The end of the 2000’s wasn’t so bad for Ole Miss football. Coming off the Ed Orgeron debacle, Houston Nutt led the Rebels to back-to-back nine-win seasons, back-to-back Cotton Bowls, and a ton of momentum heading into the 2010’s.
Nutt’s 2010 class finished 18th in the country, per Rivals, so not good not great, but serviceable at the time coming off two great seasons. But, there was one recruit out there who visited, camped in Oxford, and was really wanting an offer from Nutt but, alas, was not given one. That same recruit went on to receive interest from several other Power 5 programs like Arkansas, Clemson, Florida State, and Tennessee only to be left empty-handed again.
This recruit eventually received offers from schools like Colorado State, Purdue, and Tulane only to commit and sign with Central Florida.
I’m talking about the 6’4, 230-pound Oviedo, Fla. native and eventual 2013 AAC Offensive Player of the Year Blake Bortles.
In the first of many “What If?” posts here at Red Cup Rebellion, I am going to take you on a journey to see how Ole Miss football would have been affected if Houston Nutt had signed The Good Place’s favorite Jaguars quarterback.
Blinded by the Scooba light.
Sure, a lot of these posts are going to be speculative, but we’re in the middle of a fucking quarantine so you’re going to have to entertain me here.
In 2010, Houston Nutt’s 2010 class included four-star athlete Randall Mackey in it. Now, the Bastrop, La. native was no bum. He was coming off an NJCAA All-American season in which he was instrumental in EMCC’s national title run and led the country with 3,122 yards passing and 32 touchdowns.
But, he was still considered an athlete because of his not-so ideal stature and most were iffy on if he could be an every down quarterback in the Southeastern Conference. Was there someone who did have the frame?
Back in 2009, the signal caller from Central Florida camped at Ole Miss only to leave Lafayette County without an offer. Sources say that Bortles most likely pulls the trigger and commits on the spot due to his lack of Power 5 offers at the time, but Nutt and his staff decided to continue to evaluate their board and eventually settled on Mackey.
That same year, Bortles was slicing and dicing his way through 5A Florida high school defenses, throwing for 2,211 yards and 27 touchdowns. The future No. 3 overall pick ended his prep career with a Seminole County record 5,576 career passing yards and 53 touchdowns.
Sure, the Rebels seemed to be fine signing the high-flying junior college All-American from one of the most prestigious community college programs around, but the “What If?” here hurts.
How different is Nutt’s tenure at Ole Miss with Bortles?
This is where we get real speculative but, again, deal with it. The first two seasons of Nutt’s career in Oxford were great, but the next two, not so much.
Hootie Dale was ousted after going a combined 6-18 and 1-15(!) in the SEC.
How different is that if Bortles is on the roster?
Does he lead a mostly lifeless Ole Miss program out of the darkness to a few more wins? Well, you could certainly make the case for that with what he did at UCF.
In two years as the starter, he threw for 6.640 yards and 50 touchdowns. The Golden Knights rebounded from a 5-7 campaign to a 10-4 seasons, a division title, and a berth in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl (of course he fucking won that bitch).
So what does Blake do for an encore?
He leads UCF to an American Conference title, a 12-1 season with their only blemish coming to South Carolina, and a Fiesta Bowl win over top-10 Baylor.
Bortles was named the conference’s offensive player of the year and was an All-American honorable mention selection. That year, he threw for 3,581 yards and 25 touchdowns and added six more touchdowns on the ground.
That night in Tempe, the UCF quarterback threw for 301 yards on 21-of-30 passing and three touchdowns. He also ran for 93 yards and a score.
Is that any good?
Surely this would’ve been better than the Rebels’ experiments at quarterback in 2011 with Randall Mackey and Zack Stoudt, right? Don’t get me wrong, Mackey was serviceable, but he ended up being much more effective as a slot receiver.
Now imagine him in an offense with Bortles pulling the trigger and throwing to him.
An extended Nutt Era negates the Freeze Era.
I’m obviously not saying that Bortles’ 22-5 career record in Orlando completely translates to the same thing in Oxford and the SEC, but just for the sake of this series, let’s say Ole Miss wins six or seven games and goes to a few bowl games with Bortles.
There’s no way Nutt is fired in 2011.
Therefore Hugh Freeze never happens.
How much longer do Ole Miss fans have to call Hootie Dale their coach?
To be honest, it’s a bit frightening.
But, what if Bortles does things like this a lot at Ole Miss?
On the road against a top-10 Louisville team with three minutes remaining, Bortles led the Golden Knights to a game-winning, 75-yard drive to stun Charlie Strong and Teddy Bridgewater.
But, this wasn’t a fluke. In games against ranked and/or Power 5 opponents that year, Bortles was lights out:
- 20-of-27 for 288 yards and three touchdowns at Penn State
- 25-of-36 for 358 yards and two touchdowns vs South Carolina
- 21-of-32 for 250 yards and two touchdowns at Louisville
- 21-of-30 for 335 yards and one touchdown vs Rutgers
- 20-of-31 for 301 yards and three touchdowns vs Baylor
Ole Miss could’ve used this kind of play making in the final years of Nutt’s career, no doubt. Again, does he save Houston from the ax all by himself? Maybe, maybe not, that’s the fun of these kinds of posts.
But, one thing is certain, he was a better college quarterback than what Ole Miss trotted out there in 2011.
So if that is the case and, say, Ole Miss wins the opener against BYU, wins back-to-back conference games against Vanderbilt and Georgia, completes the top-10 upset of Arkansas at home, and avoids the homecoming upset to Louisiana Tech, then what?
The Rebels are looking at going into the Egg Bowl at 7-4 with a ton of momentum and an actual quarterback. There’s no way that Ole Miss fires Nutt therefore Freeze isn’t hired going into the 2012 season.
The “What If?” table continues to turn.
So tell us what you think in the comments.
Would Blake Bortles have saved Ole Miss in 2011 and beyond? Speculate away!