Just imagine for a moment — if it's possible — that Saturday's Ole Miss-Arkansas game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium isn't all about the man who coached the Hogs for a decade. Remove the emotions and focus on the players who will suit up in Harvard crimson and Yale blue.
What remains noticeable is this: These aren't the Rebels of years past. After only seven games under Nutt, these Rebels are relevant again.
Ole Miss went in to Gainesville and shocked the Florida Gators. The Rebels went in to Winston-Salem, N.C., and made Wake Forest beat them on a last-second field goal. They went in to Tuscaloosa, Ala., and scared the second-ranked team in the nation.
And Nutt's reaction to his first seven games at Ole Miss reveals that expectations have quickly heightened.
"To be 3-4 is making me sick, because I know we could be 6-1 or 7-0, easily," said Nutt, who resigned as Arkansas' coach on Nov. 26 and accepted the Ole Miss job the next day.
"That's hurt me, especially for these seniors. The very first day I met them, I told them I wanted to get them to a bowl game, to experience that."
With a win on Saturday, Ole Miss would then need only two more victories to reach its first bowl game since the 2004 Cotton Bowl. So the Rebels obviously have plenty to worry about in addition to their coach's homecoming.
Mostly, Ole Miss needs to stop beating itself.
The Rebels won only 10 games in three seasons under former coach Ed Orgeron, and they went winless in SEC play last season. But Orgeron recruited well and left Nutt with bowl-worthy talent.
Ole Miss has explosive playmakers on offense, such as quarterback Jevan Snead, wide receiver Shay Hodge and wide receiver/Wild Rebel quarterback Dexter McCluster. Offensive lineman Michael Oher and defensive end Greg Hardy are likely first-round picks in the 2008 NFL Draft.
Still, the Rebels have gotten in their own way far too often. The Rebels rank 105th nationally in turnover margin, committed six turnovers in a 23-17 home loss to Vanderbilt and committed three turnovers in last Saturday's 24-20 loss at Alabama.
Alabama quickly converted two of those turnovers into 10 points.
"There's been way too many," Nutt said. "Way too many. When we don't stop ourselves, we have a real chance. If we can move the ball like we did in the second half, we have a real chance (Saturday)."
Arkansas center Jonathan Luigs obviously isn't concerned with what Ole Miss' offense does. From what he has seen, the Rebels' defense has given its team a legit shot to win every time out.
"They've played some good teams and really held their own against them," Luigs said. "We're going to have our work cut out for us. They've got a good pass rusher on the end, solid guys upfront, and the linebackers make plays."
The Razorbacks' play-caller, coach Bobby Petrino, said both of Ole Miss' pass rushers could cause problems. He also complimented the way Snead has the Rebels on the potential brink of a bowl berth.
"I'm impressed with (Snead)," Petrino said. "I think he can really be accurate and has a quick release."
ON THE RISE
Following back-to-back bowl appearances after the 2002 and 2003 regular seasons, Ole Miss went four straight seasons without winning more than four games. Former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt already has the Rebels looking for win No. 4 in 2008 this Saturday in Fayetteville.
Year Record SEC Record Top 25 Win
2008 3-4 1-31
2007 3-9 0-8 0
2006 4-8 2-6 0
2005 3-8 1-7 0
2004 4-7 3-5 0
2003 10-3 7-1 2
2002 7-6 3-5 1
Ole Miss Competitive Immediately Under Nutt
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