How Good Is Any Team?

Everybody knew the first two would be prelims to the main event.

The Rebels were going to beat Memphis and Southeastern Louisiana, maybe with the proverbial one hand tied behind their collective backs.

And they did so - handily - by combined scores of 97-20. But now things get really interesting.

Everybody is pleased to be 2-0. Nobody is too pleased with how the Rebels have gotten there.

But shouldn't they be, really? There won't ever be perfection, and who really knows how good any teams are at this point? The Rebels are certainly among the very good ones.

Since Southern Cal lost, they could be No. 4 in the AP poll when they head to Columbia Wednesday for Thursday night's national headliner. Some think Penn State will move ahead of them and leave the Rebs at No. 5. We'll know Monday.

Nobody really knows how good any team is yet. Alabama looks pretty good. So does Florida. Tennessee hasn't look that bad, especially defensively. I thought Vanderbilt was as solid as they've been with most of their starters back, then along came a loss at home to State. But the Bulldogs beat the Commodores last year too, and Vandy won a bowl game.

Maybe State has Vandy's number, kinda like Ole Miss has Florida's. Again, who knows?

Washington appears to be headed up. Florida State has been all over the map and put BYU out of its potential BCS misery over the course of the next few weeks.

Arkansas can score but appears to have problems stopping teams from scoring. Auburn has been fairly impressive, but who knows for sure how good the Tigers are at this point?

We'll know a lot more about a lot of teams in a couple of games. That includes the Rebels.

So what about South Carolina? The Gamecocks looked decent defensively in a 7-3 win at North Carolina State in the opener, also on a Thursday night. Offensively they woke up against Georgia in a 41-37 loss in Athens, and Steven Garcia appeared to grow up as a collegiate QB. Then they came home for a 38-16 win against an outmatched Florida Atlantic team.

We'll delve into Carolina more in the next day or two. For now, more on the Rebels.

A lot of the highlights in the latest victory came from the younger players. D.T. Shackelford, more than impressive. Patrick Patterson, same thing. Joel Kight, not so much the numbers but just his effectiveness.

Houston Nutt said he has a lot of confidence in Justin Sparks. One bad punt was perhaps forgiveable, especially in a game like this one. But five punts for an average of 28 yards won't cut it. Tyler Campbell waits in the wings, and we'll see in the next few days how that plays out.

That the Rebels appear to get better as games move on (same thing happened at Memphis) is a sign of a Houston Nutt team. It's also a sign of a good team. It's the way good teams win against lesser competition, and sometimes even vs. good competition.

So today is Tuesday. Not Sunday. Tuesday. That's what Nutt said after the game.

Good news. If you spend a week worrying from one game to the next, look at the bright side. You'll have less time for that. And kickoff will be here before you know it.

Last year against the Gamecocks, the Rebels proved they weren't quite ready for prime time just yet. They didn't bounce back from a memorable victory the previous Saturday at Florida.

USC put 31 points on the board in Oxford, and Ole Miss lost by seven. The visitors controlled the game throughout.

The next week at Alabama things were rough in the first half, but the Rebels seemed to find themselves in the second half and almost pulled it off. They haven't lost since.

They're averaging scoring a lot to not giving up many. And still we wonder, "How good?"

But most other teams and their fans are asking the same question right now. The answers are coming.

Random Notes:

Kudos to Ole Miss for having Billy Brewer as part of the coin toss for this one. I talked to Brewer just a couple of weeks ago, and he had been in Hammond, La., at an event this summer. His ties are still strong in that state.

He had a winning run at Southeastern Louisiana and Louisiana Tech before coaching at Ole Miss. He's still highly thought of at the Louisiana schools whose football programs he once led.

Also a tip of the hat to those in charge of "atmosphere" at the games. Saturday night was as special a non-conference environment as I can remember.

Most things attempted worked, from the freshmen class running through Hollingsworth Field before the game to whatever else was offered up after that. And there seemed to be a positive vibe from fans and participants.

Tweaking things here or there will make Vaught-Hemingway as good a home game setting as there is in the country. It's closer now than ever.

Of course, having a highly-ranked team helps more than anything.

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