The only constant in Houston Nutt's coaching career is that there is no constant. At any of his jobs, he's oscillated between winning eight or more games and winning fewer than eight games in two-year increments.
At Murray State, he won four and five games before back-to-back 11-win seasons. At Arkansas, his win totals: 9, 8, 6, 7, 9, 9, 5, 4, 10, and 8. In Oxford, he won nine games each of his first two seasons. He followed that up with just four wins last year, and it looks like it'll be another sub-eight win season in 2011. Say what you want about the man, but he's at least consistent in his inconsistency.
Of course, those first two years with a Cotton Bowl appearance apiece were as much as anything the culmination of the vaunted recruiting of the Ed Orgeron administration. Ol' Ed wasn't up to cashing in on that talent as a coach, so the fact that Nutt was is a validation of his hire. As for last year, it's tempting to say that it merely was a standard consequence of coaching transition, when you see a drop in Year 3 or 4 of a coach's tenure.
You can't really say that about the defense though, as its September depth chart had 10 of 11 spots stocked by upperclassmen. That declined to nine after Kentrell Lockett's injury, but still, nothing about that screams "transitional year." That's also what made last year's dreadful defense such a disappointment. It was supposed to be the team's strength; instead, it was a glaring weakness.
The offense never really took off last year despite the stewardship of transfer Jeremiah Masoli. They ran the ball well enough, as you'd expect a Nutt team to do, but the passing efficiency was awful. Nutt made a couple of great moves to address the stagnation. He once again hired patron saint of the Wildcat David Lee, who had been with him at Arkansas, and brought aboard Oklahoma State's Gunter Brewer to coordinate the passing game and tutor the receivers. Both of those guys should help perk up the attack a bit.
All in all, Ole Miss is probably looking at another rebuilding year. It's hard to imagine the defense getting much worse, but there's only so much ground that you can make up in one season. At the moment, freshman transfer Barry Brunetti is leading the quarterback race. While there is plenty of experience at running back in Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis, starting a freshman behind center is almost always a sign of building for the future. Plus, it will probably take a year to fully feel the effects of having Lee and Brewer around as is generally the case when staff turns over.
I don't know if the Rebels will at least make it back to a bowl this year. It seemed like last year the Jacksonville State loss took something out of the team that it never got back. The schedule is not terrible with Vandy and Kentucky from the East and the West's three titans (Alabama, Arkansas, LSU) all visiting the Grove.
Either way, if the patterns hold true, look for a big 2012. The apparent Rule of Nutt requires it.