OXFORD – There’s a boast around college football right now, a collective “I told you so,” from the crowd who believed the Rebels were overrated at No. 4 in the AP Top 25.
Certainly the Rebels were overrated, and they were exposed by the South Carolina defense Thursday, their inability to clear a path for their skill players resulting in a 16-10 loss.
When the polls are released today, the Rebels will be punished severely by the very voters who elevated them to No. 4.
Losing in prime time in the lone game on national television will make the drop deeper, but the Rebels were promoted by the electorate after winning 52-6 against a I-AA team in game with much less exposure. The polls have a way of adjusting.
So many have said Ole Miss didn’t deserve the No. 4 ranking, but the Rebels were just a pawn in the system. They did deserve the No. 8 ranking when the poll was released in August. Preseason rankings are compiled in large part on what was accomplished last year, and the Rebels, at No. 14, were a couple of spots too low when the curtain closed on 2008.
There are a lot of unknowns in preseason polls. If you want to avoid that, hold the polls until October. That was Tommy Tuberville’s argument in 2004 when unbeaten Auburn didn’t get a chance to play for the national championship.
That’s not going to happen, because polls generate interest, and interest generates money.
We’re deep enough into the schedule now that we’re starting to see more conference matchups and the separation that comes with them.
Left tackle was a question mark for Ole Miss when the season began, and it has not evolved as well as the staff hoped it might. In the search for Michael Oher’s replacement, eyebrows were raised in the spring when sophomore Bradley Sowell was demoted before rallying to win the job.
There are experienced skill position players on the roster who made plays last year and will again when there’s some chemistry and timing on offense.
When fullback Andy Hartmann and tight end Gerald Harris return, the issues of protection and run blocking will improve but won’t be solved.
There is no proven deep threat to replace Mike Wallace. That player might be in house, but right now there isn’t enough time for the deep routes to develop for quarterback Jevan Snead, a strong-armed passer who has a propensity to force a throw in the best of times.
Offensive line coach Mike Markuson talked after the loss about having to be “creative” with the handful of reserve players he trusts to put in the game.
There is not a backup behind Sowell who is game-ready at left tackle. If the staff makes the decision that Sowell isn’t working out, the next move will likely be an upheaval, something like moving Reid Neely or Rishaw Johnson, the starting guards, out to left tackle, or perhaps moving right tackle John Jerry to the left side, which would create an opening for either Sowell or freshman Bobby Massie.
There needs to be more creativity in getting the ball to utility player Dexter McCluster earlier, too, and that may be as simple as handing it to him at tailback. That’s what Houston Nutt did in the fourth quarter in Columbia, but it was a spark that didn’t have time to start a fire.
Goals are still on the table for this team. Time is something the Rebels still have.
But there’s less of it, and areas need to be addressed if this team is going to be in the mix for something big in November.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com.
Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal