By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: Ole Miss entered the 2009 season with a tremendous amount of buzz, earning a spot in the preseason top-10. Houston Nutt had led the Rebels to a 9-4 mark in his first season as head coach in 2008, and that was good enough for voters to get on the bandwagon, especially with the considerable amount of returning talent in place.
The first two games of the season went according to plan, as Ole Miss beat up
on Memphis and Southeastern Louisiana by a combined score of 97-20.
Unfortunately, the Rebels struggled mightily on offense in the SEC opener
against South Carolina on September 24th, a game that resulted in a 16-10
setback. Two weeks later, the offense was even less effective in a 22-3 loss
to Alabama in front of a deflated home crowd.
By the end of the regular season, the Rebels had compiled an 8-4 overall
record, and while a 41-27 loss to Mississippi State in the finale was bitterly
disappointing, victories over the likes over Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU were
certainly impressive. Ole Miss earned a bid to the Cotton Bowl to take on
Oklahoma State of the Big 12 Conference, and the result of that tilt was a
thrilling 21-7 victory, setting the tone for the 2010 campaign.
OFFENSE: With only one starter back on the offensive side of the ball, Ole
Miss is and was desperate for talent. That is the most obvious reason that
coach Nutt decided recently to bring in Jeremiah Masoli, the talented but
troubled former quarterback of the Oregon Ducks. Off-the-field infractions
prevented Masoli from returning to Oregon this season, and what the Rebels
gain is a player who threw for 15 touchdowns and ran for 13 more in 2009.
"The rules are going to be different for him," Nutt said. "I told him I have
zero tolerance. I have a hair trigger. I know he knows I will pull the trigger
Sophomore quarterback Nathan Stanley shows promise, but he may need another
year to develop. Dexter McCluster became the first player in SEC history to
post more that 1,000 receiving yards and 500 rushing yards in a season last
year, and he will be sorely missed. Shay Hodge, another standout receiver who
caught 70 balls, is gone. Brandon Bolden is back to man the tailback position,
and while he does catch the ball fairly well out of the backfield, it is hard
to get too excited about his 823 total yards and five touchdowns posted in
It is tough to imagine Bolden busting out in 2010 considering the
inexperienced offensive line that he will run behind. As for the receivers in
place, not a single one has proven anything at the collegiate level.
DEFENSE: "I want to start on defense, because our defense gives us a chance in
every game," said Nutt during the SEC Media Days. "We're strong up the middle.
Jerrell Powe, Lawon Scott, Teddy Laurent, Kentrell Lockett, all these guys
played in the SEC, played a lot of snaps. I'm proud of their leadership and
their work ethic."
In all, six defensive starters return for Ole Miss, and that figures to be an
area of strength. Nutt mentioned Lockett, and he posted five sacks a year ago.
The senior defensive end figures to take a step forward in 2010. Scott and
Powe are also seniors, and their experience and leadership figures to prove
Moving to the linebacker position, seniors Jonathan Cornell and Allen Walker
are expected to be fixtures. In the defensive backfield, both Marcus Temple
and Jeremy McGee will be first-time starters, but both gained valuable
experience a year ago. Johnny Brown is back to man his strong safety spot, and
Fon Ingram, who recorded a pair of interceptions in 2009, will play free
Ole Miss ranked fourth in the SEC and 15th nationally in scoring defense a
year ago (17.7 ppg), and the club was extremely tough against the pass. It
remains to be seen if the Rebels can maintain that pace.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Rebels are set at the punter position with the return of
sophomore Tyler Campbell, who was certainly impressive as a rookie. He
averaged almost 44 yards per kick and is a weapon in the field position
battle. Bryson Rose will almost certainly handle the placekicking duties, but
he is not a proven commodity.
OUTLOOK: Last season, Ole Miss finished minus-seven in turnover margin, good
for 11th place in the SEC and 102nd nationally. Masoli is more than capable of
taking care of the football, and he makes the Rebels a threat because of his
ability to both run and pass. Ole Miss has put together back-to-back nine-win
campaigns for the first time in almost 50 years. The non-conference schedule
is incredibly weak for the Rebels in 2010, but the SEC will prove tough. An
eight-win campaign is likely.