Sunday, June 13, 2010

Pre-Season Preview: Mississippi Rebels

2009 Record: 9-4 (4-4 in SEC)
2009 Bowl: Cotton Bowl (beat Oklahoma State 21-7)
Final 2009 AP Ranking: #20
Head Coach: Houston Nutt (18-8 at Ole Miss, 129-78 All-Time)
Non-Conference Schedule: Jacksonville State (9/4), Tulane (9/11), Fresno State (9/25), Louisiana-Lafayette (11/6)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 29.5 points per game (5th in SEC)
Rushing Yards/Game: 184 (6th in SEC)
Passing Yards/Game: 218 (6th in SEC)
Total Yards/Game: 403 (4th in SEC) 

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 17.7 points per game (4th in SEC, 15th in Nation)
Rushing Yards/Game: 141 (6th in SEC)
Passing Yards/Game: 174 (6th in SEC, 15th in Nation)
Total Yards/Game: 315 (4th in SEC)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: -0.54 per game (11th in SEC, 101st in Nation)
Penalties: 44 yards per game (4th in SEC, 6th in Nation)

Returning Starters
Offense: 4
Defense: 6
Kicker/Punter: 1

Phil Steele All-SEC Pre-Season
DT Jerrell Powe (First Team)
DE Kentrell Lockett (Second Team)
LB Jonathan Cornell (Second Team)
S Johnny Brown (Third Team)
OT Bradley Sowell (Fourth Team)
LB Allen Walker (Fourth Team)
KR Jesse Grandy (Fourth Team)

Athlon Sports All-SEC Pre-Season
DE Kentrell Lockett (First Team)
DL Jerrell Powe (Second Team)
RB Brandon Bolden (Third Team)
OL Bradley Sowell (Third Team)
S Johnny Brown (Third Team)

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Nathan Stanley, Soph (11 of 23 for 163 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT)
Rushing: RB Brandon Bolden, Jr (129 carries for 614 yds, 4 TD, 4.7 ypc, 47 ypg, 20 receptions)
Receiving: WR Markeith Summers, Sr (17 rec, 394 yds, 4 TD, 1.3 rec/game, 23.1 ypc)
Tackles: S Johnny Brown, Sr (81)
Sacks: DE Kentrell Locket, Sr (4)
Interceptions: CB Fon Ingram, Sr (2)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Athlon Sports: #53
Sporting News: 48

2010 Pre-Season SEC West Prediction:
Athlon Sports: #5
Phil Steele: #5

2010 Bowl Prediction
Athlon Sports: Liberty Bowl (vs. Houston)
Phil Steele: Liberty Bowl (vs. Houston)

Ole Miss came into 2009 with some very lofty expectations. Ole Miss went undefeated against an easy out of conference schedule but struggled at times in the SEC and finished 4-4 in the Conference. Ole Miss won two big games at the end of the year against LSU and Oklahoma State but also dropped a game to their in-state rival Mississippi State after beating them by 45 the previous year. This year Ole Miss will get a lot younger on offense without Dexter McCluster, Shay Hodge, John Jerry and Jevan Snead (although the way Snead played last year, at times, his leaving might be addition by subtraction). The defense returns a host of pre-season all-conference players. Ole Miss is definitely not getting much love in the pre-season rankings. If their defense can carry them through their first 5 games of the season (which is probably the easiest first 5 games on any SEC schedule this year) they could be a surprise contender in the west. They also don't have to face Florida, Georgia or South Carolina from the SEC East.  We turned to the Ole Miss SB Nation blog Red Cup Rebellion to learn what is in store for Ole Miss in 2010.

What are the major strengths and biggest weaknesses of the team?

Our strength will be our front seven. Our defensive line is gigantic and, aside from JUCO transfer Wayne Dorsey, very experienced with SEC play. Jerrell Powe at NT has already been tabbed a preseason all-American and all-SEC guy and Kentrell Lockett is one of the conference's most well-rounded defensive ends.

Our biggest weakness will be at either wide receiver or quarterback, if not both. The receivers we return have never really been that good, despite their recruiting hype, and our quarterbacks are inexperienced. Nathan Stanley and Ray Cotton certainly look to have SEC-caliber potential, but their action has been limited, with Stanley taking a few snaps last season, and Cotton taking a redshirt.

Looking at the schedule who will be the first major test and why?

Our first six games are, in order: Jacksonville State, Tulane, Vanderbilt, Fresno State, Kentucky, and Alabama. You tell us who the first major test is. Vandy, Fresno, and Kentucky can certainly be testy, but Alabama is the real test here. If we can hang tight with them, as we've done in the past several seasons, we'll be alright through the rest of the season. If they blow us out, we'll have a tough time reaching a bowl.

What team on the schedule do you fear the most?

Arkansas. Alabama is an excellent team, but losing to them wouldn't be a huge shocker or cause much of a stir. Losing to Arkansas however would be rough. Not because they're not a good team--they are--but because their fans have been nothing but annoying, puerile, and juvenile towards Ole Miss fans ever since our hire of Houston Nutt. Thankfully, we've yet to lose to them on the gridiron but I fear that their offense will finally be powerful enough to do the trick and win some big games this year. Putting up with what would undoubtedly be weeks of "ha lol we told u so" type of nonsense is something which I cannot stand to think of.

Who is the best player on your team that nobody talks about?

Jesse Grandy is very lightly talked about for a guy as dangerous as he is. He was listed on Phil Steele's all-SEC fourth team as a return specialist but I see him becoming more involved overall in both special teams and offensively this season. He is very small and only saw limited action during his freshman campaign, but he is a legitimate threat to score. He's an absolute blazer, having returned two kicks to the house and even scored some on offense. Right now, he is working out as a motion/slot receiver which seems to be his natural position. If he bulks up and develops better lateral movement, he could also see time returning punts.

Who is the best offensive player on the team?

Bobbie Massie at Right Tackle. It is more than a bit disconcerting to label a sophomore on the offensive line as our team's best offensive player, but with inexperienced or underachieving players making up virtually every other position on that side of the ball, I don't know of anyone more deserving of such a title. Massie is gigantic, strong, drives well, excells in run blocking, and plays with a great intensity. When he was recruited, he was one of the top tackle prospects in the country and his limited yet significant contributions have shown that he is living up to his potential.

Who is the most impactful defensive player on the team?

Jerrell Powe at Nose Tackle. He is a first team all-SEC, second team all-American type of talent, according to Phil Steele. He is big, quick, uses his hands and center of gravity as well as anybody I've seen, and can absolutely eat up space in the trenches. The guy is the anchor of our defense and with good reason.

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach it's full capability?

Quarterback Nathan Stanley and Halfback Brandon Bolden will need to step up if we are going to put points on the board. Stanley is a tall, lean, pocket-passer with great touch and downfield accuracy. He is not, however, anything close to mobile and has very little gametime experience. Regardless, a 20-interception campaign out of Jevan Snead last season have given Rebels cause to get excited over the guy because, honestly, all he really needs to do is throw more touchdowns than interceptions to please us. Brandon Bolden is a bit more frustrating of a player because, after a fantastic freshman season which saw a him, lightly recruited back out of Baton Rouge, become a legitimate power back in coach Nutt's pro-style sets, he hit a slump last season. If he can return to and improve upon what he was as a freshman, our running game will be a tough one to stop.

Who is the top offensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

What if I told you a guy threw for 482 yards and 7 TDs in a championship game--at any level. You'd think I was talking about a video game. Randall Mackey, though, did just that in the Mississippi JUCO championship game this past year. His stats on this last JUCO season were 2,818 yards and 24 TDs on 193-of-320 passing (60.3%) and 486 yards on 80 carries. The guy is an insanely explosive and dynamic playmaker who can score in a number of ways. Being as how he's mobile and possesses a great arm, most speculate that Mackey will be our third quarterback option (at 5-11, 180lb, he's a bit small for a full-time SEC quarterback role) and our primary Wildcat specialist. This truly excites me because most backs who line up in wildcat formations aren't legitimate throwing threats, but Mackey will be. The possibilities with this guy could be nearly endless if he lives up to his potential.

Who is the top defensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

Damien Jackson is a safety out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College who has already earned a starting safety spot after spring workouts. He is rangy and, per our coaches, one of the hardest hitting guys we have defensively. After losing FS Kendrick Lewis to the NFL draft, it is good to see the coaches fill in a spot of need almost right away with a guy like Damien Jackson.

Gut feeling on the teams final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

Our schedule is too easy for us to win fewer than six games. I am still very shaky on our offense but our defense excites me. Couple a strong defense with a weak schedule, I think the Rebs could get seven wins. Anything more would be miraculous while anything less would be an embarrassment.

Make sure to check out Red Cup Rebellion to stay up to date on Ole Miss and SEC sports. You can also follow them on twitter @RedCupRebellion.

Next Up: Vanderbilt Commodores

2010 Previews
ACC- Maryland Terrapins
Big 12- Kansas State Wildcats, Missouri Tigers, Texas Tech Red Raiders
Big East- Cincinnati Bearcats, Pittsburgh Panthers, West Virginia Mountaineers
Big Ten- Michigan WolverinesMinnesota Golden Gophers, Northwestern Wildcats, Purdue Boilermakers
Conference USA- Houston CougarsTulane Green Wave, UTEP Miners
MAC- Ball State Cardinals, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, Temple Owls, Toledo Rockets
Mountain West- Utah Utes
Pac-10- Oregon Ducks, USC Trojans, Washington Huskies
SEC- Kentucky Wildcats, South Carolina Gamecocks
Sun Belt- Troy Trojans
WAC- New Mexico State Aggies


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