Commentary -

The preliminaries are over. The long road from the last game of 2007 to the first contest of 2008 is nearing an end. It's finally game week!

A lot of water, some of it turbulent, has gone under the bridge since the Rebels last played in a real football game.

If memory serves, within 72 hours of the season-ending disaster to Mississippi State, a head coach was fired and a new one hired.

Houston Nutt was welcomed by a rowdy, overflow crowd at the Ford Center, he and a skeleton staff grinded out a good signing class, spring training was a feeling out period between the new staff and the players, the offseason saw a zillion drops of sweat shed and the first three weeks of fall camp were an endless blur of flying through drill after drill.

The hard part - months of preparation - is over.

Now, it's time for the "fun."

Today, it is officially game week.

The nuts and bolts of game week are easily documented. Basically, Sunday will be for getting the soreness out, correcting things that need fixing, and taking the first peek at the next opponent. Monday is a required day off. Tuesday and Wednesday will be some tough, but controlled, physical work. Thursday will be a mental overview, but done full speed without any contact. Friday will be a walk-through rehearsal. And before you know it, the game, and season, will be underway.

But those are just the logistics. There's no personality in that. What you can't transcribe are the feelings of the coaches, players and support personnel.

It's a time when the coaches - no matter how confident or experienced - are mulling around in their minds if they have covered everything. Did we work enough on that blitz package? On onside kicks? On the coverage reads? The last week before the opener is like a pinball machine of thoughts in their heads, until they finally realize they have covered it all and, even if they haven't, it's too late to go back now.

It's a time when the players are anxious and excited to hit someone besides their teammates. A time when they anticipate the roar of the crowd. A time when they can start realizing the fruits of their long months, weeks, hours and minutes of labor to get ready for this special moment in time. The nerves will be frayed by Saturday afternoon, but will all calm with the first contact.

They too will question if they have done enough. If they finished each drill that brought them to this point. If they know their assignments through and through.

Trainer Tim Mullins is sweating out getting everyone as healthy as possible. Equipment Manager Ken Crain will be fretting uniform fits, even though each player was fitted a long time ago.

J. Stern, who will oversee the production of the new video board, will be a basket case until the first replay on the giant screen goes smoothly under the able direction of David Dillard and his staff

SID Langston Rogers and his staff will be frantic this week, making sure all media credential requests have been filled, his stat crew is up to speed and the players and coaches know the media drill for the postgame activities.

They will all handle their jobs because this is not new to them and they are pros, but first-game jitters affect everyone mainly because every season brings forth a new set of challenges and more to do.

I wrote a column a couple of months ago stating the season would be here before we could blink our eyes. I haven't blinked yet and here it is, staring at us like an irate spouse or a happy child, depending on how it all turns out.

On the other end of this seven-day period, Memphis awaits as the first test of the 2008 Rebels.

I know Jeff, Chase and I are supposed to know a lot about the Tigers. I think "scouting report" is somewhere in our job description, but, frankly, I can't place that at the top of my list of priorities right now.

Why? I have said all along, and I still believe, this season, and this season opener, is about Ole Miss, about us and our team.

If this team, so fragile in the past couple of years, can exhibit some swagger and confidence under the guidance of our veteran SEC staff, the season opener will be ours. Ole Miss versus Memphis, on paper, comes up with the Rebels winning.

But if this team plays with doubts, dredging up the past and the results they have had under adverse conditions, it will be Ole Miss versus Ole Miss, and there can't be a winner in Red & Blue in that scenario.

I have seen a transformation of this team in the past eight months. They carry themselves differently, with their shoulders back and their eyes forward. They respect each other more. They listen to their coaches better. They have even dared to talk about winning a lot of games, something you rarely heard in the past three seasons.

But all of that is just talk and speculation. The proof will come out Saturday. The first test is at 6 p.m. before, hopefully, a large, rowdy, supportive Rebel crowd.

Don't look now, but it's game week.

It's time to pat Chucky on the head and enter the arena that will tell the whole story.

My anxiousness and excitement levels are ridiculously high. How about you?

It's game week for you too. . . . .

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