So let me get this straight? We lose our team's most dynamic player in a decade, or perhaps ever, to graduation and the NFL draft; our team's talented but unwise, trigger-happy quarterback to
the NFL draft a Home Depot in St. Petersburg, FL; our most athletic and consistent tacklers; our, let's say "free-spirited", sacks leader; most of the interior of our line; much of our secondary; and one of the greatest receivers to ever wear a Rebel uniform; yet most of us are still expecting a winning season complete with a bowl berth of some kind?
Well, yeah, and with good reason.
For starters, the Rebels went 9-4 (4-4) last season. That is with a team which ranked as the worst in all of the NCAA in interceptions thrown (alright, to be fair, we tied with the mighy Redhawks of Ohio's Miami) and second worst in the conference in turnover margin, beating out a Georgia squad which only recovered two fumbles over a thirteen game span. Our Rebels were horrible with the football last season, and much of the blame for such has, rightfully to an extent, been placed on Jevan Snead's shoulders. Three of the four Rebel losses can easily - and a bit conveniently - be blamed on Snead turnovers (back breaking pick 6's against Auburn and State come to mind along with a four turnover performance against Alabama). Of course, it's too simple to say that "well, without Snead we really lose an aberration to South Carolina," but it is important to indicate that the Rebels weren't dominated by a single opponent they faced. We tangled with our opponents and most certainly had chances and opportunities to win which, really, is what makes so much of last year a "disappointment" - it's having a legitimate reason to know you could have done much better.
But, in the face of significant attrition, it does give one cause to believe that, of the players we keep from last year's squad, at least a few of them know how to win enough - to put it kindly - games on an SEC level. And one has to hope that, no matter what we lose on the offensive side of the ball, a season which sees 31 Rebel turnovers is a rather distant possibility.
The Rebels of 2010 are not as talented as the Rebels of 2009, but that has never been up for debate. What is up for debate, interestingly enough, is whether or not this season's Rebels will be as mistake prone as last season's. The answer to that question could mean as much as the difference between a 5-7 season and an 8-4 season. Will Nathan Stanleyprogress through his receivers and make better decisions than Nathan Stanley? Will Melvin Harris and Jesse Grandy secure their catches better than Shay Hodge(sorry, Shay, we love you to death but you straight up gave Alabama and Auburn interceptions) and Markeith Summers? Will our halfbacks secure the ball? Will the blocking be there to give plays time to develop? I do not know the answer to any of these questions, and I cannot lie to you and say that I'm hopeful of such - Stanley aside, simply because any quarterback under anycoach throwing 20 interceptions is an aberration - but their answers are the key to whatever offensive success we may imagine having this year.
Defensively, though, we're telling a completely different story. Last season, the Rebels were the best defense in the SEC on third down, tallied the second most sacks, boasted the 2nd best red zone defense, and otherwise sat in the top-half of the conference in every single team defensive category except for interceptions (where the Rebs were 7th) and fourth down defense (10th). Considering that, it's no wonder Tyrone Nix was a candidate for the Florida DC job in the offseason. The Rebels success these past two seasons have been carried on the backs of the Landsharks, and this season will be no different. We return plenty of starters and, of those non-starters returning, most of them have legitimate playing time against high levels of competition (for example, Kentrell Lockett is technically not a returning starter). Scoring on our Rebels will be as difficult this season as it has been for the past two, one should think, which can, realistically speaking, be enough in and of itself to carry us to bowl-eligibility.
Alright, bullet points, some game-by-game stuff, and then I'll leave you the comments thread.
Who We're Gonna Miss the Most - Offense: C'mon. You know the answer.
Who We're Counting On - Offense: Nathan Stanley. Showing nothing but selflessness and maturity during the entire Masoli saga, Nathan Stanley has won this bloggeur over. He may not have the big arm or quicker feet of Jevan Snead, but he has shown himself to be nothing but mature and classy. And, for whatever it may be worth, the Cup's sources have said that his teammates trust him as much, if not more, than they trust Snead. So there.
Most Likely to Let us Down - Offense: The interior of our line. Our guards and, especially, centers have not wowed in practices thus far which is hardly a good sign if we're looking to rely on our rushing attack for offense.
Most Likely to Surprise Us - Offense: Enrique Davis. Break out, InRicky, please. Just get out there and live up to, fair compromise here, 65% of your potential.
Who We're Gonna Miss the Most - Defense: Kendrick Lewis. Talk about a guy with football instincts. The 2009 captain's consistency and propensity to be at the right place at the right time made us forget the once poor-tackling safety of the early 2008 season.
Who We're Counting On - Defense: Damien Jackson. Please, please be good. We have had excellent safety play over the past two seasons, having one taken in each of the last two NFL drafts (Jamarca Sanfordand Kendrick Lewis). If Jackson and Brown can continue this trend, look for Brown to have his name called by Roger Goodell in eight months.
Most Likely to Let us Down - Defense: The defensive backfield, all of them. You'll know what I'm talking about after the Alabama and Arkansas games. Hell, you might know after the Kentucky game. If these guys can't step up and complement the front seven, we could be in some serious trouble.
Most Likely to Surprise Us - Defense: Charles Sawyer. The redshirt freshman corner out of Miami is legit, y'all. I haven't seen too much of him in practices, but he is quick, possesses excellent feet, and is physical at his position. He just needs to make better decisions and develop a better understanding of the game before he's a legitimate SEC corner.
Tig Barksdale will finally suit up in Vaught Hemingway Stadium. Some halfback of ours will dominate, setting up our fragile hopes for their inevitable downfall at the hands of the Southeastern Conference. Rebels roll.
I hope I'm sober enough to remember it. Rebels win by a wide margin and we all have a damn fine time dropping coin in the Crescent City.
I'll be there. Warren Norman should be close to 95% by then but, SEC F.o.Y. be damned, this is an untypically bad Vanderbilt team. Think about that for a few minutes. Yeah. Despite this, however, it will be close because, unlike the rest of the SEC, we aren't allowed to kick the shit out of Vanderbilt. There's some sort of conference by-law, I'm sure.
I have no idea what to think about this game. Fresno State is the Southern Miss of the West Coast: they produce a few great talents every few seasons; are not afraid to schedule "anyone, anytime" or "anywhere;" and I'm certain they annoy the shit out of Californians, a la Southern fans to Mississippians (just run with me on this one). They play with surprising swagger and shoulder chippage but, as Ivory Tower pointed out, they're not as tough as their reputation would suggest. After the departure of 2nd team All American Ryan Matthews, the Bulldogs look to take a step back offensively which plays right into our strengths.
Randall Cobb is arguably the conference's most dynamic playmaker. And, in looking at last year's schedule, two of Kentucky's biggest victories came as road team underdogs (Georgia and Auburn). We cannot, under any circumstances, look past the Wildcats. I hope the Rebel D can contain Cobb and company and, when considering those aforementioned road upsets came against two of the conference's worst defenses, I would call that a reasonable expectation.
Oh, we'll lose, and it'll suck ass. Moving along.
At this point, we'll know who we are as a team offensively. I know Arkansas has likely improved from last season's worst defensive performance in the conference, but means that they've likely jumped from 12th to something like 8th or 9th. They'll be easy-ish to score on, ideally, and assuming our offense has, at this point, established its identity and playmakers. They will be, on the other hand, much more difficult to defend than they were last season. Ryan Mallettis good, but he didn't perform well against the conference's best defenses, struggling against Alabama, our Rebs, Florida, and LSU. If we're going to beat them, we're going to need to do what we did last season, and that's put a ton of pressure on Ryan Mallett. That should be doable, but I still don't have enough faith in our secondary to limit the Razorback offense as much. Oh, and the game's in Arkansas, remember? Ole Miss hasn't won in the Natural State twice in a row sine 1990 and 1992. So they've got that whole "home field advantage" thing going for them.
Onterrio McCalebb, Michael Dyer, and Cameron Newton should give the Plainsmen enough of an offense to beat the Rebels. But, remember, Auburn's defense was the conference's second worst last season. We should be able to keep this one close but I wouldn't at all bet money on the Rebels here.
I hope their fans share their jambalaya recipes with us. Whiskey Wednesday has, I must say, a pretty solid one, but I bet the folks from Acadiana could own his Jacksonian ass.
Here's the deal: Tennessee is gonna suck hard this year. I respect coach Dooley and I, frankly, respect the hell out of their program, but their defense - a good one last season - lost significant star power and their offense boasts a Juco quarterback, the least experienced line in the conference, and a bunch of skill players you've probably never heard of. But, when discussing this game, the-100,000 seat elephant in the room is Neyland Stadium. The Rebels have only won in Knoxville five times, the most recent of which came in 1983. An optimist would argue that the Rebels are "due" a win in Tennessee, a pessimist would use our history as an argument against a Rebel victory. So I'll take the fence-sitter approach: we should win in Knoxville this year, but it won't be easy.
Wouldn't it be fun to be the nail in Les Miles' coffin? And then they hire someone badass and start beating the horse piss out of us again? Oh wait, that last part isn't so much what I was going for but, I mean,
Don't look too much into the lyrics aside from the fantastically funky and NSFW refrain.
If we lose to State, especially with anything of consequence on the line, I'll buy "FireHoustonNutt.com" from whichever Springdale denizen owns it ($20? Fair price, sir or madam?) and put photoshopped pictures of him at Mexican cockfights hanging out with Marcus Vick. I promise. I know a lot of Mississippi State and SEC fans in general have been mystified by Dan Mullen, and he is undoubtedly an upgrade over Sylvester CroomS, but he's not going to win in Oxford. The last Mississippi State team to win in Oxford? the 1998 squad which went to the SEC Championship game. This team isn't that good. Sorry, Bulldogs.
Final record?- Eesh, y'all done put me on the spot here. Assuming we lose to a team we shouldn't right before or after beating a team we shouldn't, I'd give us an 8-4 record once again. Our schedule is just too easy to expect that many losses this year. Perhaps, though, I should revisit this assesment after the Vanderbilt game.