Ole Miss opened up last season with an embarrassing loss at the hands of Division 1-AA foe Jacksonville State. Everyone knows that part. What most people don’t know is that Brandon Bolden, the Rebel’s star running back, only touched the ball three times the entire fourth quarter, and that three sophomore or freshman non-starting offensive lineman played the majority of the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, Jacksonville State played their starters throughout the entire game. Ole Miss, up 21 points at the half, called off the dogs like most big teams do when playing the smaller schools. JSU had other plans though.
As an Ole Miss fan, I will easily admit that loss hurt and it didn’t foreshadow well for the season. Turns out 4-8 was waiting on the Rebels.
The interesting thing though is the inconsistency of Ole Miss. Take 2008 for example. In Week Four, Ole Miss loses to Vanderbilt, their annual East foe. In Week Five, Ole Miss upsets Florida in the Swamp. No need to explain the significance of that game. In Week Six, the Rebels drop a game at home to South Carolina by a touchdown. After an off week, Week Eight sees the Rebels lose by four at Bryant-Denny. Following that, the Rebs rally off six straight, including a win over one-loss Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl.
So, in the same season that Ole Miss beats the eventual National Champions in the Swamp, they also drop games to Vanderbilt and South Carolina. Welcome to the world of being a Rebel fan.
But, let’s forget about the past for a moment to discuss the upcoming season. The Rebels are loaded with talent. Sure, that talent level doesn’t quite match with Alabama and Auburn and LSU, but the Rebels have a good bit of underrated players. Brandon Bolden has been selected by many as the back that won’t make much noise nationally, but at the end of the season his stats will match the top dogs.
I have personally witnessed what Brandon Bolden can do. If he had the help of the Alabama or Oklahoma or Michigan name, I wouldn’t hesitate to mention Heisman hopeful. However, a running back from Ole Miss just doesn’t get as much attention.
Complementing Bolden is Jeff Scott, who can absolutely fly. If you want to see for yourself, then watch highlights of the Ole Miss-Auburn game last season when he scored on the opening drive.
The Rebels also feature an offensive line that is returning everyone, including All-SEC First Team selection Bradley Sowell at left tackle. He has the size of a tank and can move well. He followed in the shadow of Michael Oher—a rather large shadow that is—and received criticism his first season, but he has silenced critics now.
The biggest question mark for the Rebels is at the quarterback position. Nathan Stanley left the program after falling to fourth in the depth chart. As a fan, that only excites me because he barely lost the starting spot last season to Jeremiah Masoli, the second best producer in the SEC last season behind Cam Newton. If Ole Miss now has three guys ahead of him, then I’m anxious for football season (as if I need any other reasons already).
Those three guys are West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti, who wants to play closer to his Memphis home so his mom who was injured in a car wreck can watch him play, Junior College transfer Randall Mackey, who red-shirted last season and Junior College transfer Zach Stoudt, a pure pocket passer who has been compared to at least one of the Mannings by several NFL scouts.
Brunetti appears to have the lead with Mackey nipping at his heels. Stoudt will likely receive a redshirt, but preseason camp leaves him room to make some noise though the window of opportunity is small.
On the defensive side of the ball, tragedy struck the Ole Miss faithful this spring with reports that linebacker DT Shackelford had gone down with a knee injury. Not only did this further deplete the LB position for the Rebels, but it knocked a large hole in the leadership of the team.
Some good news that came out of the spring, though, involves defensive end Kentrell Lockett as he was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. Lockett went down early last season with a knee injury, but the powers-that-be graced him with one more year to play for the Rebels. He has impressed the SEC coaches and finds himself on the Second Team this preseason, the only player to return from a season ending injury on the list.
Schedule is the biggest mountain for the Rebels, though. Two non-conference games should be easy wins, but the other two feature some very competitive non-Automatic Qualifying opponents. BYU is transitioning to Independent status and looking for a big win to start that off, while Fresno State wants revenge from last season’s game in Oxford that handed them their first loss.
The Rebels travel to Vanderbilt and Kentucky this year, and they should be able to win both of those. But as I explained earlier, there are no guarantees with Ole Miss. Georgia should contend for the East, and I just don’t expect Ole Miss to match up.
The same can be said for Alabama, Arkansas, and LSU. Ole Miss catches Auburn at a good time, in between match ups with LSU and Georgia. Finally, there is the annual Egg Bowl in Starkville this year. MSU head coach Dan Mullen has done a lot to get the maroon and white faithful behind him, but this year could really expose his team.
I have the Rebels going 8-4, but the Auburn, LSU, and MSU games in conference, as well as the two nonconference games mention above, could really go either way. In all honesty, this team, if they play to their talent level, could see another very good season, or they could be home come bowl season.
at Vanderbilt W
at Fresno_State W
at Auburn W
at Kentucky W
at Miss_State W