Rebel rousers

Ole Miss could be the most improved team in the Southeastern Conference this football season, although the Rebels' record may not fully reflect the progress.

The return of three stud linemen – offensive tackle Michael Oher, defensive end Greg Hardy and defensive tackle Peria Jerry – bodes well. Even better news is the addition of a quality head coach from Arkansas (Houston Nutt) and a quality quarterback from Texas (Jevan Snead).

Oher, a Memphis native who broke a lot of Tennessee hearts by picking Ole Miss over the Vols three years ago, is projected as a top-five pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. He would've been a mid to late first-rounder in '08 had he come out early, which he originally planned to do. Hardy and Jerry also are projected in some quarters as potential first-round draft picks next spring.

Still, the greatest cause for optimism in Oxford appears to be the filling of the football program's two greatest voids – head coach and quarterback. Nutt wore out his welcome in Fayetteville but he still represents a significant upgrade over Rebel predecessor Ed Orgeron. Ole Miss fans apparently recognize as much, since a program-record 28,311 of them showed up for the annual "Grove Bowl" to end spring drills.

Snead, a transfer from the University of Texas, should give the Rebels their first adequate quarterback since Eli Manning finished up in 2003. The flashy sophomore completed 20 of 26 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns in Ole Miss' recent spring game. His best target appears to be Mike Wallace, who caught five balls for 90 yards.

Power runner BenJarvus Green-Ellis is out of eligibility but the Rebels' ground attack appears to be in good hands. Junior Cordera Eason rushed for 101 yards on just seven carries in the spring game.

Another newcomer who could make a big impact in Oxford is defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix. Nutt lured him away from South Carolina after Nix's stop unit finished No. 5 nationally in pass defense last fall.

An intriguing prospect who could join Hardy and Jerry to give the Rebels a truly formidable defensive front four is Jermey Parnell. After playing four years of varsity basketball, the 6-8, 250-pounder has joined the football program as a defensive end prospect. No slouch on the gridiron, he recorded three tackles in the spring game.

Ole Miss was 0-8 in SEC action a year ago and 3-9 overall. The 2008 Rebels should beat Vanderbilt and Mississippi State at Oxford, along with non-conference foes Memphis, Wake Forest, Samford and Louisiana-Monroe. That would produce a 6-6 overall record and an opportunity to play in a bowl game.

Things are looking up in Oxford.

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