SEC West: Ole Miss

Brent Schaeffer grew up in Florida, so he's accustomed to heat. But he's never experienced anything like the heat that will be on him this fall. Since being anointed Ole Miss' starting quarterback the day he signed with the Rebels last winter, he has been portrayed as a cross between Michael Vick and Superman.

Can he live up to the hype? Could anyone?

Probably not. But Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron clearly is using Brent Schaeffer to fire the imagination of Rebel fans after last year's team finished 111th nationally in total offense, 116th in rushing offense and 115th in scoring offense (13.5 points per game).

Watching Ole Miss last fall was a snoozefest. It won't be this fall, though, thanks to the elusive and electrifying Mr. Schaeffer. The transfer from Tennessee (via College of the Sequoias) exhibits immaturity and poor judgment at times but he's never, ever dull. Making his 2006 outlook even more interesting is the fact Ole Miss must replace its top four pass catchers and both starting tackles from last season.

Schaeffer will have some help, though. Another transfer (former Indiana running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis) should upgrade Ole Miss' ground game, thereby taking some pressure off of the quarterback.

Defensively, the top returnee is preseason All-America linebacker Patrick Willis, who led the Rebels with 128 tackles a year ago. Also back are third-leading tackler Gary Pack (61 stops) at linebacker and Jamarca Stanford (58 stops) at strong safety. The entire front four is gone but Orgeron's specialty is the defensive line, so the Rebels should be competent there.

Ole Miss' punter and place-kicker are back but return ace Mike Espy has moved on, leaving another hole to be filled.

With only five starters returning on offense and five on defense from last fall's 3-8 disappointment, the Rebels don't look a whole lot better on paper. But the schedule is accommodating. Ole Miss gets to play the SEC East's two softest teams, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, plus non-conference foes Memphis, Wake Forest and Northwestern State.

Bottom line: If Schaeffer is half as good as his hype, Ole Miss might claw its way to a 6-6 mark in 2006.

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