Questions loom about Rebels

The Rebels have to be on their toes early in the season because they have no early pushovers and they have several questions about themselves that are still unanswered.

Slowly but surely reports indicate the 2005 Ole Miss football team is coming together.

The Rebels still aren't getting much respect but that is no surprise when you realize they're coming off a 4-7 season with a new coach. The kids are trying to learn what he wants them to do and how he wants them to do it. He wants the same from them.

It will not be easy. Sports Illustrated's college football edition has been published and the Rebels will play four of the schools listed in the magazine's Top 25.

Those four include Tennessee, generally conceded as tops in the SEC this year and ranked by the magazine as the fifth best team in the country. The Associated Press has them higher than that, third to be exact.

LSU is on our list and SI names them #13. AP disagrees, ranking the Tiger way up to #5.

Then the Rebs catch Auburn as usual. The magazine calls the Tigers 18th in the land. AP says they're better than that, 16th and I agree with AP.

Then comes what many OM fans regard as a pushover, Wyoming. The majority failed to realize that the Cowboys beat the Rebels fair and square last season. If you have the mistaken idea Wyoming is an automatic win go read your Sports Illustrated. The magazine, which normally does a pretty good job on their homework, says the Cowboys are the 25th best team in the country and capable of winning big.

I went to our media guide and discovered the kids from Laramie have 19 starters returning from 2004's 7-5 season. The Cowboys also won the school's first bowl game since 1966 beating UCLA 24-21 in the Las Vegas Bowl. They open this year at the University of Florida so they must have some confidence. They also have a senior quarterback who threw for 2,409 yards and 12 touchdowns last year. Their ace receiver Jovon (Playmaker) Bouknight is third in the nation among active receivers in career yards (2,510) and fourth in receptions (173). He has caught at least two passes in 36 consecutive games.

But before the Rebels get to Wyoming, Memphis and Vanderbilt lie ahead. If we're going to talk about star players on the other side we might as well begin with DeAngelo Williams. Is he good? Good enough to warrant a full scale push as a Heisman Trophy candidate by his school. How do I know? I'm a Heisman voter and I've got a mailbox. Believe me, the beat is on.

This kid is a great runner. He gained 1,948 yards in 2004 on 313 carries, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. He scored 22 touchdowns while leading his team to an 8-4 season.

The Tigers are not much of a passing team. They don't have to be. Williams will carry their load. The entire offense is built around him.

But there's more, of course. There's always more. I doubt if there's a more respected defensive coordinator, I almost said "feared" defensive coordinator, than Joe Lee Dunn. In all fairness, in recent years I've found Dunn's work spotty. He'll come up with a gameplan that absolutely shuts an opponent down. His best work last year was against the Rebels when his defensive bunch held Ole Miss to 13 points in their finest defensive effort of the season. The following week Memphis State beat Chattanooga but gave up 21 points and the week after that allowed Arkansas State 35 points even though they won 47-35. That was the same Arkansas State bunch that scored only 21 points against Ole Miss while losing 28-21. Later in the season Dunn's Tigers played a Louisville team and gave up 56 points after allowing Cincinnati 49 points the week before that.

The one advantage the Rebels take into the game is they have played against Dunn's teams often enough that there are seldom any out and out surprises. You generally know what he likes to do best. The question always is can you prevent his kids from executing his plans.

On the schedule after Memphis (I still want to call them Memphis State-old habits are hard to break) the following game is against Vanderbilt. For some reason the Commodores are always hard for the Rebels to beat. They can get their tails whipped by everyone else but when the other team is wearing Red and Blue it seems to bring out the best Vandy has to offer.

This year the best Vandy has to offer is their star quarterback Jay Cutler. The league's coaches voted him to their first team in the preseason. Here's a kid whose team finished 2-9 and the coaches agree he's the best player at his position in the entire SEC. You figure it out.

In truth, since Tennessee follows Wyoming, Orgeron faces the prospect of a rocky start of 0-4 at worst and 3-1 at best. Nobody expects the Rebels to beat the Volunteers in Knoxville and that includes me. The first true breather for Ed and his team is the Oct. 8 meeting with the Citadel in Oxford.

There are a lot of unanswered questions as the 2005 season begins. There always are at the start of the year, particularly when a new coach is taking over. In Ole Miss case more than usual. Can Micheal Spurlock become a first class SEC quarterback? Can Robert Lane take the job away from him? Who will step up at running back? Will the rebuilt offensive line be able to do the job? Is the defense going to be as strong as most people, including their new coach, believes it will be?

But equally important can the Rebels stop running back DeAngelo Williams, Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler and Wyoming's Fearsome Twosome of quarterback Cory Bramlet and receiver Jovon Bouknight?

We'll worry about Tennessee when the time comes. Who knows? If the Rebels can go 3-0 to start the season, maybe Tennessee will have to worry about us. After all they're got Florida and LSU directly in front of their Ole Miss game and Georgia and Alabama immediately following. Would we trade schedules even up? With all our unanswered questions the answer to that one is no.

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