Recently, while perusing the inter-tubes, as I like to do, I stumbled upon a very knowledgable post that analyzes the way our season will play out.
Read it... Go ahead, we'll wait right here...
You read it yet? Ok, great, now read the remainder of my entry. Please.
Well surprise, surprise! An Arkansas fan, Pork Roast, believes that we will have a disappointing season and win seven or eight games. Maybe he's bitter because we went 6-0 against Arkansas in money sports this year. But enough with ad hominem (and somewhat straw-mannish) arguments. Let's talk about this logically. I'll go through each assertion he makes and discuss it.
Chances are, if everyone is selecting you as their "sleeper" to win your division, league, etc, you're not a darkhorse. You're certainly not a sleeper. Just like everyone has their favorite 8 seed to go deep in to the NCAA basketball tourney, all the pundits are trying to show just how insightful they are by picking Ole Miss to be the "surprise" winner of the West in 2009. It'd be wise, however, to temper your excitement for dropping the Ole Miss bomb at the water cooler tomorrow. Your friends won't remember when Herbsreit lays an egg, but they'll definitely be pissed at you if they take your "Ole Miss knowledge" and parlay it into owing some guy named "Tony No-Neck" last month's salary.
The article is starting out fairly enough. Ole Miss is being picked as a dark horse by far too many pollsters and analysts. However, to compare someone raking Ole Miss in the lower half of their preseason top-10 to "everyone(s)...favorite 8 seed...in to the NCAA basketball tourney" is flawed. The 8th seed in March is generally understood as being around the 30th best team in the nation. If this were basketball, Ole Miss would be a two or three seed. Also, you're right that many of your friends won't remember when Herbstreit lays an egg, but your friends who are Rebel fans will remember him being one of the only major pundits to pick the Rebels to defeat the Red Raiders in the Cotton Bowl. Sorry, just have to give props to the out-of-left-field Rebel fan on the College Gameday Crew.
What's not to love about picking the 'Rebs as this year's West winner? They've got everyone's pre-season pick for top QB to be drafted in Jevan Snead. They came out of nowhere to beat Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl last year. Hell, Ole Miss was the only team to manage to take out Florida in 08.
What is he doing? Discounting his argument before he makes it?
There's a little more to this story, however. The Rebels got beaten by a pretty awful South Carolina squad in 08, they struggled with Arkansas, and looked pretty bland against a very pedestrian (I'm being nice AU fans) Auburn squad. Sure, they gave Bama a scare, but this came after being down 24-0 at one point. Add losses to Vandy and Wake, and you really have to wonder what all the national pundits are thinking.
I would argue against this. 7-5 (4-4) does not an awful South Carolina team make. Sure, our secondary looked like that of a high school team during that game, allowing a career-record of passing yardage to Chris "I'm now at Alabama to play baseball" Smelley, but we lost due to two costly fumbles and an untimely pick. Ole Miss wasn't making those mistakes at the end of the season, and one can't assume that they'll be making them when they see South Carolina next. It would be faulty to assume they won't turn the ball over against South Carolina as well, but Dexter McCluster appeared to finally have that whole "hold onto the ball when it's in your hands" thing figured out midway through the year.
Also, you mention that Ole Miss struggled against Arkansas and Auburn right before failing to ennumerate that the Rebels won both games. Ole Miss led 20-7 against Arkansas until there was 4:28 left in the game. Arkansas converted an onside kick late in the game and was still unable to come back against the Rebels. This seems a lot like the Alabama game that the writer so quickly discounts. One team had a large lead at one point in the game and then saw it nearly slip away. If one play had gone differently, the game would have a different outcome.
Ole Miss' defense played its worst game of the season against Auburn and still produced a 17-7 victory.
I've heard how the losses came early, and how the team really started to gel under Snead late in the season. I see it as more than a coincidence that Ole Miss started to gel late as they faced teams with secondaries offering wet toilet paper type resistance. Now consider the loss of Mike Wallace (one of the all-time underrated SEC WRs), FB Jason Cook, and 3 starting OLs (Oher, Miller, Harris) and things aren't looking so rosy. Snead is good when he's got Shay Hodge on one side and Wallace on another. Now he's only left with Hodge and McCluster. McCluster isn't an every down WR either. With Ole Miss breaking in new players on 60% of the offensive line, and losing it's regularly contributing fullback, the only running game the Rebels may have will involve Snead...who will be doing so, for his life.
Yes. It's important that the losses came early. Sure, it could be that the losses stopped when Ole Miss started playing teams like Auburn, Arkansas, LSU and Texas Tech. It could also be that the team came together and started to understand what it took to win football games. Why is this such a bizarre or impossible concept?
Dexter McCluster didn't take a college snap at halfback until last season. He was an every down receiver until last year. What makes the author think that he is not capable of being an every down receiver anymore? Also, while you never know the impact of an inbound recruit, five-star WR Patrick Patterson has his grades in order and will be in Oxford in July. Why assume that he can't contribute? I've seen the guy play and it's not difficult to marvel at his hands. Also, Markeith Summers really came on strong at the end of last season, grabbing four catches for 85 yards in the last three games. Remember, he was the fifth option at receiver. I just don't think we'll have much trouble at receiver. Jevan Snead's arm should also help a good bit to mask any trouble at the position.
And this one really blows my mind. We won't have Jason Cook which discounts our running game? Jason cook was a no go in the Cotton Bowl, a game in which the rebels pounded out 223 rushing yards behind the balls-to-the-wall blocking style of Andy Hartman. Bolden has publicly said that he prefers running behind Hartman because of how aggressive he is as a lead blocker. We return our top FIVE rushers from last season, and two of those five were freshmen who should see their skills develop with more quality practice time. We will not have trouble running the football. I would submit that no Houston Nutt coached team ever will.
Defensively, the news is hardly better. Hardy gets all the press, because he gets sacks. But the heart of that defense was Peria Jerry. You know it, I know it, and Reb fans know it. Jerry's gone. And he took Bowers, Fein, Mouzon, Sanford, and Palmer with him.
NOOOO! NOT CHRIS BOWERS! Serioulsy, Pork Roast? Chris Bowers was a third string DE for his entire career (save when he started in Orgeron's first season). Dustin Mouzon was a second string CB in a bad secondary. Ashlee Palmer, while good, lost his starting spot to Patrick Trahan. Tony Fein was a backup MLB. Jamarca Sanford saw his snaps cut on coverage downs in favor of a sophomore Johnny Brown. Yes, Peria Jerry was a beast, but the defense didn't lose much in terms of major contribution other than Jerry. We will have a few DT's who can come together and somewhat-fill his vacancy and, so long as a vocal senior steps up, his leadership capabilities can be covered.
The guys running the show in Oxford aren't idiots. They knew it was coming, so they lined up a who's who of irrelevance and inept for the 09 out of conference schedule. Read the list of OOC opponents, and know that somewhere in Jackson, MS, a high school kid is hoping his upcoming football season can be so easy. Ole Miss starts out with the obligatory snooze fest against the Memphis Tigers, then rounds out their murders row of pee wee non-league rivals: UAB, Northern Arizona, and Southeastern Louisiana. Let the season ticket holders rejoice!
Yeah. Because they knew the team would be bad, they scheduled Memphis, UAB, and Southeastern Louisiana THREE YEARS AGO. Sure, the administration really screwed up in scheduling the University of Northern Arizona, but they tried to avoid that. TCU, a top-25 team, backed out of scheduling negotiations at the last second. They also had trouble with other teams due to the uncertainty of the date (since ESPN could not decide when it wanted the Rebels to play South Carolina). Our terrified administration has scheduled teams like Texas, Clemson and Georgia Tech to play in Oxford within the next four years. I guess that means they know we're going to be competing for a national championship at that time. YIPPEE!!!
Ole Miss has 6 wins baked in: OOC (4), Mississippi State, and Vandy. Auburn probably won't be completely ready for prime time in 09, so that makes a potential 7. When Ole Miss hits the meat of their schedule, they won't be battle tested, and they won't have the personnel to keep up with the big boys.
Yeah. I guess our personnel is inferior to Arkansas, South Carolina and Tennessee. I agree that our personnel is inferior to LSU and Alabama, but that's not all it takes to win. First of all, Houston Nutt is a better coach than Les Miles. I don't think many non-Arkansians would argue against that. Hell, most LSU fans wouldn't argue against that. Also, if you think Ole Miss has "gaping" holes in its roster, look at Alabama. They have to break in four new starters on the offensive line, a new quarterback, a new starting halfback, and they lost the quarterback of their defense. Neither of those teams is in better shape than we are headed into the season.
Between Snead running for his life and trying to keep himself from becoming a QB-sized dent in Terrence Cody's belly, and the defense trying to find consistency in new faces, the Rebels are going to struggle. Look for 09 to be a year familiar to Ole Miss fans: 7-8 wins, a mid december bowl game, and a lingering sense of mediocrity.
I just don't understand how he can reach this conclusion after giving us seven "baked in" wins. We won't win a single game that's a toss-up?
It kills me when bloggeurs write about a team they know very little about. What did Pork Roast do before writing this column? Read the Lindy's article on Ole Miss? I'm lead to believe that's exactly what he did since it shares the same level of information with regards to the state of the program.