2009 CFN Ole Miss Preview
Ole Miss QB Jevan Snead
Ole Miss QB Jevan Snead
Posted May 19, 2009

The hype for Mississippi has gone through the roof. Is this really a top ten team, led by QB Jevan Snead, loaded with talent after a hot 2008 season, or will it buckle under the weight of sky-high expectations? Check out the 2009 CFN Ole Miss Preview.

Ole Miss Rebels

Preview 2009

By Pete Fiutak

- 2009 CFN Ole Miss Preview | 2009 Ole Miss Offense
- 2009 Ole Miss Defense | 2009 Ole Miss Depth Chart
- 2008 Ole Miss Preview | 2007 Ole Miss Preview | 2006 Ole Miss Preview

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Ole Miss hasn't won an SEC title since 1963. It has won the West once, has been an also-ran most of the time, and before last year, was insignificant in the overall SEC landscape for more than 30 years with 12 winning seasons since 1977.

Despite the lack of overall production, patience hasn't exactly been a virtue in recent years. Former head coach David Cutcliffe brought expectations back to Oxford, helped by Eli Manning, and was canned after one down year . Ed Orgeron was brought in to build the program up from scratch, and just when he had all the pieces in place after three rough years, he was fired and Houston Nutt was brought in.  

Head coach: Houston Nutt
2nd year: 9-4
17th year overall: 120-74
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 25, Def. 23, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 18
Ten Best Ole Miss Players
1. DE Greg Hardy, Sr.
2. WR Dexter McCluster, Sr.
3. QB Jevan Snead, Jr.
4. DE Kentrell Lockett, Jr.
5. FS Kendrick Lewis, Sr.
6. WR Shay Hodge, Sr.
7. OT John Jerry, Sr.
8. DE Marcus Tillman, Sr.
9. DT Jerrell Powe, Jr.
10. LB Patrick Trahan, Sr.
2009 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2009 Record: 0-0

9/6 at Memphis

9/19 SE Louisiana
9/26 at South Carolina

10/3 at Vanderbilt
10/10 Alabama

10/17 UAB
10/24 Arkansas
10/31 at Auburn
11/7 Northern Arizona
11/14 Tennessee
11/21 LSU
 11/28 at Miss State

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 6-6
2008 Record: 9-4

8/30 Memphis W 41-24
9/6 at Wake Forest L 30-28
9/13 Samford W 34-10
9/20 Vanderbilt L 23-17
9/27 at Florida W 31-30
10/4 So. Carolina L 31-24
10/11 OPEN DATE 
10/18 at Alabama L 24-20
10/25 at Arkansas W 23-21
11/1 Auburn W 17-7
11/15 UL Monroe W 59-0
11/22 at LSU W 31-13
11/28 Miss St W 45-0
Cotton Bowl
1/2 Texas Tech W 47-34

Certain to be in the top ten in most preseason polls, Ole Miss doesn't have any excuse if there isn't the success the fan base has dreamed about for decades. Call it a perfect storm, call it excellent timing, or call it a stroke of luck, but the Rebels have everything going its way all at the same time, and now the patience, or lack thereof, might finally be rewarded in what could be a special season.

1) Orgeron, now an assistant at Tennessee, and considered one of the nation's best recruiters and top line coaches, stocked the shelves with a dizzying array of star talent on the defensive front, and he brought in athletes galore for all the other spots. Everyone started to mature at the same time last year, and now enough of the key parts are back to demand even more production.

2) Jevan Snead is the quarterback the program desperately needed since Eli went on to the NFL. Orgeron never caught a break at quarterback; he never had Snead.

3) Nutt and Arkansas basically got tired of each other, and Ole Miss was able to bring aboard a veteran SEC coach who knew the ins and outs of the nation's best conference, and more importantly, the West. He didn't have to build the program up; he walked into a heater of a team and knew exactly what to do with it.

4) The SEC stunk, compared to past seasons, and is still in a rebuilding mode. Alabama's resurgence aside, there aren't going to be too many years when Auburn, LSU, and Arkansas are all awful at the same time. This year, the schedule is even better missing Florida and Georgia from the East, getting LSU, Tennessee and Alabama at home, and the toughest road game at South Carolina. The SEC will be better, but it won't be anywhere near as good as it's going to be in 2010.

But now, after winning the final six games of last year, including the Cotton Bowl over Texas Tech, and after being the only team to be an all-timer of a Florida squad, in Gainesville no less, the big storyline will be whether or not the program can handle the pressure of having the proverbial bull's-eye on its back.

The team is supposed to win ten games (at least) and be in the thick of the SEC title hunt. It's supposed to do even more on defense, even after finishing fourth in the nation against the run and first in tackles for loss. It's supposed to be more explosive on offense, with everyone of note back outside of tackle Michael Oher. The special teams, which were way above-average last year and has an All-America-caliber kicker in Joshua Shene, are supposed to be better. The record is supposed to be better with so many veterans returning and so much experience from a team that lost its four games by a touchdown or less and by a total of 19 points. That's a lot of supposing being done for a program that's so new to success and realistically high expectations.

It can all go wrong if Snead goes down for any length of time. The offensive line isn't going to be as strong as last year's, the defensive line will be relying on, to be crude, a couple of ultra-talented, but ultra-flaky stars in Greg Hardy and Jerrell Powe, and the schedule that looks so good on paper could be a bigger problem than many will realize with the road trip to Vanderbilt, who's better than last year, a trap and with Arkansas, Tennessee, Auburn, and LSU all significantly better than last year.

Ole Miss could be the big story if Nutt can coax a little more improvement from all areas, or it could be a total flop with a few early losses. No matter what happens, this team will provide one of the fun, wild rides of the 2009 college football season. Rebel fans are hoping it all ends with a trip to New Orleans in early January, or dream of all dreams, Pasadena.

What to watch for on offense: Even more deep balls. While the offense will be known for its running game under Nutt, including lining up WR Dexter McCluster under center, the passing game could be what opens up games. The passing attack averaged 15.1 yards per completion last year, and now that Snead knows what he's doing with a year of experience under his belt, he should be ready to make quicker, better reads. Mike Wallace and his 20.1-yard-per-catch average are gone, but Lionel Breaux is a lightning fast target who appears ready to step up and do more, and Shay Hodge, Dexter McCluster, and Markeith Summers can all make big plays.

What to watch for on defense: Jerrell Powe. He was the star of the 2005 recruiting class, couldn't get academically eligible at a place with one of the lowest A.P.R. scores in college football, and fought for years to finally show off the sure-thing NFL-bound defensive tackle skills that every key talent evaluator swore he had. Finally in the mix last year, he got on the field and was, in technical terms, no big whoop. That all appears to have changed this offseason. While he's still a too-massive 340-pound defender, he started to show off this spring the "yeah, that's it" type of talent that could make the line even better despite the loss of first round draft pick, Peria Jerry.

The team will be far better if … it starts out the season 4-0. Don't gloss over the opener at Memphis; the Tigers always play Ole Miss tough. The home date against SE Louisiana will be a scrimmage, and then come the deal-breakers: at South Carolina and at Vanderbilt. These will be the tone-setting games for the entire season since they'll show if the team has the mettle to handle jacked up conference teams on the road. Vanderbilt is loaded with veterans, South Carolina should have a nasty defense, and both teams are circling Ole Miss as the game that could define the early part of their respective seasons. Yes, now Ole Miss is a circle game. The team can't go into the Alabama game with hung heads if it loses one or both of the first two conference battles.

The Schedule: If Ole Miss doesn't come up with one of the best seasons in school history, it can't blame the schedule. The non-conference schedule is a joke, with the toughest game at Memphis, while the Rebels get a huge break missing Florida and Georgia from the East. The toughest road game is at Auburn, while Alabama, Tennessee, and LSU all have to come to Oxford. The only concern will be the two game road trip to South Carolina and Vanderbilt to start the SEC season, but both of those games are winnable for a team as good as the Rebels should be.

Best Offensive Player: Senior WR Dexter McCluster. Jevan Snead will be the signature spotlight player on a national scale, but the 5-8 McCluster does it all. Now only did he tie for the team lead in receptions, but he led the team in rushing both as a back and under center in the Wild Rebel format. He's the do-it-all gamebreaker who makes defense account for him on every play.

Best Defensive Player: Senior DE Greg Hardy. He's had a slew of issues, most notably some injury problems, but when he's on the field, he's a top five-overall NFL draft pick type of pass rusher 18.5 sacks and 27.5 tackles for loss in the last two years. At 6-4 and 265 pounds, and with a basketball player's athleticism, he's a textbook end to build a defense around ... if he's on the field.

Key player to a successful season: OT Bradley Sowell. The loss of Michael Oher is big, but Sowell is a nice, rising blocker who should be a decent fill-in at left tackle. However, both starting guards need to be replaced and while the line is massive, it might be too massive. This wasn't a big problem last year, but with Oher gone the athleticism is taking a dip. Ole Miss wants to throw the ball deep, to go along with the funky Wild Rebel formations and the power ground game, but Snead will need time to throw. The line, while promising, is the one area on the team that's not going to be significantly better than last year, and it could turn out to be an Achilles heel.

The season will be a success if ... Ole Miss wins the West. It's asking too much to beat Florida (the likely East winner) to win the SEC title, but everything is there for the Rebels to win the division and get to the championship game. If it's not going to happen this year, when will it?

Key game: Sept 24 at South Carolina. All the hype, and the excitement, and all the dreams could go kaput on national television before the SEC season gets off the ground. If Ole Miss wins impressively, it'll get the national respect to back up the lofty preseason rankings. A loss would mean there would be no margin for error with Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, and LSU still to deal with.

2008 Fun Stats: 
- Sacks: Ole Miss 38 for 292 yards - Opponents 20 for 102 yards
- Rushing yards per game: Ole Miss 186.5 - Opponents 85.5
- Third quarter scoring: Ole Miss 80 - Opponents 27

- 2009 CFN Ole Miss Preview | 2009 Ole Miss Offense
- 2009 Ole Miss Defense | 2009 Ole Miss Depth Chart
- 2008 Ole Miss Preview | 2007 Ole Miss Preview | 2006 Ole Miss Preview