July 24, 2009 8:57:00 AM
HOOVER, Ala. -- Remarkable is one way to describe the tone of Houston Nutt''s appearances the past two years at Southeastern Conference Media Days.
The veteran coach, who led the University of Arkansas to three SEC Western Division titles and eight bowl games in 10 seasons, inherited an Ole Miss program that couldn''t go any lower.
The Rebels won only three SEC games in three seasons under Ed Orgeron and were desperate to have something to care about in the fall.
My how things changed last season.
Ole Miss rebounded from a 3-4 start to win its final six games of the season, including a victory against Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl, to post its most victories since the 2003 season.
One year later, "Unsatisfied" is the theme of the program''s media guide. That sentiment also appeared in several of the questions Nutt fielded from members of the media.
Question: Can this be a successful season if you do not go to Atlanta (the site of the SEC Championship game)? Is it Atlanta or bust for this program at this point?
"I wouldn''t say that," Nutt said. "For a team that had four previous losing seasons, I wouldn''t say that. I think our team is on the rise. I think there''s some good things that are happening."
The addition of a solid recruiting class, which includes former Noxubee County standout wide receiver Patrick Patterson, should keep the momentum going this season, and in the future.
The return of second-team All-SEC quarterback Jevan Snead and defensive lineman Greg Hardy and "Wild Rebel" running back Dexter McCluster also figures to help keep the Rebels near or at the top of the SEC''s Western Division.
The problem, as with all teams, comes with what is missing. Nutt feels the Rebels are at least 600 pounds short.
"I got 600 pounds, two first-team All-Americans (offensive lineman Michael Oher and defensive lineman Peria Jerry) missing," Nutt said. "Those guys were not only captains of our football team and leaders, but (they) played so hard, so we got to replace a very good group of seniors."
Nutt hopes his team will be able to build off the huge victory in the Cotton Bowl. He and his coaches stressed to the freshmen that results just don''t happen. He reminded them that it took Jerry and Oher four years to get to a bowl game, and he wants to make sure the program doesn''t suffer another drought.
Last season could offer insight into how the Rebels are going to prevent that from happening. Ole Miss showed its growing pains early last season when it lost to Vanderbilt in the fourth week, defeated eventual national champion Florida in Gainesville, Fla., the following week, and then lost at home to South Carolina and at Alabama the next two weeks.
Snead''s maturation at quarterback played a key role in the team''s season-ending six-game winning streak.
Nutt believes the junior quarterback, who threw for 26 touchdowns last season, can be even better this season. He also has confidence his team can improve, but it only will happen if everyone continues to work hard and stay focused.
"I''m excited for our players," Nutt said. "I''m excited for them because they''re embracing it the right way -- how they go to a 5:30 workout, how they go to school, how they go to study hall, how they''re doing things. Our antennas were up as coaches (as to) how they would approach this offseason with all the pats on the backs. They''re in uncharted waters.
"I love what they''re doing right now. That''s why we can''t wait to get to camp and get back to work and carry that over, keep that going."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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