Not On Paper

Chuck posted this morning there'd be no daily chat today. The hay is in the barn, he wrote. Let's play football.

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And so it's time. Time for the season opener of 2011. Time for a major lid-lifter to be seen by the whole country, if they tune into ESPN. Time to begin the process of wiping away last year's bitter taste of too many defeats in all sports.

But it might not happen tomorrow. There might be a loss. That's always the case when you play the games. On paper, Ole Miss is an underdog at home to BYU. On paper a year ago this weekend, Jacksonville State was an underdog to the Rebels, although there was no real line since that was a FCS (Division I-AA) vs. FBS matchup (Division I-A).

Play the game. That's what determines the outcome. Not the buildup, the hype, nor the predictions.

There's been a mixed bag concerning who will win this one. The line says Cougars. Most have picked the Cougars. But some national and even regional observers are picking the Rebels.

Clearly there are a lot of unknowns, and that's what makes this one even more intriguing.

A fellow scribe this morning said he's looking forward to this one more than most openers because of those unknowns – from playing a major opponent in a nationally-watched game, to just how good BYU actually is, to how the unknowns on the Rebel squad will turn out when the lights are turned on.

Will Barry Brunetti be able to get the job done? Will Zack Stoudt be able to help the cause, either with things going well or if things happen to turn sour? New offensive coordinator David Lee is as good as there is in the business to make sure those guys are as good as they can be when their time comes.

David Lee
Chuck Rounsaville

What about the young receivers? You know there'll be nerves within that group, and they have to step up for the Rebels to win games. Having new receivers coach Gunter Brewer there to guide them is a plus.

The running attack for the Rebels will be a strength. Hang on to the ball, then, because turnovers will be a huge key in this one, just like always.

Defensively, the Rebels have to be better than they were in 2010. Who can forget the second half of the JSU game, and the two-point conversion that ultimately won it, that got the ball rolling in the wrong direction last season? How good will the defensive front be? Lot of new faces there. What about the linebackers? And the secondary that is more aggressive and confident under new assistant coach Keith Burns but still thin and young?

Special teams appear to be a strength. Not a lot has been made of that this preseason because it's a solid group. Special teams might win you a game or two this season. It might win Saturday's opener.

The Cougars come in a confident team. Listening to their comments, they believe they will win. With 18 starters back, why shouldn't they?

Of course, that's on paper. Games aren't played there. Again, last season's season opener is proof.

The heat? A factor, yes. But both sides will feel it. If it's something like 115 degrees with the heat index on the field, the Rebels will find the going tough as well. But they've been practicing in it. BYU, in Utah at a higher altitude and with virtually no humidity, will in no way be prepared for that type environment physically. BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said so earlier this week.

Will it make a difference? Maybe late in the game it will, if this one is close and the Cougars are more fatigued than the Rebels.

On paper, at least, that should be the case.

There's no doubt a lot of pressure on both teams to win this particular game. But there's more on the Rebels. Some people seem to believe without a win Saturday, the season is shot.

This isn't Jacksonville State, but of course the record would still be 0-1 this year like last year if the Rebels fall on Saturday. There's gotta be some patience from everybody if the Rebels start 0-1. But is there much patience left for some?

It was a quick turnaround from being bowl champions back to back years to being considered a cellar dweller. It hasn't helped feelings that the instate arch-rival is winning.

A lot of people have given everything they've got to make sure opening day is a success. That goes from those that coach and play to those that market and put on the production that is gameday.

After all, it is just a game, just one game. But it is a game both Ole Miss and BYU need to win to move on toward what they hope will be successful seasons.

Either way, there are 11 regular season games left for both. And there's still an opportunity for the season to be either a success or a failure.

And that's not on paper. That's the truth of the matter.

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