Ole Miss enjoyed two of its’ best seasons since the 1950’s and 60’s in Coach Houston Nutt’s first two seasons as head coach. Nutt’s third year turned out to be the polar opposite. The SEC West is home to some of the best football in the country and Ole Miss got the short end of the stick last season, only winning four games, one of which was an SEC game. The fans at Ole Miss tasted two years worth of success and they are hungry for more. The 2011 squad will be young, but will face a schedule many SEC teams could only dream about, with the majority of their toughest opponents paying Vaught Hemmingway Stadium a visit. Here’s Ole Miss’ outlook for the 2011 season:
Decisions, decisions for Houston Nutt for a second straight year at the quarterback position. Last year, Nutt started Oregon senior transfer quarterback Jeramiah Masoli over junior quarterback Nathan Stanley. Nutt will have a similar decision this year. Nathan Stanley has since transferred to Southeastern Louisiana as it grew apparent he would not be awarded the starting position. Senior quarterback and former Itawamba Community College standout Randall Mackey was the favorite to start this fall. Then Nutt worked his magic and recruited competition for Mackey. First, Nutt brought in Zack Stoudt, a junior college star from Iowa. As if two possible starters weren’t enough, the Rebels brought in another transfer quarterback from West Virginia, Barry Brunetti. It appears at this point to be a two horse race between Brunetti and Mackey for the starting job. The big question for Nutt, will he settle for another one-year solution in Randall Mackey or build for the future with Barry Brunetti? Nutt will likely keep us waiting until the first game of the season, much like he did last year with the Stanely vs. Masoli completion.
It just wouldn’t be a Houston Nutt football team without a powerful ground game. The Rebels have one of the best running backs in the SEC in senior Brandon Bolden. The Rebels had the 18th ranked rushing attack in the country last season and Bolden led the way, rushing for 976 yards and 14 touchdowns. The two headed rushing monster’s second component is Jeff Scott. Scott has drawn comparisons to former Ole Miss running back Dexter McCluster because of his small stature and elusive running style. He is a home-run threat for the Rebels, as one of his 3 touchdowns last season came on an 83 yard run against Auburn. Senior Enrique Davis should also see some touches in an offense that will rely heavily on the running game.
The Rebels don’t really have anyone that has stepped into the role to be the number one option at the wide-out position. Brandon Bolden led the team in receptions last year, but sophomore receiver Melvin Harris led the team in yardage with 408 and 3 scores. Standing at 6 foot 6 inches, Harris should provide some mismatches at receiver in his junior campaign. Sophomore Ja-Mes Logan has had a productive spring and should be a solid receiver. The Rebels are loaded with young talent at wide-out after signing two four star recruits, Nickolas Brassell and Donte Moncrief in the spring’s talented recruiting class. Ferbia Allen will return as the starter at tight end.
The Rebels talented running backs and unproven quarterback will be operating behind perhaps the best offensive line in the SEC. Left tackle Bradley Sowell had some big shoes to fill in replacing All-American Michael Oher, but has found his own niche, garnering All-SEC honors himself for the upcoming season. Junior right tackle and highly touted recruit Bobbie Massie will hold down the other end of the line. All three of the interior linemen are returning starters from last year, which could prove to be a recipe for one of the most experienced and talented offensive lines in the country.
The defensive line will be led by senior defensive-end Kentrell Lockett, who was granted a 5th year of eligibility after being sidelined for much of last season with a torn ACL. Lockett is among the premier pass rushers in the SEC and should provide some much needed pressure to opposing quarterbacks. Opposite Lockett will be senior defensive end Wayne Dorsey. Dorsey was a 5 star recruit coming out of junior college at Perk, but had a disappointing 2010 season. Defensive tackle Jerrelle Powe will be missed, but former Madison Central teammates Bryon Bennett and Carlton Martin will join forces again and take over the two defensive tackle positions.
It has been a rough offseason for Ole miss linebackers. Standout outside linebacker DT Shackleford went down in the spring with a torn ACL, an injury that could be the difference in the Rebels’ making a bowl game or not. Shackelford will likely miss the entire season. Sophomore Clarence Jackson was penciled in to be the starter at middle linebacker until he was dismissed from the team in the spring. Joel Knight will be the lone returning starter for the Rebels’ at linebacker. The line backing corps may be forced to rely on blue chip recruit CJ Johnson to carry some of the weight after the loss of Shackelford and Johnson.
The Ole Miss secondary was among the worst in the country last season. They ranked 103rd in the nation in passing defense and were shredded by SEC opponents. Marcus Temple and Damien Jackson will return as starters at cornerback and free safety respectively. Charles Sawyer has grown into a talented young cornerback in the spring and has will be the probable starter there. Pascagoula native Senquez Golson may see some time at cornerback, after he decided to turn down a million dollar contract to play professional baseball for the Boston Red Sox, in favor of playing football at Ole Miss. Ocean Spring native Sam Noblin has worked his way up the depth charts and appears to be a promising prospect at the safety position. The secondary will be improved from last season, especially with the return of Kentrell Lockett and his pass rush of opposing quarterbacks, which should relieve some of the duties of the defensive backs.
Update- Senquez Golson turned down a deal from the Red Sox reported to be 1.3 million at the signing deadline to play at Ole Miss.
The Rebels return both their punter and kicker from a talented special teams unit from a year ago. Junior punter Tyler Campbell has a career average of 45 yards per punt, while junior kicker Bryson Rose connected on 16 of his 18 field goal attempts last season. Jeff Scott will likely be the return specialist for the Rebels, but don’t be surprised if Senquez Golson fields some kicks to relieve Scott, due to his increased workload as a running back.
September 3rd-vs. BYU: Loss- The Rebels will face one of their toughest out of conference opponents in years as the BYU Cougars come to town. This one could go either way, but the inexperienced Rebel squad might just drop their home opener.
September 10th- vs. Southern Illinois: Win- “Insert starting quarterback’s name here” and the Rebels will roll against the Salukis.
September 17th- @ Vanderbilt: Win- The Rebels have struggled with Vandy the last couple of years, but they finally get over the hump and beat the Commodores on the road.
September 24th- vs. Georgia: Loss- Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray will have the better of a still inexperienced Ole Miss secondary.
October 1st- @ Fresno State: Win- A long road trip will end with a second straight W for Ole Miss against Fresno State.
October 15th- vs. Alabama: Loss- This could be a potential trap game for Alabama, with Ole Miss coming off of a bye and playing at home. If the Ole Miss pass rush can get to an inexperienced Alabama quarterback, the Rebels could pull the upset, but Alabama is just too talented.
October 22nd- vs. Arkansas: Win- Call me overly optimistic or a homer if you’d like, but I say the Rebels have a chance to upset the Razorbacks. Last year’s game in Fayetteville could have gone either way, and Houston Nutt always plays his former team well. I could be totally off on this one, but if they can contain Knile Davis and Tyler Wilson, this is a very winnable game.
Update- Davis will miss the entire 2011 season due to an injury.
October 29th- @ Auburn: Loss- the defending national champions will have a down year but will take down the Rebels in a close one at home.
November 5th- @ Kentucky: Win- The lone SEC causality for the Rebels last season will give them their third SEC win this year.
November 12th- vs. Louisiana Tech: Win- The Bulldogs shouldn’t be overlooked, but the Rebels will win another one.
November 19th- vs. LSU: Loss- The Magnolia Bowl is a fierce rivalry that has been revamped the past couple of seasons. The Tigers may be on the hunt for a national championship coming into the game and will ultimately oust the home standing Rebels.
November 26th- @ Mississippi State: Loss- This game really could go either way. The Rebels have a sour taste in their mouths after dropping the last two against the Bulldogs. Houston Nutt’s seat will be getting warm if he loses a third straight to the Bulldogs. If the Arkansas upset doesn’t go their way (it VERY well might not), the Rebels would be playing for their post season lives going into the Egg Bowl. Don’t expect a blowout like you saw last season.
Final Record: 6-6 (5th in the SEC West, Music City, Liberty or Compass Bowl)
Best Case Scenario: 9-3 (3rd in the SEC West, Chick-Fil-A, Outback, or Cotton Bowl)- Additional wins vs. BYU, Auburn and Mississippi State
Worst Case Scenario: 3-9 (6th in the SEC West and a very hot seat for Houston Nutt)- Additional Losses vs. Vanderbilt, Fresno State, and Arkansas.