Numbers game slowly caught up with Rebs

Bringing in smaller classes for a couple of years has set the Rebels back as far as numbers go. It was almost like a self-imposed probation.

I've known Bill Trocchi a while now. I met him and his business partner, Mitchell Light, at the Ole Miss-Vandy men's basketball game at the SEC Tournament in 1997 in Memphis, when Joezon Darby scored on a jumper late to give the Rebels 20 wins in men's hoops and clinch an NCAA tourney bid.

They were sitting next to me. They had just started a publication like the Spirit.

That particular publication isn't around anymore. Light has gone to work for Athlon's, located in Nashville. Trocchi writes for VandyMania, the site for Commodore sports.

They are like Chuck and me in a lot of ways. During those early years, they were up and down with their teams, emotional throughout, happy after big wins, down after tough losses. When they played Ole Miss, it was mostly the latter I saw from Trocchi and Light.

I quipped after I first met them, when they told me where they were from – Boston and New Jersey – that hey, another something in common with Chuck and me. He's from Byhalia and I'm from Baldwyn.

Joke there, obviously.

I didn't see Light last Saturday. I saw Trocchi in the press box after the game.

"Y'all have some real playmakers," he told me.

"Yes we do, but not enough of them," I replied.

I know what he meant by playmakers. We all saw Mico's reverse-field run for a score, Espy's punt return for a touchdown, some nice things from other players both on offense and defense. Players making plays.

But there are some deficiencies in all three aspects of the Rebels' game.

Playmakers. Ole Miss has some but needs more. Much of it goes back to recruiting. I remember the day I went out to the practice field in August 2002 (that year they were working out at the UM intramural fields because of work on the regular practice fields). It was the first day for the newcomers to report. That was when the new guys could still come in a few days before the returnees.

Jamal Pittman was there. Ethan Flatt, too. There were 11 players on the field that day. The number of new Rebels reminded me of the days of probation when 13 was all the coaches could sign. I became concerned a bit at that moment.

Then the following year, what was it, 15 newcomers? I'm not sure. But that was close. Merge those two and you have an average of the old probation day numbers of 13 for those two years.

The numbers may have picked up a little the following year, and this year the new staff obviously signed more.

I don't have to explain. You get my point. The Rebels were bringing in less numbers than needed to compete for titles. One year and maybe you can make up for it. Two or three years and you've got trouble.

I'm not even referring to talent level. I'm just talking about sheer numbers of bodies that were new to the program those years. I tried to write it off that maybe the program wouldn't be affected over time. But I was in denial. In 2004, 4-7. This year, nine games left and every game will most likely be a battle to win, save maybe The Citadel.

So I knew what Trocchi was talking about. There are some real playmakers out there for the Rebs. But not enough of them as far as every position on this team. Not enough depth, as I saw with the numbers game from the past two or three years. It's turned into a little bit of a scary, hold your breath and hang on situation now.

It's become a little like last year when I would have to look at the list of newcomers for Ole Miss men's basketball this year to feel any positives about that situation. I tried to draw on anything to feel better. Like 1983 Rebel football.

Billy Brewer's first team started 0-3 on the field. Even after an 0-1 start with a loss at Memphis that year, I remember telling people that I still thought this team would do some things to make folks proud.

After a dismal 1-5 start when almost everybody had given up on them, the Rebels rolled off five straight wins at the end and went bowling.

"A lot of fans said you can have my tickets," Brewer said after Ole Miss moved to 4-5 with wins over TCU, Vanderbilt, and LSU. "Hey, they want ‘em back now."

Ole Miss went to Knoxville and beat the Vols, then came back to Mississippi and clinched a winning season and a bowl bid in the Immaculate Deflection game.

I don't know what the rest of this season holds. None of us have a crystal ball to foresee into tomorrow.

The most important thing for fans now is to stick with ‘em. To show up for the first home game (finally a home game, the fourth Saturday in September), and to take ‘em one at a time.

Coaches and players talk about one at a time all the time. That's so true for this team. No looking ahead or back. If you do, you won't make it. It must be Wyoming and nothing else right now.

There are lots of upset and disappointed fans out there, and it's still mid-September. But the Rebels are playing at home this weekend, and the support needs to be there for them.

The injury list has grown, and the depth is not what it will be in the future (see above numbers for newcomers in '02, '03, '04). But the opportunity to do something special is still there for this team, just like back in 1983 in Brewer's first season at his alma mater.

Will it happen? We'll see, but it all restarts Saturday when Wyoming, a confident team coming in that beat the Rebels last year, plays in Oxford.

The team and coaches have their sights on beating Wyoming and nothing else. The fans, as hard as it is not to try to predict a final record for this team (same goes for me) need to point to this one game and give it their all, too.

It's a win this program desperately needs at this time in the rebuilding process.

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