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Down In The Grove (Ole Miss Rebels Preview)

Posted by Ryne E. Hancock on August 10, 2007

In states that have two teams, there has to be one that’s perennially good and another one that sucks ass because that’s the way God intended it to be.

For over 100 years, Mississippi’s two flagship schools, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, have been at opposite sides of the spectrum in football with the Rebels winning six conference championships since 1945 and recognized as national champions in 1959, 1960, and 1962 under legendary coach Johnny Vaught. This included 31 bowl appearances, something that can’t be said in Starksville, who hasn’t seen an overall conference football championship since 1941.

But for all its history and tradition, the Rebels of late have floundered to the bottom of the SEC West with their neighbors in Starksville. With head coach Ed Orgeron entering his third year in Oxford, the time to win is now as the Rebels are in their worst two-year stretch since the Great Depression.

17 starters return to a 4-8 squad who went “0-fer” on the road in conference play, including a 38-3 drubbing at the hands of Arkansas, their worst loss to the Razorbacks since Arkansas joined the conference in 1992, and a nailbiter to archrival LSU in Death Valley on a last-second field goal.

On offense, the Rebels return QB Brett Schaeffer, who in his first season threw for under 1,500 yards and nine touchdowns to go with 10 interceptions and return Rebs’ lone offensive weapon from last year, tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who ran for 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns in his first season at Ole Miss after transferring from Indiana. Green-Ellis’ 234 carries last season set a new school record for carries by a running back, eclipising the record set by Rebel great Deuce McAllister in 1998.

However, the receiving corps is, at best, very inexperienced, with only senior wideout Mike Wallace returning for his senior season. In 2006, the New Orleans native caught 24 passes for 410 yards and two touchdowns, averaging a little over 34 yards per catch. He is joined by sophomore Marshay Green, who showed a lot of promise in the spring game and should be the receiver of the future for the Rebels, as well as tight end Robert Lane, who had a slow season last year that is looking to have a bigger presence on the offense in 2007.

At defense, the Rebels welcome in former Memphis defensive coordinator John Thompson, who will try to work with the 4-3 defense that Orgeron has inherited since becoming head coach a three years ago. With 6 starters back on defense, most notably defensive end Marcus Tillman who garnered two sacks and 5 tackles for loss during the season, the Rebels will be breaking in their usual 4-3 to a young defense that was ranked near the bottom in the conference in total defense, allowing 353.9 yards per game; a defense that, for the most part, couldn’t stop the run as they allowed 159.4 yards of rushing per game. Expect to see an improved defense suiting up when the Rebs take on the Tigers on September 1st.

Final analysis: There is no way to go but up for the Rebels, but with an improved Alabama team, Auburn, Arkansas, and a rebuilt LSU team in the same division, the Rebels could find themselves in the same spot above their brothers from Starksville if the offense fails to measure up. The good news is that the Rebels get Florida, Alabama, Arkansas, and LSU at home, games that could make the difference between being home for the holidays or somewhere bowling in some warm destination for the holidays. Otherwise, steady improvement will still be in store for the Rebels, but not a bowl just yet.

Projected record: 6-6 (3-5 SEC)

Sept. 1st @ Memphis

Sept. 8th Missouri

Sept. 15th @ Vanderbilt

Sept. 22nd Florida

Sept. 29th @ Georgia

Oct. 6th Louisiana Tech

Oct. 13th Alabama

Oct. 20th Arkansas

Oct. 27th @ Auburn

Nov. 3rd Northwestern State

Nov. 17th LSU

Nov. 24th @ Mississippi State

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