Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
It's graduation time for Jevan Snead.
No need to panic, Ole Miss fans. He's not going anywhere, and he'll be right back under center when the Rebels open the 2009 season at Memphis on Sept. 5.
He'd be disappointed, though, if he were the same player as a year ago when he burst onto the scene as the best young quarterback in the SEC.
"That first year is always kind of a learning year, and I'm looking forward to really taking off this next year," Snead said.
The Rebels will do everything they can to facilitate that move to the next level, and it starts with giving him more of offensive coordinator Kent Austin's playbook and broadening the offense.
"I'm looking forward to expanding and diving deeper into the playbook, and I'm excited about some of the stuff we're going to be adding," said Snead, who threw 16 touchdown passes and only three interceptions during Ole Miss' six-game winning streak to end last season.
But like all great competitors, Snead is not as interested in talking about the things he did right last season. His focus is on the things he did wrong.
It's all part of growing, maturing and developing into the kind of quarterback that can lead a team to an SEC championship.
Keep in mind that last season was Snead's first dose of the SEC, and all he did was beat Florida on the road, beat LSU on the road and carve apart Texas Tech in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.
"There's always another level," Snead said. "That goes for me and this team. I know there are a lot of things I can do better."
At the top of his list is being a more consistent quarterback, namely protecting the ball better.
In his first seven games, Snead threw 10 interceptions. He only threw three more in his last six games. But the part that Snead can't get out of his mind is that the Rebels lost the Wake Forest, Vanderbilt and South Carolina games primarily because they couldn't take care of the football.
"I'm trying to continue my learning and understand things better so I can make good decisions," Snead said. "I struggled early on last season with my decision-making, so I'm trying to get to where I can make better decisions and make them quicker."
Finding a left tackle is of the utmost importance this spring, but Snead has a bunch of experience returning around him when it comes to his playmakers. Dexter McCluster, who led the Rebels in rushing and was second in receiving, is back. So is leading receiver Shay Hodge, not to mention running backs Cordera Eason, Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis.
"We can do a lot more things, and there's a lot we can do that we didn't last year just because we were all still learning it," said Snead, who sat out the year before after transferring from Texas. "We pretty much have the base down now and are looking to add some stuff. We know we have the players that can run it. It's just a matter of building on it."
Snead's 2,762 passing yards a year ago were the most in a season for an Ole Miss quarterback by somebody not named Eli Manning. The same goes for Snead's 26 touchdown passes.
Manning's leadership, though, was what was invaluable for the Rebels during their breakthrough 10-win season in 2003 when they shared a piece of the Western Division title.
Snead, a junior, knows that's where he has to step up like never before next season, and it's already started this offseason.
This is his team now.
"Last year, I was an underclassman. I had no experience," Snead said. "I didn't really have anything behind my talk. I didn't want to say too much and felt like I needed to gain everybody's respect and everybody's trust first. This year, having been through last season and the success we had, I feel a lot more confident in my role as a leader and more prepared for it."
One of the things he's done ever since Ole Miss left Dallas earlier this year is watch for complacency. So far, he likes how the Rebels have handled success and dealt with being in the spotlight.
It's new territory for them, as many are picking them as one of the favorites in 2009 in the Western Division.
"Everybody knows who we are," he said. "We were the underdogs last year. This year, it's going to be different. Everybody's going to be watching out for us.
"That's OK, because we feel there's a lot more out there for us."