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From a football standpoint, Masoli well worth the risk for Ole’ Miss

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli #8 of the Oregon Ducks attempts a pass against the Ohio State Buckeyes at the 96th Rose Bowl game on January 1, 2010 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Last week, University of Mississippi head coach Houston Nutt sat at the roulette table of life down on his luck. He had just suffered another huge loss when Raymond Cotton decided to transfer and when he looked down at his chip stack, he realized his next play had to be all-in.

Things haven’t really gone Nutt’s way over the past couple of months. Last year, many college football pundits thought that the Rebels would be a sleeper in the SEC West. But in their first real test of the season, they were beaten by South Carolina in Week 3 and stumbled to a 9-4 overall record, which included a 4-4 finish in the conference.

Following the season, Nutt lost his starting quarterback when Jevan Snead surprisingly entered the NFL draft instead of returning for his junior year. That left Nathan Stanley to compete with Cotton (a highly touted underclassmen) for the Rebels’ starting quarterback job.

But last week, Cotton decided to leave the program, which left the Rebels with Stanley and former junior college star Randall Mackey as the only other quarterbacks on scholarship.

So Nutt decided to take a chance.

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South Carolina shocks No. 4 Ole Miss

College football fans, we officially have another huge upset in 2009.

Just six days after Washington knocked off USC (who was the No. 3 team in the nation), South Carolina shocked No. 4 Ole Miss on Thursday night with a 16-10 upset.

It was an incredible performance by the Gamecock defense, which held quarterback Jevan Snead to only 107 yards on 7 of 21 passing. The highly potent Rebel offense could only muster 248 total yards against a South Carolina defense that was relentless to the ball carrier all night.

Not to solely pick on him because the South Carolina defense was incredible on all fronts, but Snead just couldn’t make a play when Ole Miss needed it, outside of a 45-yard touchdown competition to Markeith Summers in the fourth quarter to cut the Gamecocks’ lead to 16-10.

When Ole Miss marched to SC territory late in the fourth, Snead was sacked on a 3rd and 12 from the Gamecock 34 and then had a pass knocked away on the next play to essentially end the game. Every time he needed to make a play, SC’s defense turned him away. The Gamecocks did an amazing job all night.

Shockingly, this was the sixth consecutive SEC opener that Ole Miss has lost and they join Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and USC as the fourth top-5 team to be knocked off in the last four weeks. What a blow for the Rebels, who many thought would be the sleeper team in the SEC this year.

2009 CFB Preview: Ole’ Miss Rebels

Check out our other 2009 college football previews.

Preseason Ranking: No. 8 in AP Top 25; No. 10 in USA Today Poll.

Key Returning Players: Jevan Snead (QB); Dexter McCluster (WR); Shay Hodge (WR); Cordera Eason (RB); Daverin Geralds (C); Gerald Harris (TE); Kendrick Lewis (S); Greg Hardy (DE); Jonathan Cornell (LB); Ted Laurent (DT); Kentrell Lockett (DE); Marcus Tillman (DE); Cassius Vaughn (CB); Allen Walker (LB).

Key Losses: Peria Jerry (DT); Michael Oher (OT); Chris Bowers (DE); Mike Wallace (WR); Jason Cook (FB); Jamarca Sanford (S); Terrell Jackson (S); Tony Fein (LB); Ashlee Palmer (LB); Dustin Mouzon (CB); Maurice Miller (G).

Player to Watch: Greg Hardy, DE.
Some were probably expecting quarterback Jevan Snead to be listed here – and for good reason. The athletic signal caller totaled 2,762 passing yards and 26 touchdowns in his first year as the Rebels’ starting QB and many believe that Snead is the reason Ole’ Miss has a chance to surprise this year in the SEC. But Hardy, with his career 32.5 tackles and 21.5 sacks, will unquestionably be the best player that suits up for the Rebels this season. Had he not decided to stay in school, he likely would have been a top 5 pick in April’s NFL draft. He terrorized SEC quarterbacks last season, namely Florida’s Tim Tebow in the Rebels’ massive upset of the Gators in “The Swamp.” Hardy should once again prove why he’s one of the best defenders in the nation and he was born to play on Sundays.

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Top 10 Heisman Hopefuls Version 1.0

Every couple of weeks during the 2009 season, I’ll rank the top 10 Heisman Trophy candidates based on their chances of winning college football’s most prestigious award. Players will either rise or fall in the rankings based on their performances throughout the year.

Below is Version 1.0. Obviously with no games being played yet, I’m mostly projecting with this top 10. These types of rankings always stir up a lot of debate, so I encourage readers to tell me which players should be rated higher or lower. I’ll update the list after the first week or two of the season.

Without further ado…

1. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida
After Sam Bradford edged Tebow out in last season’s Heisman race, some will argue that the Oklahoma QB deserves to be at the top of this ranking. But I’m giving the slight edge to Tebow right now after he absolutely destroyed the competition in the second half of last year. Florida will incorporate the no-huddle into their offense this season, which should only benefit Tebow’s style of play and give him even more scoring opportunities than he already had. Outside of Florida having to replace tackles Phil Trautwein and Jason Watkins, there’s little reason to believe that Tebow will take a step back in 2009 and considering the Gators are once again national title contenders, he should be the front-runner to win this year’s Heisman.

2. Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma
After throwing for 4,720 yards and 50 touchdowns last season, I don’t doubt that the reigning Heisman winner could be even better in 2009. But the Sooners’ offensive line is a major question mark entering this season with the losses of Phil Loadholt, Duke Robinson, Jon Cooper and Brandon Walker. That’s a lot of change in one offseason and while OU should light up the scoreboard once again, I could see Bradford taking a backseat to Tebow when the final Heisman results are tallied.

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USA Today Preseason Polls: Florida No. 1

The USA Today Coaches’ Top 25 college football coaches’ poll has been released and to no surprise, Florida ranks No. 1.

Here’s the top 15 (via ESPN.com):

1. Florida
2. Texas
3. Oklahoma
4. USC
5. Alabama
6. Ohio State
7. Virginia Tech
8. Penn State
9. LSU
10. Mississippi
11. Oklahoma State
12. California
13. Georgia
14. Oregon
15. Georgia Tech

The most intriguing team to watch this year in the top 15 is Ole’ Miss. The have a solid quarterback in Jevan Snead a true playmaker in Dexter McCluster, a couple of quality receivers and several capable rushers. But the one thing that could keep the Rebels from taking that next step is the play of the offensive and defensive lines. They lost two significant pieces of both lines last year when Michael Oher and Peria Jerry were drafted into the NFL. Can they replace both of those players and make some noise in the SEC?

Another team to at least keep an eye on this year is North Carolina, who is ranked 20 in the preseason poll. They lost receivers Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate to the NFL, but their offense is still chockfull of potential and their defense was incredibly opportunistic last year. I’m not saying the Heels will challenge for a national title this season, but they’ll be competitive.

The Heisman race is going to be fun to watch all year, too. Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and Terrelle Pryor hold the edge going into the season, but watch out for sleepers like Evan Royster, Jonathan Dwyer and Jahvid Best.

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