Over the past few weeks, I've traded emails with beat writers for each SEC team, along with Georgia's three other BCS-conference opponents to get some insider insight into what fans can expect from UGA's competition in 2009.
Each day, we'll preview two teams, culminating with a big-picture look at the SEC and a deeper look at the biggest issues facing your Georgia Bulldogs. To submit a question for the Georgia entry in Two-A-Days, send me an email with the subject line "Two-A-Days" and I'll do my best to find you an answer.
The eighth entry in the series is the Ole Miss Rebels.
Head coach: Houston Nutt (second year)
2008 Record: 9-4 (5-3 SEC)
Total Offense: 407.62 ypg (3rd in SEC, 29th overall)
Total Defense: 307.23 ypg (5th in SEC, 19th overall)
On the docket: Ole Miss opens its season Sept 6 at Memphis. The Rebels won't play Georgia this season... unless it's in the SEC title game.
Ole Miss shocked the SEC last year -- first by beating Florida, then by turning in a solid season that ended with a bowl win over Texas Tech. Houston Nutt worked wonders in his first year with the Rebels, and quarterback Jevan Snead proved to be one of the top passers in the conference. Ole Miss won't sneak up on anyone this year, however, and is a potential SEC West favorite. So, how will the Rebels respond? I asked Parrish Alford, the Ole Miss beat writer for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.
Parrish Alford: The attitude among the players is confident and unworried about the expectations. They've not had them before, so there's really no point of reference. WR Dexter McCluster said, "We did fine last year when we had no expectations. We handled that." Perhaps they'll handle this too. It remains to be seen.
DH: Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin were the key offensive cogs in Florida's run to an SEC (and national) title a year ago, but Ole Miss has a pretty impressive duo of its own in Jevan Snead and Dexter McCluster. What have you seen from the two of them this spring, and are they ready to take that next step from being good SEC players to great ones?
PA: Snead has been solid. Some days have been better than others. The accuracy is there, but he's thrown a few picks too. He's a guy who has so much confidence in his arm that sometimes he tries to make throws he shouldn't. That was a problem in the first half of last season. McCluster is consistent. He makes tough catches, makes catches in traffic. Without Mike Wallace I would expect to see him more at wide receiver than at running back, though I doubt Nutt will be able to resist lining him up in the I. McCluster will continue his role at the Wild Rebel as well.
DH: Despite having some offensive difference makers, Ole Miss will need to replace one of the country's top offensive tackles in Michael Oher, who had started 47 straight games for the Rebels. Has anyone made some noise this spring as a potential replacement or do you see one of the Rebels' top recruits landing the job this fall?
PA: The left offensive tackle spot will be open still when August practice begins. Sophomore Bradley Sowell has not jumped up and grabbed the job this spring. They like Sowell's size and athleticism but would like to see a little more nasty from him. Incoming freshman Bobbie Massie will have a chance to compete for the starting job, though Massie starting is not a given.
DH: Speaking of recruiting, Ole Miss's 2009 class made as much noise for its quantity as it did for its quality. How have the three early enrollees looked this spring, and how many of the big group of recruits do you think can actually have an impact this fall?
PA: Not much from the early enrollees. A.J. Hawkins is a kid from Lithonia who was a member of the 2008 class and was grayshirted. He's had good spring on the offensive line, running some with the first team when Nutt was trying to send a message to Sowell and guard Rishaw Johnson. Hawkins is expected to play in a reserve role next season. Signee Pat Patterson is expected to make an impact at receiver. Jamar Hornsby will make an impact at safety or will not be on the team at all, depending on how his legal troubles pan out. Linebacker Mike Marry is a sleeper for early playing time.
DH: After seeing the team this spring, what jumped out at you in a positive way, and what would you say are the biggest questions Ole Miss still needs to answer before the season begins?
PA: What jumps out about this team is the level of talent on offense. Some of it is unproven, and if the left tackle slot turns out to be sub-standard that could certainly affect what type of season Jevan Snead had at quarterback. But there is experience and depth at running back and receiver. One defense, the line is against deep and talented. DT Peria Jerry will definitely be missed, but several defensive linemen had nice springs, most notably Jerrell Powe.
This should still be a team that can gain penetration at the line and make a play. Nutt praised the play of his linebackers this spring. Free safety Kentrell Lockett has All-SEC potential. The question on defense will again be how the corners hold up in man coverage. They were better late last year, but a lot of that success in pass coverage depends on how well the line is playing up front.
* Parrish Alford is the Ole Miss beat writer for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. You can read his Ole Miss coverage HERE or check out his blog HERE. You can also sign up to follow him on Twitter HERE. Parrish wraps up Ole Miss's spring in a column HERE.NEXT UP: The Florida Gators with Orlando Sentinel beat writer Jeremy Fowler.