This has been a season of highs and lows in Oxford, Mississippi so far. The team has looked an awful lot better than last season's squad, the one that went 0-8 in conference play. It has also missed some opportunities.
Week 1: They put a smackdown on Memphis, 40-24. UP.
Week 2: They lose a heartbreaker to Wake Forest, 30-28. DOWN.
Week 3: They skate by I-AA Samford 34-10. UP.
Week 4: They lose a heartbreaker to Vandy, 23-17. DOWN.
Week 5: They score the big one, winning at Florida 31-30. UP.
Week 6: They turn Chris Smelley into SEC Offensive Player of the Week in a 31-24 loss. DOWN.
Though the season has taken them back down once again, it's important to remember where they've come from.
Six of their nine losses last season were by double digits. It has been four years since they last won two consecutive games within the same season. In the four seasons after Eli Manning graduated, the Rebels had just four conference wins. The best of them came against a 6-5 South Carolina team in 2004.
The huge win over Florida was the sort of game that Ole Miss could pull off under David Cutcliffe, but couldn't quite do under Ed Orgeron. Close losses didn't doom Coach O of course, but the sheer volume of them under his watch did.
The sheer volume of his voice was perhaps the most impressive thing about him.
Now the Houston Nutt regime is in town, as we all know. He is known for being a colorful guy, never afraid to let his emotions out. He is also the man responsible for keeping the SEC West from being ruled by the trifecta of Alabama, Auburn, and LSU the same way the East has been ruled by Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee.
I am not an Ole Miss fan, nor have I ever been to Oxford, so I can't give you any inside insight on the sentiment there now or in the past. I do know that the Rebels have not been nationally relevant consistently since the Vaught era, with the Cutcliffe-Manning collaboration being the brightest point of interest in the past decade or two.
Given that fact, it doesn't surprise me to read that Nutt is working hard to change the mindset in his new program. Unless the Rebels have a 6th-year senior I am not aware of, no one on that team has experienced a winning season on the collegiate level. I can't imagine it's an easy task.
Nutt, a guy who strikes me as an incurable optimist, is probably the right guy for the job though. Not only is he brimming with enthusiasm, but he has shown his coaching chops by winning the West on three occasions. Saban or Miles he's not, but he's sure no Orgeron either.
Beating Alabama or LSU is probably asking a bit much, but I would have told you the same thing about beating Florida three weeks ago. The Arkansas game, Louisiana-Monroe game, and the Egg Bowl are all more than winnable, and I like their chances of doing well against Auburn too. Going 3-1 in those games is definitely doable, and it likely puts the Rebels in their first bowl game since the Cotton Bowl after the 2003 season.
Things are looking good beyond this season too. Every offensive player with more than 10 touches should be back except for senior WR Mike Wallace, and freshman RB Brandon Bolden leads the team in rushing. The defense will be fine too as long as no one jumps to the pros early (I'm looking at you, Greg Hardy).
It's difficult to climb from a 3-9 season to great success on one year. Everyone's darling Vanderbilt did win five games last year, so they started from a better foundation record-wise for this season than Ole Miss did. Vandy has also had several years of continuity under one guy whereas the Rebels are on their third coach in five years.
If Nutt can keep himself out of any drama like what happened with all the Springdale nonsense in 2006, he should have no problem guiding the Rebels to bowls consistently and every so often competing for a division title. He has also shown over his career a willingness to make changes, a lack of which led Ole Miss to show Cutcliffe the door.
A good showing against Alabama and a win over Arkansas should confirm this season is on the right track. The Rebels' climb will take longer than just one season, but at least they are climbing once again.