Game one of a new era is at hand

Coach O and company are ready for game one as the Rebels and the Tigers kickoff the 2005 season today at the Liberty Bowl.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - It's been a little hard to get a feel for things going into the season opener here today. There are a lot of reasons.

From a more recent angle, it's been a trying and difficult week for so many, a lot of them a part of Ole Miss football. From Coach Orgeron's family to Coach Wilson's family to many players from New Orleans and south Mississippi to so many of our fans, it's been harder to get a handle on things and get excited about a season opener as any in memory.

Even without the tragic events of last week and the lingering effect on many, there still might not have been a lot of real rah-rah about this game. Ole Miss vs. Memphis has been a traditional season-opening game for Mid-South football, but the sheer, unbridled excitement of this one is just not there.

Some of it has to do with two straight losses to Memphis and the fact that it is a road game. Some of it has to do with unknowns dealing with all sorts of things from how will Coach O handle his first game ever as a head coach to how will the quarterback situation unfold in this one and what will the punting and placekicking game be like.

There are others, but that's enough for starters. As for Coach O, I think he'll do fine. As I've watched him work, especially during August, I have seen a coach who admits he may make some mistakes on game day as a head coach. But my guess is, with the planning and preparation this staff has gone through to this point, there won't be many made.

A lot of fans I've talked to have said the season rides on this one. While nobody is predicting a perfect season and a New Year's Day bowl even with victory today, a win in this one will indeed go a long way toward getting the first Rebel team of Coach O and staff to some bowl, any bowl. And after last season's 4-7 campaign, that will be a good start.

Most observers feel the Rebel defense will be improved, that Coach O, being a defensive man himself, has helped the players on that side of the ball step up already. I look forward to seeing how they play today.

It worries me some that Joe Lee Dunn is on the other side of the field. We haven't had a lot of success against him since he left Ole Miss. As hard as it is to believe, the Rebels are 3-7 against the former interim head coach at Ole Miss from 1994 – that's a year at Arkansas, then his Mississippi State years, and now Memphis.

But I trust Noel Mazzone and company will be able to move the football and get some things done even against the veteran coach and the Tiger defenders.

A lot of talk about this game has centered on the series itself. It looks like Ole Miss and Memphis have six more games to play under the current football contract. I believe they will all be played. But it may not be for the season opener every year.

Pete Boone has suggested to Memphis that the series be moved down into the schedule, that opening the season with a rivalry of this magnitude might not be the best thing. He has also talked about skipping a year here and there and playing some other teams as well.

Of course none of that matters today. Only the game at hand is on the minds of any and all.

The past two games with Memphis have been painful for Ole Miss, a series the Rebels still lead 42-10-2. The loss two years ago here was almost unthinkable, and almost as hard to believe even looking back today. That was the Rebels' only 10-win season since 1971, and to know that one of three losses was to Memphis still pains.

Last year after the Rebels lost to the Tigers in Oxford to open the season, David Cutcliffe said it was about as bad a game as any of his teams had played in his first five seasons at Ole Miss. Certainly it was a loss the Rebels never recovered from, and in the end Cutcliffe and company paid for it with their jobs.

But this is today. It's a fresh new start for Ole Miss under a new staff. The eyes of the nation will watch on ESPN. Things could be awfully favorable for Ole Miss by tonight.

Yes a victory will go a long way toward achieving some positive things this season for the Rebels and their first-year staff. A loss and it will be a long 12 days before facing a pretty good Vandy team in Nashville, a Commodore squad that opened with a road win at Wake Forest last Thursday night.

Since 1893, Ole Miss has 587 football victories. I believe fans, coaches, and players will be celebrating win No. 588 tonight.

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