Nutt has Rebs 'on the verge'

Houston Nutt walked into his weekly Monday press conference with quite a spring in his step. Clearly his mood was much more upbeat than what we'd seen in this same room late Saturday night when it was at a low point.

All of the Rebel Nation had joined him in that regard after the game and through Sunday. By Monday few were likely over it yet.

Being head football coach at The University of Mississippi means you are the most visible and prominent sports figure in this state. It's basically always been that way.

On Monday the man currently holding that title was focused and intense and making point after point with more emotion and passion than I've noticed in a while.

"I think we're on the verge of having a really good football team," said the first-year Ole Miss man but a veteran of a decade of SEC wars as a head coach.

It may not feel like it, but he's right. They are on the verge. They have made strides. They are competing. Too bad it's Florida that's up next. Or is it?

We've all watched Nutt's career through the years. Sometimes he and his staff are at their best in situations like these.

I won't go so far as to predict a win Saturday. I don't even know if the Rebels will play well. But they might, and I won't be surprised if they do.

It's no secret, and hasn't been, that Nutt's got quite a task here, and it isn't all just about coaching his football team.

Langston Rogers, the Senior Associate AD who keeps us informed of such news, had just told us right before Nutt walked in for the press conference that the South Carolina game is a 1 p.m. kickoff on Oct. 4.

The Rebels' sixth game of the year - the Rebs and the Gamecocks; Nutt vs. Spurrier - is not on live network TV. Not CBS or ESPN or the Deuce. Not even Raycom.

Only two of the Rebels' first six contests have been picked up for TV – at Wake Forest and at Florida. There's usually one ray of hope in that situation. Most of the time that's good for home attendance. But it didn't help last time when less than 52,000 showed up for an important non-TV SEC Oxford game at night.

Sure, it was only Vandy. But it was Ole Miss out there playing, too. And not enough people cared to show up. All the empty seats were likely disheartening to players and coaches, although I never heard any of them mention it.

There, truthfully, is Nutt's immediate challenge. Make Ole Miss a factor again. Right now in the eyes of the nation, Ole Miss football is not. With home game attendance numbers as proof, it's not even one in the eyes of some of its own.

I believe Nutt will make Ole Miss a factor again. We've seen what he can do from afar when he coached across the river. I saw more of why he will on Monday at the press conference.

The patented Nutt fervor was more apparent.

"I'm excited about our team," he said. "They're really close to really believing in this staff. They'll tell you they are. But it's a transformation. It's changing. And it's hard. It's not easy."

The passion in his voice that better days are ahead was there.

"Our defense has improved. Offensively I want to play one game where we don't shoot ourselves in the foot, where we don't make critical errors. I want to play one game like that. I'm just encouraged."

Time and film-watching and the start of a new week were all a part of what lifted him on this day.

"I've been as down as down could be," Nutt said of the 23-17 loss to Vanderbilt when the Rebels made six turnovers and still had a real shot to win the game. "But I've been encouraged. When you take a full 24 hours and look at it, I think we've got a chance, a real good chance."

A real good chance. To win at Florida? Obviously that's what's up next.

A real good chance. To do some special things and win a big game or two before this season is through? With eight regular season kickoffs left, they're still out there.

A real good chance. To make the Rebels a factor again in college football and even in the minds and hearts of some in Rebel Nation? That's been his charge all along, and he and his staff and players have given it their best shot to try and do just that. There's still more to do.

Ole Miss lost its ninth straight SEC game Saturday when the Commodores gladly took the gift they were given. I haven't checked the record books, but that might be as long a conference losing streak as Ole Miss football has ever had.

Nutt's job is tough on many levels, but he knows there's just one way out of it, all things considered. We all do.

Win.

At 2-2, the Rebels could have been 4-0. One stop late at Wake Forest and one more made play against Vandy and they are there.

At 4-0 the excitement would have reached fever-pitch state-wide, and the eyes of the nation would be focused on the Rebels and the Gators.

As it is, the current message will have to continue to be just how close they are. Everything indeed points to that, and Houston Nutt points it out.

And at some point soon finally getting over the top to end this lengthy SEC losing streak and win some big games will do what nothing else can.

At that point, everything else will fall in line.


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