David Cutcliffe is 23-13 since coming to Ole Miss, but has yet to show the potential that many expected upon his arrival from Tennessee. For what it's worth, I think Cutcliffe is a decent coach. He has made some mistakes, like throwing deep in the final moments of the 1999 Egg Bowl, but it's a game of risk. The biggest criticism with Cut has been his inability to manage a recruiting class. As the Rebs needed to add some much needed dept,h they only had a dozen schollys to play with and nearly 25% of those were given to kids who will be unable to play this year. When you factor in graduation or in some cases the end of eligibility as well as attrition and injuries, the Rebs are not much deeper than they were a year ago. This will catch up with Cut and in some ways already has.
As mediocre as the tenure has been for Coach Cut, the crowning moment was the signing of Eli Manning. Manning has a tremendous pedigree and has the Rebel brand. The same folks that gave Archie and Olivia death threats after Peyton signed with Tennessee welcomed the baby Manning with open arms. Manning has not disappointed! He is everything the "experts" said he would be and more. He needs a stronger supporting cast in order to deliver the results that the Rebel faithful dream about. It appears that Eli will never have the luxury of a strong running game, so the bulk of the playmaking responsibilities will fall firmly on the shoulders of #10.
The Rebs tried to bolster the running attack, by adding Juco all everything Ronald McClendon. McClendon has the speed to burn you if he breaks contain. He is dangerous in the secondary, but he is very raw. Robert Williams will be the starter, but Williams has been slowed by injuries most of his career which seems to be a recurring theme in the Cutcliffe system. The RBs just can't seem to stay healthy. This tandem will be average and will miss the services of The big bad Stack. Toward Sanford is tabbed to be the starter, but lacks the pancaking ability of Stackhouse. He is talented, but lacks experience.
The Rebs are deep at WR. Chris Collins is the target of choice and finished the season a year ago with a penchant for the spectacular play. Jason Armstead will hold down the return duties as well as the flanker spot. Armstead is a speed merchant and has good hands. Trey Fryfogle struggled down the stretch, but should hold on to the starting job. He has the ability and this season needs to be a breakout one for the sophomore. Taye Biddle will be the dark horse of the year for the Rebs. He has all the skills and just needs some playing time.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention TE Doug Zeigler. Zeigler has the best chance on offense of anybody not named Manning to make all-conference. Manning used Zeigler as a possession receiver. He killed LSU and nearly pulled out the win against Arkansas. Look for Zeigler to have a big season.
The offensive line will be a source of strength for the offense. Four starters return with the lone vacancy being the departure of big man Terrence Metcalf. This loss is huge. You just can't replace a player that special with just another wide body. The best bet is Cliff Woodruff, but he will be pushed by eventual tackle of the future Tre' Stallings. The starters are solid from Johnson to Johnson with Claxton and Buckles inside. There is some talent on the two deep, but they lack quality game time.
Next up the defense. Ah, the defense. As tired as I get of hearing about Eli Manning, I must admit he is good. I especially get tired of hearing about how the Rebel defense will be one of the nation's best. It's nothing personal, but the numbers just don't back up the claim. The Rebs are learning a new system, a 4-2-5 that will be more like a 4-4-3. The Rebs will stack the box and put their inexperienced corners on an island.
The defensive line still lacks size and depth. This issue has still not been addressed, but they keep rolling out the same bunch telling us that they got bigger and better over the summer. We will see soon enough. Josh Cooper is athletic and can get a speed rush off the end from time to time, but he, as well as Germain Landrum, lack sufficient size to stay and play in a slugfest. A silver lining is the fact that the backups saw some time a year ago due to an attempt of giving the outmanned DL a blow every now and again. Ole Miss will continue to struggle against team's that can run the football. If Ole Miss can stay out of 3rd and shorts, they have chances to get stops, but as long as a team can grind it out they will.
The linebackers are good which is a good thing because they'll see plenty of action. Eddie Strong returns for what should be a strong senior campaign. He has the ability and the tenacity to be a great one. If he can get some support, he has a chance to be all-conference. Lanier Goethie is a decent player, but is not at the level he should be. He needs a huge year if the Rebs hope to challenge for the SEC West crown.
Corner will be a sore subject for a while in Oxford. Seniors Chris Knight and Desmon Johnson will be the starters, but lack senior experience. Playing time has been at a premium. Playing behind Syniker Taylor kinda causes that. The better talent lies in the underclassman, but they aren't ready to tackle the SEC from a starting spot. Matt Grier may be the best safety since Todd Sandroni to play at Ole Miss. He seems to always find the ball, but could improve his cover skills a bit.
@ Texas Tech
The Rebs have a manageable non-conference schedule as they usually do. Texas Tech will be no pushover and the Red Raiders have a Heisman hopeful at QB, too. I think Ole Miss will get by the Red Raiders, but it'll be a shootout. Alabama will be looking to avenge last year's loss in Oxford. The Tide had annexed Oxford as a satellite home game before last year. If Bama can get some pressure on Manning, they should correct the balance of things, but that's a big if. The Auburn game will always be fun as long as Tubby's at the helm. For the record, Florida will wax Ole Miss all over VH. That will be entertaining for a while, but Ole Miss just doesn't have the horses.
The Egg Bowl. Yes, the Egg Bowl means a lot more this year. From the ban on the cowbells, to slanderous accusations, to tattle tale embellishments the Rebs have declared war on MSU. I know 7-4 is a number that they are used to as that's a typical Ole Miss season, but that's also Jackie's record against the U of M head coaches that he has faced over the years. The Rebs never lose, they always get cheated. They can't beat Jackie on the field, so they try to get him out in an underhanded way.
I tried to remember the four Ole Miss wins a few days ago and I seem to remember a field goal we missed in 1997 that gave the Rebs field position for the last minute drive. Had we punted or made the field goal I would probably have to think real hard to remember who Cory Peterson was. I seem to remember another game with us running what seemed like a hundred plays inside the 10 and not being able to punch it through. How could I forget our starting QB with influenza staking us to a 16-0 lead only to lose out to the illness and have to watch from the dressing room. I'll take a wash on that with 1999, but the other two we should have won. I guess when you've lost 7 of 11, which easily could have been 9 of 11, people start asking questions. People start blaming the cowbells. People start rumors. People spin stories and twist facts to improve their vantage point. People LIE! Despite all that they still are 4-7 against Jackie and there is not a single solitary thing they can do to change it.
I mentioned in the 1st paragraph about how I can't wait to see the field goals go down. Of course I know we'll win the Egg Bowl. I suspect if Jackie can get 100 he probably will. I just think that after all the smoke, and all the lies, and all the allegations, and all the cover ups on their part, and the lake house, and the slanderous rumors we owe them something. You and I know that Ole Miss will probably tear down the goal posts if they win the Egg Bowl. You know they haven't had many occasions in recent years to do that, so I'm sure Bobby Khayat is planning on having to put up new goal posts anyway, so I say after we beat the snot out of the Ole Miss Rebels we change the tradition and as the visiting team we tear down their goal posts. And after we're done we can ring cowbells all over the Grove and laugh and laugh and laugh.
Living in Baton Rouge all these years I had forgotten how much fun it is hating Ole Miss. I mentioned last year about us celebrating the SEC West championship on the Rebs home field. Well the Rebs still haven't returned the favor. They'll get one of their last chances in 2004, unless Eli goes pro after this season. Folks, we need to be there to support Kevin both this year and next as he concludes a fine career at MSU with 3-0 mark over Eli Manning. I just can't wait to see how empty Vaught Hemingway will be in the 4th quarter this Thanksgiving. The last one to the end zone when the clock hit :00 is a rotten egg.
Until next time,
Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is email@example.com.