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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2009 college football spring predictions: Florida No. 1

As spring practices wrap up across the country, Andy Staples of SI.com ranked the top 25 college football teams entering the 2009 season. You can see Staples’ rankings by clicking the link above.

I’m intrigued by a couple of teams on his top 25, most notably Ole’ Miss (No. 7), Ohio State (No. 9) and TCU (No. 11).

Ole’ Miss is going to give a lot of SEC teams trouble this year with 16 total starters (8 on offense, 8 on defense) returning from last year, including quarterback Jevan Snead, who enters his second full season as a starter after throwing 26 touchdowns last season. They lost key components in offensive tackle Michael Oher and defensive tackle Peria Jerry, but they essentially return the same team that beat Florida, LSU and stomped Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl last year. (Not to mention also gave Alabama a game in Tuscaloosa.)

Out of the teams Staples ranks in his top 10, Ohio State has the fewest returning starters at nine. But quarterback Terrelle Pryor will only continue to improve with more playing time and running back Dan “Boom” Herron will ease the loss of Beanie Wells to the NFL. The Buckeyes should also have one of the best defensive fronts in the Big Ten, with end Lawrence Wilson and tackle Cameron Heyward set to return.

TCU turned a lot of heads last year after compiling an 11-2 record, including impressive wins over BYU and Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl. They had one of the fastest defenses in the nation last year and they held opponents to a staggering 11.3 points per game. But they lost seven starters on the defensive side of the ball, which was obviously their strength, so it’ll be interesting to see how they’ll stack up with Utah again in the Mountain West.

Another team to keep an eye on is Oregon State, who returns two explosive playmakers in running back Jacquizz Rodgers and wide receiver James Rodgers. But as Staples writes in his top 25 rankings, quarterback Lyle Moevano is coming off offseason shoulder surgery and will battle senior Sean Canfield in preseason practice.

2009 college football ranking predictions: Florida No. 1

Stewart Mandel of SI.com takes a crack at predicting how the top 25 will look in college football next season.

Tim Tebow1. Florida (13-1 in 2008)

Who’s back: QB Tim Tebow, DE Carlos Dunlap, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Joe Haden, S Ahmad Black.

Who’s not: WRs Percy Harvin* and Louis Murphy, T Phil Trautwein, G Jim Tartt.

Skinny: The defending champs return a former Heisman winner at quarterback, their top three tailbacks and, remarkably, their entire starting defense.

2. Texas (12-1)

Who’s back: QB Colt McCoy, WR Jordan Shipley, T Adam Ulatoski, LBs Sergio Kindle and Roddrick Muckelroy.

Who’s not: WR Quan Cosby, DE Brian Orakpo, DT Roy Miller, CB Ryan Palmer.

Skinny: McCoy and the offense should be potent again, and last year’s young secondary should improve with another year under Will Muschamp.

3. Oklahoma (12-2)

Who’s back: QB Sam Bradford, RBs DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown, TE Jermaine Gresham, DT Gerald McCoy.

Who’s not: WRs Jauquin Iglesias and Manuel Johnson, T Phil Loadholt, G Duke Robinson, S Nic Harris.

Skinny: Bradford’s return is huge for an offense that must retool its line and receiving corps. The defense has nine starters back from the BCS title game.

4. USC (12-1)
Who’s back: RBs C.J. Gable, Stafon Johnson and Joe McKnight, WR Damian Williams, S Taylor Mays.

Who’s not: QB Mark Sanchez*, DT Fili Moala, LBs Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing, S Kevin Ellison.

Skinny: New QB Aaron Corp or Mitch Mustain will have a solid supporting cast. The defense loses a boatload of staples but should be able to reload.

5. Ole Miss (9-4)
Who’s back: QB Jevan Snead, RB/WR Dexter McCluster, DE Greg Hardy, CB Marshay Green, S Kendrick Lewis.

Who’s not: T Michael Oher, DT Peria Jerry, LBs Tony Fein and Ashlee Palmer.

Skinny: After knocking off Florida, LSU and Texas Tech, the Rebels are ready to take the next step behind star QB Snead. Hardy’s return is a huge boost.

The 2008 season isn’t even a month dead yet and already I miss college football. (Although not the constant playoff debate, which shouldn’t even be a debate at all if BCS-supporters could ever get their heads out of their asses and realize they ruin college football every year.)

I like seeing Ole’ Miss that high. As Mandel points out, the Rebs knocked off Florida, LSU and Texas Tech last year, and also gave Alabama a run for its money, too. Snead is the real deal and that’s a team that will be fun to watch next season.

10 things in sports that I’m thankful for

Ah, Thanksgiving – the time to give thanks.

I thought that since it was Thanksgiving (which don’t forget, is the time to give thanks) that I would lay out 10 things that I’m thankful for in the world of sports.

I’m thankful for…

1…there’s no possible way we’ll see a Big Ten team play in the national championship.
I love the Big Ten for many reasons – the physical brand of football, the traditions, the rivalries, etc. But there’s no team in that conference this year that could match up with the likes of Alabama, Florida, Texas or Oklahoma on a national stage. Penn State and Ohio State are solid teams, but if the Nittany Lions took on the Gators in the title game, there’s a good chance that we’d all be watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” by halftime.

New York Jets
2…parity in the NFL.
How exciting is the NFL again this season? None of the divisions outside of the NFC West and maybe the NFC East have been decided yet and we still have five weeks of action left. Granted, there has been a lot of mediocre football being played around the league, but at least parity has bred competition on a weekly basis. Who would have thought that at this point in the season, the Jets, Ravens and Falcons would all be vying for a playoff spot?

3…rivalry week in college football.
Granted, not all of the matchups are attractive, but how great is it that Auburn is playing Alabama the same week Florida is playing Florida State? Even Ole’ Miss and Mississippi State will be entertaining and the possibility that one of the ranked schools will be knocked off by a rival is exciting.

4…the Hot Stove League is heating up again.
Outside of Opening Day and the postseason, this is by far the best time in baseball. Who doesn’t love hopping on the computer each day and surfing through all the rumors? And once your team lands one of the prized free agents, it’s all you can do from imaging your team playing in the Fall Classic next year.

5…fantasy football playoffs.
Everyone sitting in the bottom half of their fantasy football standings right now just flipped me the bird, but for those of us gearing up for the playoffs, the culmination of everything we’ve been working for all season is finally here. This is the time of year when you say, “Work? What work? Sorry boss – I’ve got to check my roster 4,000 more times before noon and then hit the Steelers training room so I can massage Ben Roethlisberger’s hamstrings so to ensure he’s ready to go this Sunday.”

6…shootouts in hockey.
Hockey purists tell me that shootouts determining which team wins and loses “isn’t really hockey.” Fair enough, but at least when I spend $80 on a ticket now I actually see my team win or go down in flames. There’s nothing more unsatisfying than a tie in sports – any sport. If I watch a bunch of players go at it on a slab of ice for three hours, I want to feel either ecstatic or traumatized at the end.

Manny Ramirez7…Manny Ramirez being a free agent.
If you don’t like following the circus that is Manny Ramirez, than you’ve got issues. And the fact that he’s a free agent this offseason only means we’ll get “Manny being Manny” on full blast over the next couple weeks/months. I seriously can’t wait to see where this goofy bastard winds up playing next year, but I’m going to enjoy the process even more.

8…humorous sports blogs.
How great is it that I can get a recap of the Cowboys-Giants game at the same place I can read about how Tony Romo nailed Jessica Simpson on a beach in Mexico? It’s a beautiful thing.

9…MAC football on a Tuesday night.
When most people see that Northern Illinois is taking on Buffalo on a random Tuesday night, they usually keep flipping until they land on a new episode of “Dancing With the Stars.” Not me. During football season, I don’t care of Texas is playing Oklahoma or Texas School for the Blind is taking on Oklahoma Little Sisters of the Poor – I’m watching it…and recording that new episode of “Dancing with the Stars.”

10…Erin Andrews working the sidelines.
‘Nuff said.

Week 10 College Football Primer

No. 25 vs. No. 25:
Graham HarrellNo. 1 Texas vs. No. 7 Texas Tech, 8:00 PM ET ABC
Both of these teams are coming off convincing wins but in completely different fashions. The Red Raiders absolutely routed a Kansas team that many thought could possibly hand Tech its first loss of the season. The Longhorns, meanwhile, got a major challenge from Oklahoma State but managed to hold on to victory despite some second half mistakes by Heisman candidate Colt McCoy. This will be the fourth consecutive ranked team (Oklahoma, Missouri, Oklahoma State) that UT faces in as many weeks. Can they keep playing at a high level or are they due for a letdown? The big question surrounding this game is how UT’s defense will stack up against TT’s explosive offense and vice versa. Not that the Longhorns are playing stout defense by any means, but they’ll be Tech’s toughest challenge to date. It’s going to be interesting to watch the dynamics of this game play out between Horns’ McCoy and Red Raider Heisman hopefuls Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree. McCoy certainly has an easier challenge this week, but Harrell and Crabtree have helped Tech average over 400 yards of offense in every game this year. Texas is arguably the most complete team in college football, while Tech can light up the scoreboard. The team that plays defense last might be the one that comes out victorious.

No. 8 Florida at No. 6 Georgia, 3:30 PM ET CBS
The game formally known as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Party” should be quite interesting this year after Mark Richt instructed all of his players to have a team celebration on the field after UGA scored the first touchdown in last season’s contest. The shrewd move didn’t go unnoticed by Urban Meyer and the Gators, who will no doubt seek a measure of revenge this weekend in Jacksonville. Florida has come alive since Ole’ Miss upset them a few weeks ago, pounding Arkansas, LSU and Kentucky with the greatest of ease. The Gators seem to have re-focused and a win over the Bulldogs could make a huge statement. Both of these teams still have national title aspirations and there is absolutely no love lost here. This is one of the fiercest rivalries in college football.

Georgia TechUpset Watch:No. 15 Florida State at Georgia Tech, 3:30 PM ET
The Seminoles have ridden strong defensive play all the way to the No. 15 spot in the polls, but does anyone else get the feeling they’re due for a letdown? GA Tech was a major disappointment last week in losing to Virginia, but that might have been more a testament to how great of a coaching job Al Groh has done turning around the Cavs than an indication that the Jackets are overrated. Even though GT isn’t ranked anymore, this is still an even matchup and I think the Jackets are going to try and make a statement to get back into the top 25.

Other notable games:
Nebraska at No. 4 Oklahoma, 8:00 PM ET ESPN
The Huskers’ defense has improved over the past couple weeks, but will they be any match for Sam Bradford and the explosive Sooners’ offense?

Northwestern at No. 17 Minnesota, 12:00 PM ET
It doesn’t have the same luster as Ohio State-Penn State did last week, but this is the best of what the Big Ten has to over this weekend. The transformation of the Golden Gophers has been remarkable after they one just one game last year.

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