Houston Nutt arrived at Ole Miss after the 2007 season, when Ed Orgeron had recruited stellar talent to Oxford but couldn't quite figure out how to coach it up. Nutt had immediate success, winning nine games in back-to-back years, the first time that had been done in Oxford since 1961 and 1962.
That's all well and good. But a good chunk of the talent that Orgeron led to town has departed. Now what?
Entering Nutt's third season, the big picture will be determined by just how well Nutt has recruited. If he has the talent, the ball should keep rolling at Ole Miss.
Indications are that it will, but it won't be without some work this spring and leading up to the 2010 season. The Rebels have questions on offense, like which quarterback they will use to replace Jevan Snead, how will they devise the attack after the departure of all-purpose speedster Dexter McCluster, and how will they adapt to new offensive coordinator Dave Rader.
On defense, the Rebels took some losses on their talented front but return plenty of stalwarts. Ole Miss' defense was its strong suit in 2010, and if the offense takes some time to jell, it might need to stay that way through the spring and into games that count this fall.NOTES, QUOTES
SPRING OBJECTIVES: Among all the different things -- and there are many -- that confront Houston Nutt in his third spring as the Rebels' head coach, Ole Miss needs to find a quarterback. Jevan Snead's departure for the NFL Draft has placed an emphasis on that.
Given Snead's propensity for interceptions during his junior season, there is at least some optimism that this won't be too difficult of a transition. The candidates are redshirt freshman Raymond Cotton, sophomore Nathan Stanley and junior college transfer Randall Mackey.
"When they walk in the door, you say, 'That's what they're supposed to look like.' So that has me fired up," offensive coordinator Dave Rader said in The Clarion-Ledger. "But they're young. They're really young."
Unfortunately for Nutt and Rader, the challenges don't end there. The Rebels were at their best last season when wide receiver/running back Dexter McCluster was running wild, often out of the backfield. The Rebels used this so much that the attack will require almost a complete offensive overhaul to find rhythm without such a unique player. Don't expect coaches to find another McCluster, at least not overnight.
Fortunately, they have the spring to build a foundation -- and find a quarterback.
BUILDING BLOCKS: Simply put, Ole Miss' biggest building block might be more intangible than anything else. Houston Nutt's back-to-back nine wins seasons are the first for the Rebels since the early 1960s. Younger players, even if they haven't been able to play as much because of the talent in front of them, have been groomed to expect to win. At a place like Ole Miss, changing the culture is half the battle.
The other half, of course, is the personnel. Look for Ole Miss to try to build its offense around a running back who was solid last year when the Rebels went to a conventional approach: Brandon Bolden. Another offensive weapon will be wide receiver Jesse Grandy, a surprise of a true freshman who emerged as a go-to kick returner. Left tackle Bobby Massie is among a group that leads the offensive line into 2010.
Kentrell Lockett, Jerrell Powe and Ted Laurent are among the seniors who return on the defensive line, which has been a particular area of strength for this program in recent seasons. The Rebels can only hope their leadership rubs off on the younger guys.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'd be foolish to try and talk him out of it. So I'll learn their system -- our system -- and go from there." -- Dave Rader, in The Clarion-Ledger, on learning the Ole Miss offense led by Houston Nutt.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: Few around Oxford want to use the word "rebuilding," but it might be applicable here. After two straight nine-win seasons, Ole Miss must replace its quarterback, its star versatile athlete in Dexter McCluster and plenty of other key players on both sides of the ball. The 2010 season should help prove whether Houston Nutt has recruited well in his three classes.
DL Carlos Thompson -- As Ole Miss' defensive front undergoes some turnover, this true freshman from the Mississippi Delta could provide some help. He's 6-5, 220 pounds, and a little more weight could make him a stalwart defensive end. He was highly recruited.
WR Vincent Sanders -- He can help Ole Miss' passing game as it emerges under a new quarterback. Sanders joins old Noxubee County High School teammate Pat Patterson, but with Patterson's spring suspension, he might have even more chance to shine come the fall.
DE Wayne Dorsey -- A four-star defensive end who stands at 6-8, Dorsey is expected to play immediately. He's a junior college transfer, giving him more experience than the rest of his teammates.
--The team was hit with tragedy in mid-February when walk-on Bennie Abram died in a conditioning exercise.
--Junior WR Andrew Harris left the program, coach Houston Nutt announced in February. Harris played in 12 games last year and caught a touchdown pass.
--Sophomore WR Pat Patterson was suspended for spring practice after an undisclosed violation of team rules, The Clarion-Ledger reported.
Previous Report: 04/11/2010