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Thursday, June 25, 2009
It's back to the future for Ole Miss

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Mentioning Ole Miss and SEC championships in the same sentence is akin to bringing up plaid suits when you're discussing high fashion.

Ole Miss last won an SEC title in 1963, and plaid suits haven't been in fashion since ... maybe never.

"There's a lot of hype, a lot of enthusiasm at every Rebel Club we go to, a lot of expectations," Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. "It comes back to players and coaches doing their part."

It also comes back to handling those expectations.

After 40-plus years of being mostly an afterthought in the SEC race, Ole Miss enters the 2009 season with the kind of hope and anticipation surrounding the program that hasn't been seen since the Mannings were the toast of Oxford.

Archie Manning led the Rebels to a Sugar Bowl victory over Arkansas capping the 1969 season and then back to the Gator Bowl following the 1970 season.

Nearly 35 years later, Eli Manning guided the Rebels to a share of the SEC's Western Division crown in 2003 and a Cotton Bowl victory over Oklahoma State.

And this coming season?

Well, the Rebels will likely start the year ranked in the top 10 and are being picked by many to win the Western Division.

"Nobody ever won a championship by talking about it," said Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix, whose defense tied with Florida State last season to lead the country with 112 tackles for loss. "This is a different year with different challenges. We'll see how it all comes together."

The Rebels would seem to have all the pieces in place to make a serious run. Their defensive line is one of the deepest in college football, and junior quarterback Jevan Snead already has the NFL scouts drooling. He also has a versatile cast of playmakers surrounding him, including Dexter McCluster.

If Snead plays the way he did to end the season, when he threw 16 touchdown passes and only three interceptions during the Rebels' six-game winning streak, this is a team that will be favored in just about every game it plays.

The schedule also works in their favor. They get both Alabama and LSU at home, and Florida drops off the schedule next season. The nonconference slate is ridiculously easy, and the toughest SEC road date is probably South Carolina on a Thursday night (Sept. 24) in Columbia.

If the Rebels are 4-0 heading into that Alabama game on Oct. 10, look out. Three of their first four games are on the road. But starting with Alabama, six of their next seven are at home.

Sounds like the Grove is in for some drama-soaked Saturday afternoons this fall.