a head-coaching job, especially in the nation's toughest conference (the SEC).

For me, and many other Ole Miss fans, the Mississippi State game was no longer such a disappointment. Sounds harsh, but Egg Bowl 2007 could've been the biggest blessing-in-disguise Ole Miss fans have ever had.

Again, I supported Coach Orgeron, but after the State game, and seeing how our team blew the lead and how Coach Orgeron led such a meltdown for our team, showed, to me, that it was time for a change (although I never thought I'd see it the day after).

The Ole Miss coaching search began with the name that had surfaced first the last time Ole Miss looked for a coach: Rick Neuheisel.

No comment by Neuheisel.

I was following the coaching search thoroughly; following Ole Miss beat writer Parrish Alford's extensive coverage of it all. I turned on SportsCenter again and saw Houston Nutt resign from the University of Arkansas after defeating the No. 1 team in the nation, LSU, at Tiger Stadium. 

Then, like a stampede, the media started reporting that he was negotiating with Ole Miss. There was no speculation for a couple days. Houston Nutt was now the head coach of Ole Miss.

Houston Nutt proved to be a smart man. He was in a situation at Arkansas where hatred from fans could be seen at every game. Sending planes across the stadium that carried signs saying "Ain't Nuttin' Better than 0-2 in the SEC", and fans checking his cell phone call log and text messages are prime examples. 

He is now in a situation where not only does he have a fanbase who has embraced him as a proven winner, and a new fresh start for Ole Miss, but he also inherits former Rivals.com Recruiter of the Year, and former Ole Miss head coach, Ed Orgeron's fresh crop of talented recruits.

If he were to accept the extension Arkansas offered after the LSU game, he would've been in one of the biggest hot seats in the nation, and without the top talent who had gotten him to the SEC Championship Game in 2006, as Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Peyton Hillis, and Marcus Monk opted for the NFL Draft.

Now, Houston Nutt inherits the best offense Ole Miss has had since 2003. Jevan Snead enters the picture at quarterback, a transfer from Texas who not only has a strong arm, but mobility and some experience at Texas under his belt. 

Replacing All-SEC RB BenJarvis Green-Ellis wasn't easy, but Ole Miss fans and staff feel comfortable with junior Cordera Eason and the No. 4 ranked RB recruiting class in the nation according to Rivals.com.

The Rebels also return their entire receiving corps from last season and four out of the five starting offensive lineman, including All-American Michael Oher. 

As for the defense, the defensive line is inarguably the strong point where potential first-round draft picks Greg Hardy and Peria Jerry lead the way.

Ted Laurent and Marcus Tillman will also contribute to a depth-heavy defensive line. Add incoming four-star JUCO transfer Emmanuel Stephens to the mix as well. Not to mention the fact that the SEC seems to be on their way to declaring former five-star recruit and defensive lineman of the year in his recruiting class Jerrell Powe eligible.

Add Powe to the line and you have the most talented defensive lines Ole Miss has ever had, and one of the top defensive lines in the SEC.

Ole Miss returns their entire linebacking corps, as Jonathan Cornell (injured last season), Allen Walker, Tony Fein, and Ashlee Palmer return. Patrick Trahan, a former linebacker from Auburn and the No. 1 JUCO recruit in the country according to Scout.com, is working to become eligible for the fall season at Northwest.

The secondary seems to be a weak point for the defense that ranked last in almost every category in the SEC last season, but Houston Nutt has worked to add recruits such as DeMareo Marr to the team, and he switched wide receivers Jeremy McGee and Marshay Green to the secondary.

Looking at the 2008 schedule, it is noticeable that the road schedule is treacherous. Ole Miss travels to Wake Forest, Florida, Alabama, Arkansas, and LSU. The opening game against Memphis is obviously expected to be a win, as even Ed Orgeron was able to go 3-0 against the Tigers, so many fans look to the Wake Forest game to be the "judgment game".

Could the Rebels be bowling as early as 2008? A very possible situation if Ole Miss can win the games they're supposed to, which in this case, would be Memphis, Samford, Vanderbilt, and Louisiana Monroe, and can defeat their archrivals Mississippi State at Oxford, where the Bulldogs haven't won in a decade.

If those games were to sway the Rebels' way, one upset along the way would put the Rebels in a situation they haven't been since 2003, a bowl game.