Because we're afraid to ask Houston Nutt directly -- kidding -- sort of -- we asked One Man To Beat of Red Cup Rebellion a few questions about Ole Miss' 2009 season.
How much disappointment was there among fans with the way last season turned out? Has that lifted a bit?
If the Cotton Bowl had gone to Oklahoma State rather than Ole Miss, there would have been extreme disappointment in Oxford. The bowl win, back-to-back nine win seasons, victories over LSU and Tennessee, and the great season compiled by senior RB Dexter McCluster buoyed some of that disappointment. Alabama coming to Oxford had been set to be the biggest game since the 2003 LSU-Ole MIss game for the Western Division title. However, a road loss in Columbia on national television set the tone for the rest of the season.
Fans have not forgotten last season or had any disappointment lifting off its shoulders. A Western division title continues to elude our Rebels and that is most likely the goal for fans when there is good to great talent on the team. This year won't be a year for that kind of accomplishment either.
What is "success" this year? Is it just remaining bowl eligible again, or are the Rebels going to be looking for something more?
The first five games of the year are incredibly important to Ole Miss' success this year. Trips to Tuscaloosa, Fayetteville, Knoxville and Baton Rouge will make it very difficult to push forward from a 9-4 season last year. There is some sentiment among the very die hard Rebel fans that Ole Miss can win eight games this year, but our offensive line would have to gel a good bit in those first five contests before a trip to Tuscaloosa. Also, there's the issue of quarterback play.
From the 2004 Cotton Bowl to the 2009 Cotton Bowl, the Rebels had no other bowl trips. To have the opportunity to go to a third straight bowl appearance, it means the program will have recovered from the abominable coaching of Ed Orgeron. Granted, he did bring in loads of talent and academic risks that were boom or busts for the program in 2008 and 2009 seasons.
If the Rebels can piece together a seven-win season, most of our fans would be very happy. It would mean Coach Houston Nutt deserves the money we are paying him, which is roughly three times what we paid Orgeron. It would also build a ton of excitement for next season when the aforemention Tide, Tigers and Razorbacks return to Oxford and the season opens against Boise State.
What is going to be different about the Ole Miss offense with the departures of players like Jevan Snead, Dexter McCluster, etc.?\
Well, really, Jevan Snead left the team, and fans were more confused than upset. Why would he leave the team for the draft after such a pedestrian year? Many of our fans believe, and coaches hinted that, Jevan would be in a battle to win his starting job this season. Because the team changed offensive coordinators, every QB would be learning a new system, so he wouldn't have given an added advantage in the knowledge of the offense. Snead would have brought some leadership and experience in big games, but the massive loss is in Dexter McCluster.
Whilst in the men's bathroom at the Ole Miss-Tennessee game, an orange-clad Volunteer fan said, "whew-eeee, that little water bug y'all got is REAL good, we cain't catch'em. We gotta get us one of them." The fan was obviously talking about McCluster who rushed for nearly 300 yards and scored four touchdowns against the Volunteers and a vaunted Monte Kiffin defense.
When you get to the heart of the matter, this is what McCluster could do: change the face of the game with any touch on the ball. There is not a running back on the team currently who can do that. Junior RB Brandon Bolden has trimmed roughly 20 pounds off his frame and should be the number one option at halfback. Bolden showed flashes during his freshman year, but last year he did not offer much of a big play threat. He's a strong back who can succeed, but he's a conventional runner, not a player who puts together absurd highlight reel dashes.
The arrival of offensive coordinator Dave Rader means Ole Miss will most likely be much more conservative this season than last season. Unproven QBs will not be pressed to win the games but just rather manage the games and let the defense put the Rebels in a position to win. More or less, play Houston Nutt football.
What gives you the most optimism this year and what worries you the most?
The defense is by far the strong point of the Ole Miss Rebels this year. Our front seven is made up of better known defensive linemen, Kentrell Lockett and Jerrell Powe, and lesser known linebackers, Jonathan Cornell and Allen Walker, and should be able to defend anyone up against whom we line. This could very well be a team that does not allow more than 17 or 18 points per game. In the secondary, returning safety Johnny Brown offers athleticism and experience to lead that portion of the defense. The front seven should be able to get into the backfield and cause problems in the timing of opposing offenses. This should lead to turnovers or third and longs for opposing teams.
The biggest worry is in the quarterback position. The offensive line will have some good pieces to it in Bobby Massie and Bradley Sowell at OT. However, Nathan Stanley and Raymond Cotton have no long-term game experience at this level. Early games against Jacksonville State and Tulane will show what we can expect for that position later in the season. Cotton is more of an athletic threat and is more mobile, but a torn labrum this spring could hamper his abilities this year. Stanley owns the QB1 spot going into the fall, and he showed some ability in the Cotton Bowl last year in audibling out of offensive sets and leading the team. This is a microcosm of the season, however, and the position is still really up for grabs.
Is Houston Nutt really as crazy as he looks?
Nutt is absolutely out of his mind. Not in the "don't give him pointy objects" kind of way, but more in the "might dance with snakes and shoot arsenic" kind of way. He has a doctrine of what he expects out of players. He wants them to be great on and off the field, community service, all that stuff that doesn't really matter.
I think the question really is: Is Houston Nutt as crazy as he sounds? In postgames, this is the usual back and forth with reporters.
Reporter: "Coach, could you tell us what happened with Dexter tonight?"
Nutt: "Whoo, well, Dex has great heart, big time player, wants the ball, buckles up that chin strap, gets after it. Good motor and a good man. I like him. He gets that ball and goes baby. Hes got that motor and just runs like a deer. Great singer too, saw him in church last week, Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, you know. And he likes to eat, he could fit in a thimble, could eat a dozen tamales though. Is it hot in here? Chinstraps, catfish, shoelaces, antidisestablishmentarianism."
Thanks again to One Man To Beat, and remember to check Red Cup Rebellion during the season for Ole Miss news and commentary.