August tends to bring a lot of excitement to college football teams. At Ole Miss, there's a new group and a new attitude, as Houston Nutt says.
There are new question marks too.
In August of 2009 there was more excitement for the launch of Ole Miss football than I'd ever seen. Last year, with a new quarterback starter and the absence of playmakers like Dexter McCluster and Shay Hodge, there was a belief that while the Rebels would likely experience a drop-off after consecutive 9-4 seasons, dropping to 4-8, 1-7 in the SEC was unseen. That came from everyone's left field.
Because 2010 is the most recent body of work, it's hard to approach 2011 with great confidence. There's excitement for the potential of the recruiting class, but a reluctance in August to cut loose and believe.
Ole Miss walks onto the field Saturday afternoon with more speed and talent than it had in 2010, and that's the basis for the great sociology experiment that will follow, one that will answer this question: Which is more important, speed and talent or experience?
BYU will send an experienced offense against an Ole Miss defense with question marks at every position, freshmen, redshirt freshmen and first-year junior college transfers sprinkled liberally throughout the two-deep depth chart.
That being said, what I saw when practices and scrimmages were open was a defense that was more energetic, a secondary that appeared faster and improved.
BYU will counter with a sophomore quarterback who, because he started and played significant snaps as a true freshman, has the experience level of a junior.
In fact, the talk about Jake Heaps in these parts has overshadowed a run game led J.J. Di Liugi (5-9, 185) who compares favorably to Ole Miss' Brandon Bolden in terms of production (917 rushing yards, 8 TD, 42 catches last year) if not style.
Receivers have ample size and speed.
Offensively, the Rebels have an athletic quarterback making his first start. Barry Brunetti didn't draw a lot of praise from coaches for his practice until this week. The West Virginia transfer was rated among the top dual threat quarterbacks in the nation coming out of high school in Memphis two years ago.
So it's an unknown under center.
Beyond third-year sophomore Ja-Mes Logan, freshmen will dominate the landscape for Ole Miss at receiver, but really, that's a position where you can pull it off with new people, so much about instinct, route-running and personal discipline.
From the BYU perspective there's a lot of excitement based on how the Cougars finished 2010, winning five of their last six and crushing UTEP in a bowl game. That run included wins against Wyoming, UNLV, Colorado State and New Mexico, against which the Cougars scored a total of 169 points in four weeks.
Defensively, BYU was good, not outstanding. The Cougars return five starters, proven playmakers. They're also pinning a lot of hope on inside linebacker Uona Kaveinga, a high school All-American who is clearly physically gifted and eager to play but didn't get much done in two seasons at USC before transferring.
BYU racked up points at the end of last season but against the teams most likely to resemble SEC defenses – TCU and Utah – BYU scored three and 16 points respectively and lost both games.
Remember, many times last year Ole Miss did not resemble an SEC defense. I think that's changed, but the inexperience brings on the question marks.
If there's a feeling in the BYU fan base that this game will be a cake walk as they begin life without a conference, a new chapter in their storied history, that feeling is misguided.
Ole Miss will compete and have a chance to win as it tries to distance itself from 2010 and begin a rebuilding project.
I just don't think the Rebels will get it done this week.
BYU 25, Ole Miss 17