It's almost hard to believe that we're even considering the possibility that Houston Nutt could be on the hot seat at Ole Miss. After all, Nutt's first two seasons featured back-to-back trips to the Cotton Bowl for a program emerging from the Ed Orgeron Era.
But that's what a loss to Jacksonville State and a disappointing season will get you. And the whole "Rebel Black Bear" thing probably didn't help, even if it's not Nutt's fault. There seems to be a sour mood setting in among the Oxford faithful, and Nutt might be the easiest -- and, in the case of the football team, most deserving -- target.
Into that setting steps BYU, newly independent after being left out of last year's conference realignment game. (There's still hope, Cougars; just pick up the phone when Dan Beebe calls.) BYU dropped to 7-6 last year, the first time since 2006 that the Cougars hadn't won at least ten games in a season. Brigham Young started outside of the Top 25, where it had been since late 2007. It never broke into the rankings.
The Cougars return essentially all their rushers from a year ago and many of their receivers. Except for right guard, every offensive position is manned by a returning starter. The defense has some holes that BYU best address, but if they get going, the schedule has enough marquee names -- Ole Miss, Texas, Utah, Oregon State, TCU -- that the Cougars could sneak into a big bowl game. The BCS doesn't have a special clause for BYU like it does for Notre Dame. But an undefeated season and a few lucky breaks, and who knows.
Barry Brunetti is the starter at Ole Miss, at least in part because of Randall Mackey's ill-timed decision to cross the law, marking the second straight year that Houston Nutt has gone to another BCS program to find his signal-caller. That would seem to be an alarming trend for a coach that spent several years recruiting players by the dozens and now can't find a quarterback he trusts among them. And there are plenty of holes on defense for the Rebels, which matters only if you think Tyrone Nix would do better with the old guys or if you think that the old guys (who allowed 399 ypg in 2010) are a huge loss.
Truth is, it's hard to see either of these teams win this game. BYU will be long way from home in a hostile environment -- but in some ways, the environment could be just as hostile for Houston Nutt. His reclamation projects starts on a down note, and it will be interesting to see if he can turn things around from there.
BYU 35, Ole Miss 20