Spring fever: Ole Miss

Say this much for Ole Miss football fans: They're consistent.

A crowd of 28,311 showed up for Houston Nutt's first spring game as head coach in 2008, and precisely 46 more turned out for the 2009 affair, setting a new "Grove Bowl" attendance record of 28,357.

Quarterback Jevan Snead gave the crowd what it came to see – a spectacular passing performance. The former Texas Longhorn directed six consecutive touchdown drives, completing 11 of 15 attempts for 254 yards along the way. He tossed TD passes of 12, 20 and 70 yards in helping the Blue squad (basically the first-team offense and defense) amass 524 yards of total offense en route to a 55-28 defeat of the Red squad. It should be noted that the Red team got seven automatic points each quarter; otherwise, it would've been shut out by the No. 1 defense.

ESPN showed up in Oxford during spring practice to film a profile of Snead for a five-part series the network is preparing on college football's top quarterbacks. The other QBs to be included are 2008 Heisman winner Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, 2007 Heisman winner Tim Tebow of Florida, Terrelle Pryor of Ohio State and Colt McCoy of Texas, the guy whose early success in Austin led Snead to leave the Longhorns two years ago.

Snead may not be quite as comfortable in the pocket as he was a year ago due to the departure of senior left offensive tackle Michael Oher, a first-round pick in the recent NFL Draft. Sophomore Bradley Sowell finished spring practice as the heir-apparent but massive freshman Bobbie Massie (6-7, 345) might be able to unseat him with a good preseason showing.

Snead may have better support from his ground attack this fall. Thanks to a strong spring, sophomore Brandon Bolden has supplanted senior Cordera Eason as the No. 1 tailback.

After going 3-9 in 2007, Ole Miss managed to sneak up on a lot of opponents a year ago. After going 9-4 in 2008, however, the Rebels won't be catching anyone napping in '09. Ole Miss will be getting opponents' best shot as it looks to take the next step and contend for the SEC title.

Despite a stunning upset of Florida at Gainesville in Game 5, the Rebels stood just 3-4 last October. They suddenly jelled, however, capping a 6-0 finishing kick with a 47-34 Cotton Bowl defeat of Texas Tech.

Defensively, Ole Miss should be solid, despite the loss of tackle Peria Jerry, another first-round NFL Draft pick. Jerrell Powe, a 6-2, 340-pound junior tabbed the Most Improved Defensive Player of spring drills, is the likely replacement.

The key defender, of course, is pass-rushing defensive end Greg Hardy. He was projected as a first-round draft pick last fall only to have his junior season disrupted by injury.

Bottom line: With tons of confidence and a schedule that does not include Florida, the rising Rebels have a reasonably good chance to prevail in the SEC's wild wild West this fall.

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