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Ole Miss picked as bounce-back team

6/15/2011

The college football preseason predictions continue to roll in. Tuesday, ESPN Insider KC Joyner listed his five bounce-back teams for the 2011 season.

Naturally, an SEC member made Joyner’s list. Fifth on Joyner's list was Ole Miss. The Rebels had a disastrous 2010 season; going 4-8, including being 1-7 in conference play. The Rebels didn’t just surprise people outside of Oxford; they shocked their coach, who was taken aback by the poor play of the defense. Houston Nutt said this spring that he didn’t see the defensive crumble coming at all.

Ole Miss was 12th in the league in scoring defense (35.2 points per game) and ranked 107th nationally a year ago. The Rebels also placed 11th in total defense and 81st nationally after allowing 399.2 yards a contest.

While Ole Miss’ defense was an issue in 2010, it will be even younger this season, but could be more athletic. The coaches were pleased with the progress made, especially in the secondary and expect this unit to grow throughout the season. Ole Miss also gets defensive end Kentrell Lockett back. Lockett should add some much-needed help for the Rebels’ pass rush. However, losing the team’s best player in linebacker D.T. Shackelford won’t help, but incoming freshman C.J. Johnson (the top player in the state of Mississippi last year) could take over for him at some point this season.

Offensively, the Rebels will have a solid running game with senior Brandon Bolden leading the way and home-run hitter Jeff Scott by his side. Ole Miss will be breaking in a new quarterback, but the Rebels have a veteran offensive line that should help ease that process. The one issue for that new quarterback is finding someone reliable to throw to.

Here's what Joyner wrote about the Rebels:

Returning starters: offense 9, defense 5

Favorable matchups: vs. Southern Illinois (FCS team), at Vanderbilt (2-10), at Kentucky (2-6 in SEC), vs. Louisiana Tech (5-7)

Underrated strength: Brandon Bolden. He didn't even win the state of Mississippi rushing title last year (that honor went to Mississippi State's Vick Ballard), but Bolden's 5.99 yards per carry average ranked as the fourth-highest total among SEC running backs.

Overrated weakness: Losing six starters might not be a bad thing for a team that ranked dead last in the SEC in yards per play allowed (6.3). It should make room for some of the young defensive talent the Rebels picked up in their three consecutive top-25 recruiting showings from 2009 to 2011.

X factor: An SEC schedule that may not be as daunting as it initially looks. Each of the Rebels' four conference road contests (Vanderbilt, a rebuilding Auburn team, Kentucky and Mississippi State) are games the Rebels should have a solid chance at winning.