2011 Ole Miss Preview
Ole Miss OT Bradley Sowell
Ole Miss OT Bradley Sowell
Posted Jul 20, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Ole Miss Rebels

Ole Miss Rebels

Preview 2011

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Houston Nutt
4th year: 22-16
19th year overall: 133-86
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 26, Def. 17, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 24
Ten Best Ole Miss Players
1. OT Bradley Sowell, Sr.
2. OT Bobbie Massie, Jr.
3. RB Brandon Bolden, Sr.
4. DE Kentrell Lockett, Sr.
5. CB Charles Sawyer, Soph.
6. WR Melvin Harris, Jr.
7. P Tyler Campbell, Jr.
8. WR Ja-Mes Logan, Soph.
9. CB Marcus Temple, Sr.
10. LB Joel Kight, Jr.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 3 BYU
Sep. 10 Southern Illinois
Sep. 17 at Vanderbilt
Sep. 24 Georgia
Oct. 1 at Fresno State
Oct. 15 Alabama
Oct. 22 Arkansas
Oct. 29 at Auburn
Nov. 5 at Kentucky
Nov. 12 Louisiana Tech
Nov. 19 LSU
Nov. 26 at Mississippi State

It sucks to be in the SEC West.

Alabama and LSU will always be Alabama and LSU, and Auburn is a powerhouse with the legacy to match. If you're Ole Miss, you know each and every year that it'll take something special to rise up in a league with those three programs, and that's part of the deal. However, Arkansas turning into a BCS game type of power is a slap in the face of the Rebel program, and is particularly galling considering what the Hogs have done since losing Houston Nutt. Even so, Arkansas is a good program with a nice foundation, helped by Nutt's era, but to see Mississippi State become so good so fast is a whole other issue.

Ole Miss, the only team in the West who hasn't played in the SEC title game since the league split into two divisions, would be in the hunt for the title this year if it was in the ACC. It would be in the mix in the new Pac-12 South, and it would be a decent player in either of the new Big Ten divisions. Throw the Rebels in the SEC East, and they might come into the season as the fourth or fifth best team, but with a fighting chance for a good year. In the West, Bama and LSU will be ranked in the preseason top three, Arkansas will probably be in the top 15, if not top ten, and Auburn and Mississippi State will almost certainly be in the top 25. So where does that leave the Rebels?

It's not like the program hasn't tried to do big things. Ed Orgeron might have had his issues, but he was a whale of a recruiter who upped the talent level of the program in a big way – it just took a while. David Cutcliffe was great with Eli Manning winging it around, and Nutt has been solid so far with two 9-4 campaigns before last year's clunker. But now things are different and now the division is far better and far tougher than it was a few years ago. For Ole Miss, that's no excuse; the wins have to start coming against the West.

Going 2-8 against division teams over the last two years is a disaster, and to have any dreams of doing something big, the Rebels have to figure out the big boys, going 5-22 against Alabama, LSU, and Auburn, with seven straight losses to the Tide, since 2001. But now, just getting wins in the Egg Bowl on a regular basis, going 1-3 against Mississippi State over the last four years, would be nice.

To start, Ole Miss has to figure out what it's doing in several key places. The quarterback situation should be fine, but from Brent Schaeffer to Jeremiah Masoli to Jevan Snead, the program has relied on other program's throwaways, and that might happen again if West Virginia's Barry Brunetti ends up getting the job. The linebacker situation is a mess after the disastrous loss of D.T. Shackelford to a knee injury and with Clarence Jackson getting booted from the team for being a knucklehead. A No. 1 receiver has to emerge, the defensive tackles are young, and the secondary that was a complete and utter disaster last year has to prove that experience can translate into production. While there's hope to fix all the issues early on, in a division with so many killers, there can't be so many X factors.

The offensive line should be among the best in the SEC, and it'll pave the way for a big year from Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis. There's speed at receiver, the linebackers can move, and the D line gets a big break with the return of Kentrell Lockett after a bad injury.

There's enough talent to come up with a winning season, and there's enough athleticism to pull off an upset or two and finish out of the West basement, but is treading water really enough for Ole Miss? In the SEC West this year, it might.

What to watch for on offense: The quarterback situation. Nathan Stanley appeared to be ready to go from key backup to the No. 1 guy, but he wasn't the right fit and took off for SE Louisiana. Randall Mackey might be the No. 1, but West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti is No. 1A on the depth chart in the fight for the spot. Mackey is the stronger passing option, but Brunetti is a bit like last year's starter, Jeremiah Masoli, and is the type of baller that Houston Nutt likes. The passing game was mediocre last year, finishing 82nd in yards and 81st in efficiency, and while the job will mostly involve handing the ball off, more pop is needed down the field.

What to watch for on defense: The return of Kentrell Lockett. The 6-5, 248-pound pass rusher got a sixth year of eligibility after getting knocked out last year with a bad knee injury, and he should be a huge help for a defense that finished 20th in the nation in both sacks and tackles for loss. With Wayne Dorsey back on the other side, the front four should provide the pressure needed to help out a revamped secondary that finished 103rd in the nation last year and 109th in pass efficiency defense.

The team will be far better if … it can win the turnover battle. The Rebels stunk two years ago in turnover margin, finishing 11th in the league and 102nd in the nation. The team was 72nd in the country in 2008 and 107th in 2007, and last year it was 88th in the country, but was last in the SEC. The team isn't good enough to win much in the West without owning the turnover margin, and that means coming up with big plays after picking off just six passes with two coming against Louisiana-Lafayette. It would be a help to hang on to the ball after giving it away 24 times with ten turnovers in the final three games.

The schedule: How case can the Rebels get past last year's rough season? Facing BYU to start things off isn't going to be easy considering the Cougars will be looking to make a splash in their first game as an independent. All things considered, Vanderbilt, Fresno State, Auburn, Kentucky, and Mississippi State makes for as light a road schedule as any SEC team could ask for. While that doesn't mean the wins will start flowing when Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, and LSU come to town, at least the games are in Oxford. There's no major stretch of bad road games with back-to-back dates at Auburn and Kentucky qualifying as the major road trip of the season. Unlike almost every other SEC team, Ole Miss doesn't play three road games in four weeks, and on the flip side, plays four home games in six week before finishing up the regular season with the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State.

Best offensive player: The offensive tackles. The offense will revolve around running back Brandon Bolden, who'd be in the mix for all-star honors if he wasn't in a conference with Marcus Lattimore, Knile Davis, Michael Dyer, and Trent Richardson, but it'll be the tackles who make the machine go. Senior Bradley Sowell is a 6-7 mountain who's terrific in pass protection with the feet to hang around with the quicker speed rushers. On the right side is Bobby Massie, a long-time starter who has improved enough to be a whale of an NFL right tackle prospect. A powerful blocker, he's 6-6 and 325 pounds with the ability to move the pile when needed.

Best defensive player: Senior DE Kentrell Lockett. Last year was when he was supposed to blow up into a national superstar, but instead he injured his knee and was out for the season. He's still trying to come back to 100%, and he has a slew of various health issues, but when he's right he's one of the SEC's most dangerous all-around ends and best pass rushers. For the defense to be decent, he has to be phenomenal.

Key player to a successful season: Redshirt freshman DTs Bryon Bennett and Carlton Martin. Trying to replace Jerrell Powe on the nose will be tough, but the 6-2, 280-pound Bennett is an ultra-quick, strong young player with the talent and upside to make the job his. He's a totally different player than Powe, and the pressure is on to hold up against the run. Martin is a short, 6-1, 288-pound run plugger who wasn't necessarily considered a top prospect, but has shown enough to be a possible interior pass rusher for the next four years with excellent quickness. The ends are terrific, and now the tackles have to do their jobs.

The season will be a success if … the Rebels don't finish last in the West. That might not seem like a lofty goal, but considering how strong the rest of the division is, being better than Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Arkansas, and/or Mississippi State would be a major plus considering how may major concerns there are at so many spots. Getting back to a bowl game is a must, but it's not a given if the Rebels lose o BYU and/or Fresno State in the first half of the year.

Key game: Nov. 26 at Mississippi State. Ole Miss isn't winning the SEC title and it's not going to finish higher than fourth in the West unless something crazy happens. There's a chance that the Egg Bowl turns out to matter in the hunt for a bowl game, and it could be a must-win for Houston Nutt. If he and Ole Miss lose to the Bulldogs again, it could be uh-oh time for the program that doesn't take too kindly to being a second-class citizen in its own state.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Red Zone Touchdowns: Opponents 27-of-37 (73%) – Ole Miss 30-of-51 (59%)
- Sacks: Ole Miss 31 for 178 yards – Opponents 14 for 81 yards
- Ole Miss First Half Scoring: 203 – Ole Miss Second Half Scoring: 150

- 2011 Ole Miss Preview | 2011 Ole Miss Offense
- 2011 Ole Miss Defense | 2011 Ole Miss Depth Chart