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.

Team Strength: The loss of Peria Jerry hurts, but the Rebels’ defensive front seven should once again cause issues for the opposition’s running game. Last year, Ole’ Miss allowed only 85.5 yards per game on the ground and even without Jerry, the Rebels will be difficult to run on. The line will be aided by the returns Hardy, Kentrell Lockett and Marcus Tillman, and linebacker Jonathan Cornell appears ready to take over a linebacker unit that lost Ashlee Palmer.

Potential Weakness: Despite the success of the front seven, the Rebels’ secondary struggle last year outside of safety Kendrick Lewis. Ole’ Miss gave up the most passing yards in the SEC last year and even though Lewis is an outstanding player, cornerbacks Cassius Vaughn and Marshay Green need to be better.

Outlook: There’s no question that Ole’ Miss could surprise this year in the SEC. Snead is a quality quarterback who is surrounded by a group of capable backs and receivers, most notably Dexter McCluster. The Rebels were second in the SEC in rushing offense and third in total offense in ‘08, but the key will be how this team fares without tackle Michael Oher, who was drafted in April. If the line doesn’t suffer a production letdown, then Ole’ Miss certainly has enough offensive weapons to be dangerous. The defense is solid, although the secondary must perform better for this team to reach its potential. With the way the front seven gets after the quarterback, there should be no excuse for the Rebels to rank dead last in passing defense again. The schedule is also very favorable, with home games against Alabama and LSU. The Rebels also don’t have to face Florida this season.

While a couple of things have to come together for Ole’ Miss to pull off the upset and win the SEC, they proved last year with wins over Florida and Texas Tech that they’re more than capable of being dangerous in a stacked conference.

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