PARRISH ALFORD: Has cycle of mediocrity run its course in Oxford?

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

There is angst and hand-wringing over the just-completed sports year at Ole Miss, not only because the Rebels for the first time since 1996 failed to reach a bowl game in football or the NCAA tournament in men’s basketball or baseball.
Certainly, that’s a sticking point, but the larger issue is that while the Rebels have struggled, Mississippi State has thrived in two of the three headline sports, not only gaining national attention but defeating Ole Miss head-to-head in every contest – save one game in a best-of-three baseball series – along the way.
From the Ole Miss perspective, there has been no company for misery.
The good news for the Rebels is that all things are cyclical.
The bad news is there’s no guarantee the present cycle has run its course. In a few weeks media and coaches will gather in Hoover, Ala., for the birth of another SEC football season. The Rebels stand an excellent chance to be picked last.
In men’s basketball, a transitional phase arrives with the departure of Chris Warren, one of the most prolific scorers in school history.
There is a rebuilt coaching staff and some exciting new talent, specifically the school’s first McDonalds All-American in Memphis transfer Jelan Kendrick, but new talent arrives with a bit of the unknown.
Looking across the roster there are athletic players, but the Rebels return no proven consistent scorer. They’ll be looking for someone to fill that role as well as the role of Mr. Clutch.
The Rebels will get a significant boost if the NCAA grants Murphy Holloway a waiver of its one-year residency requirement for transfers.
There are reasons to believe this could be a good team, but the current lack of experienced players is a concern.
In baseball, there is industry buzz around the hire of new assistant Cliff Godwin, who will coach the hitters.
The 2011 season was the Rebels’ least productive under head coach Mike Bianco. A roster with more newcomers than returning players needed the new guys to play like veterans. Not enough of them did, and injuries were a problem too.
At the end, growth was evident among several of the freshmen.
It’s not a stretch to think Godwin could spark the offense by helping the Rebels advance runners and in general play better on the bases.
Again, newcomers will have to be productive, particularly on the mound, but like basketball, should certain scenarios blossom, Ole Miss could get back to the SEC and NCAA tournaments.
Yes, a trend is developing here.
Football sets the tone for the sports year, and the Rebels, as in basketball and baseball, have ways they can show improvement.
Winning formula?
Whether with Barry Brunetti or Randall Mackey, there will be an athlete at quarterback, an inexperienced one, but an athlete.
The offensive line must perform as expected to pave the way for an All-SEC caliber tailback in Brandon Bolden and take pressure away from whoever wins the QB job.
Kentrell Lockett needs to inspire and lead a young defensive line, and a reorganized secondary with more speed –inexperienced speed – needs to surprise some people.
Bottom line: It’s summer, the season when hope sells. No one wants to dread the beginning of August, so you take optimism where you can find it.
In the three major sports there are reasons to believe the Oxford-based teams can be competitive and can improve their stations in life.
Still, it’s a long way from potential to production in a conference that – perhaps by this morning for sure by tomorrow – has produced the last eight national champions in football and baseball.
For Ole Miss, the mediocrity cycle will run its course, but it takes commitment at the player level and savvy at the coach level to put the wheels in motion.
Get those things, and a bit of good fortune sprinkled in, and the summer of 2012 will be more relaxing.


Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.