Countdown to Football

[b]34 Days[/b]

[b]Ole Miss Preseason Preview[/b]

"It didn't affect us. We had the best recruiting in the state of Mississippi. You know, the thing that I want to do, I want our staff and I -- I want to go to Atlanta. it's one of the greatest games, greatest venues, greatest environments there is to win a championship. Ole Miss has never been to Atlanta. That's all I really focus on. I don't really worry about it. Sometimes when coaches make a statement like that, I don't really worry about it. I don't concern myself with that because it all comes down to your body of work.

This is my 14th year here. So I know this. Alabama, LSU, those guys, Florida have been holding up this crystal ball in this conference for the last five years the SEC has won. I've been to Atlanta twice to experience that wonderful, wonderful atmosphere. So I feel like I know the roadmap to get there." - Houston Nutt in response to a question about Mississippi State's billboards in the state of Mississippi. 

Houston Nutt's seat is warm.  He was hired in 2008 to transition Ole Miss from doormat to middle tier SEC competitor.  He was hired to give Ole Miss a chance at 7 to 9 wins a year, and his ultimate goal is to get Ole Miss to Atlanta at least once.  

When Nutt was hired at Ole Miss, I along with many others thought it was the perfect fit.  He's an excellent game day coach and has throughout his career found top notch talent to compete for his teams.  Matt Jones, Darren McFadden, and Felix Jones are three SEC greats that all played for Houston Nutt at Arkansas.  

The coach prior to Nutt achieved a 4-8 record in 2006, which would be his best season of his head coaching career.  

Nutt in his first year at Ole Miss went 9-4 with wins @Florida(eventual BCS champs), @LSU(defending BCS champs), and Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl.  

He repeated his success in his second year by winning 9 games with wins against LSU, Arkansas, and Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.  

What's not to like about Houston Nutt in Ole Miss?  What expectations do Ole Miss fans and sports analysts really have for the once doormat in Oxford?  

Even Tommy Tuberville couldn't get to 9 wins in his respectable tenure there.  David Cutcliffe reached 10 wins once in his six year tenure there.  

But Houston Nutt did it twice right off the bat.  And last year, he only hit 4 wins. 

No one denies that last season was terrible for Houston Nutt and Ole Miss.  However, this is not uncommon for Nutt.  At Arkansas where he experienced plenty of success, he would have a 6 or 7 win season smushed between his respectable 9 win seasons.  I don't think anyone with a reasonable brain didn't expect to see Ole Miss struggle some years with Nutt at the helm.  

Nevertheless, Ole Miss and Houston Nutt are being laughed at.  Nutt is considered a joke.  Washed out.  Doormat status.  

And for one reason only: 

He can't beat Dan Mullen.  

Miss State owns a two game win streak (both wins were executed impressively).  Mullen has the Bulldogs going into next season with a tremendous amount of hype.  Nutt's team looks shaky and undeveloped.  

But don't be fooled.  Don't be fooled again.  Nutt has a history of coming through just when you think he's finished.  Just when you think Miss State needs to get the easy win over Ole Miss in Starkville, Houston Nutt puts an energized team on the field to shock the SEC world.  

He's done it plenty of times in the past.  

[b]Three Questions about Ole Miss[/b]

1. Who's going to play quarterback? 

Nutt doesn't always have the luxury of a steady, consistent quarterback.  He made it to the SEC championship game in 2006 with two young QBs.  All he needs are athletes on offense and big play defense.  

But if Nutt truly wants to get Ole Miss to Atlanta, he has to find a great quarterback.  McFadden isn't in the backfield, and Ole Miss will be hard pressed to ever get a McFadden on campus.  So who is going to step up? 

2.  How good can Branden Bolden be? 

He's been a workhorse since his freshman year.  It's hard to believe he's still there, honestly.  

Last season, Bolden averaged 6 yards per carry and scored 14 touchdowns.  He's the running back Ole Miss will rely on, and he has to come through.  He's crucial for the young, new quarterback to have time to get the ball to a hopefully improved 6'7 Melvin Harris.  

3.  Will Kentrell Lockett return to form?

NFL-hyped Lockett is back from injury.  He was supposed to anchor the defense last year, but tore his ACL.  From what I've read, he seems ready to go for this season.  

His presence on the outside will help divert attention away from the inexperience at defensive tackle.  

[b]Most Important Game[/b]

11/26 @Miss State

It's not hard to figure this one out.  No one is expecting Ole Miss to challenge the SEC West.  Losses to Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, and Alabama will be forgiven.  

But it's time to reassert Ole Miss as the top team in the state.  

Nutt has a better winning percentage than Mullen.  He had a better two year start than Mullen.  He's done much better in recruiting than Mullen. 

But he can't beat Mullen on the field where it counts.  

[b]Realistic Expectations[/b]

The expectations are the same for Ole Miss as when Houston Nutt was hired.  

Houston Nutt has to coach like Houston Nutt.  

Ole Miss may struggle to make a bowl game.  They may barely hit 6 or 7 wins.  

But with the crazy ole preacher at the helm, it's not unreasonable to expect a big upset.  It's not unreasonable to suddenly see Ole Miss upset Alabama.  It's not unreasonable to suddenly see Ole Miss go into Auburn and perform perfectly.  

Nutt has to be himself - a nut.  And Ole Miss has to be the most feared underdog in the SEC.  

And Ole Miss has to beat Miss State. 

34 Days

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