As preseason publications continue to hit newsstands across the country, a recurring theme of a national contender has shown itself in this group of Rebels.
Following a 9-4 finish, including an inspired 47-34 win over Texas Tech in the 73rd Annual Cotton Bowl Classic, enthusiasm has spiked around Oxford. Under first-year head coach Houston Nutt, Ole Miss reeled off six straight victories to end the season, with a second place finish in the SEC West to show for it.
Now the attention turns toward 2009, as Lindy's, Athlon and the Sporting News have all placed Ole Miss in the top-10 entering the fall.
"You can't help but hear where we are ranked in the preseason, but we are not letting that affect us," RS sophomore Bradley Sowell said. "We're working hard not to be the letdown team, the team that has a good year one year and then flattens out the next.
Sporting News picks Ole Miss as its fifth-best team in the country and to win the West. Athlon has the Rebels as their No. 10 team, with three Rebels honored as All-Americans. Lindy's tabs Ole Miss in their number nine spot, while naming five Rebels to their All-SEC teams.
"We know we have talent, but we also know there is more to it than that," said Sowell. "We don't want to leave anything to chance. As a team, we're way ahead of where we were last offseason. Way ahead."
As with any season, Ole Miss football brings a new wave of optimism and excitement throughout Oxford.
But unlike recent years, this year offers hopes of grand proportions, as the Rebels are facing uncharted waters. After enduring four seasons mired in virtual obscurity, fans witnessed a football rebirth of sorts last season.
Many are pegging Ole Miss to win its first SEC title since 1963, but senior Greg Hardy says the team is looking to remain "unsatisfied."
"We accomplished some things last year that were good under the slogan 'One Heartbeat.' This year, we don't want to take that for granted and think it will come easily," Hardy said. "We don't want our minds corrupted with any of those notions that we have arrived. We want to be unsatisfied with everything we do as a reminder there is more out there for us to accomplish and we are not the best we can be yet."
With the rise in exposure has come a spike in ticket sales, as numbers stood at just over 42,000 last week.
While not quite to the record of 48,000 set in 2004, the year after Eli Manning and company won the Cotton Bowl during a 10-win season, it's an improvement over the last few years.
"Season ticket sales are obviously up, no question about that," said Ole Miss assistant athletics director for ticket operations Sans Russell. "But we've still got more of them for sale. So we encourage Ole Miss fans to continue to buy them."
It will be interesting to see how the Rebels handle a year back in the national picture. Last season, Nutt instilled an underdog mentality in his team, but now the target has been centered on Ole Miss' back.
Nutt said the Rebels have taken the right approach so far, as the season's new slogan helps put the team's goals in perspective.
"I love it. I like everything it stands for," he said. "It tells me the team is in the right mindset this offseason. They feel the same way I do.
"We had a really good year last year, but I felt, and they felt, we left some things on the table. As good as last year was, and as good as the last part of the season was, there was room for more and that is why 'unsatisfied' is the way we want to look at things."
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