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2010 record: 4-8 (1-7 SEC)
Why they faltered
Playing in the vaunted SEC, the schedule is an easy culprit. The Rebs held their own in consecutive weeks against No. 8 Alabama, No. 23 Arkansas and No. 1 Auburn, then No. 5 LSU and No. 23 Mississippi State later. Those five and the Vanderbilt loss were excusable for a team in a down year.
The opening week loss against Jacksonville State in 2OT was not excusable. The inability to hold a 31-13 lead heading into the fourth quarter at home is unheard of for an SEC team. They simply couldn't stop the opponent in the last quarter, which is not surprising when you consider the team's 107th-ranked scoring defense for the season.
If your defense is bad in the SEC, you better have a good passing game so that you can catch up quickly. Ole Miss did not have it last year, ranking 82nd in the pass game with the constant distraction of QB Jeremiah Masoli's eligibility and legal issues. Sophomore Nathan Stanley got to play a little, but he never knew if/when Masoli would come back and snatch the job mid-game.
Why they'll be better in 2011
Distraction-free quarterbacking. The job would probably have been Stanley's, but he decided to leave the team about six weeks ago. Now, it's down to senior Randall Mackey and transfer Zack Stroudt. Whoever emerges from that tandem will lead a passing attack that doesn't look to be much better than last year's.
Mississippi had a fantastic recruiting season, given the turmoil and ineptitude. Coach Houston Nutt did what he could to shore up the defensive issues, inking two four star linebackers, two of whom are highly-ranked. Overall, the class ranked 25 in the country this year after being 25th last year and 22nd in 2009. Sooner or later, the strong recruits who made up those classes will start making an impact on the field.
Finally, the running game that ranked 18th last year is back in full. Last year's biggest shining star, senior RB Brandon Bolden, racked up six yards per carry and scored 14 TD, while catching capably out of the backfield. He'll be the rock that Houston Nutt's offense is built upon.
Don't expect an SEC West title, but be surprised if Ole Miss repeats last year's disappointing year after nine-win seasons the previous two.