Split decision

No team in college football has created a greater split among analysts than Ole Miss. That's because of the split personality the Rebels exhibited in 2008.

Ole Miss stumbled out of the gate last fall, suffering home-field losses to Vanderbilt and South Carolina en route to a 3-4 start. The Rebels jelled thereafter, however, closing with a 6-0 run that included a 47-34 upset of eighth-ranked Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl.

Basically, the split personality could be traced to one guy - quarterback Jevan Snead. Seeing his first action since transferring to Oxford from the University of Texas in 2007, Snead showed some rust early last fall by throwing 11 interceptions in Ole Miss' first eight games. He rallied at this point, however, throwing just two interceptions in the last five games.

"If you fast forward from the first five games to the last five games, Jevan Snead was a different quarterback," head coach Houston Nutt said at the recent SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. "Why? Because he took care of the ball. He got us out of the wrong play, got us in the right play, distributed the ball to different guys. He was just outstanding."

Observers who believe Snead will play in 2009 the way he played the last half of '08 are projecting a 12-0 season for the Rebels. Observers who believe Snead will play in 2009 the way he played the first half of '08 are projecting 8-4. Both sides have valid arguments. That's why Ole Miss is the most intriguing team in college football this preseason.

Not surprisingly, Nutt believes the experience, maturity and confidence Snead gained in 2008 will benefit him tremendously in 2009.

"I really expect him to be much, much better," the Rebel coach said. "You could see the last half of the year how much better Jevan got for us. Being really a coach on the field, I think, had a lot to do with it."

Snead is optimistic about 2009, as well.

"I think we're going to be a lot better this year, especially in the first half of the season," he said. "Last year was a new system. Just having experience is going to help us. We'll be able to add a lot to the offense."

Nutt thinks Snead was surprised by the speed of SEC defenders in 2008. After being burned by it last September and October, he shouldn't be surprised in 2009.

"Any time you lay out a year, then you go into the fastest conference in America, things are moving very, very fast," Nutt said. "Too fast."

The key question is this: Has Snead learned to rely more on his mind and less on his big-league arm?

"As a strong-armed quarterback, you feel like you can get the ball to anybody at any time," Nutt said. "Not true. It takes time (to learn that); it takes really a lot of time. I thought (once he did) he handled himself well."

If Snead lives up to his hype, Ole Miss really could go 12-0 this fall. If not, Ole Miss really could go 8-4. One thing's for certain: This is going to be a fascinating season in Oxford.

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