Rebels may be in middle of SEC pack

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 26, 2001

In football terms, Ole Miss neither downloaded nor downsized after the Rebels’ 2000 campaign. That’s the way I see it, but preseason stuff begs to differ. Word out of Rebeltown bemoans facts that tell of just 12 scholarship players among a senior class of 19 and 54 freshmen and sophomores with scholarships.

Most of the time talk is about returnees with solid playing time the season(s) before, but everyone knows that sophomore Eli Manning is the talk of the town in Oxford, not to mention around the state and nation.

Manning backed up nifty quarterback Romaro Miller last season and the statistic that stood out most was that the Rebels moved the ball with either quarterback in.

But the really big loss in the Rebel backfield is graduated runningback Deuce McAllister, a multi-talented operator who kept defenses off balance. Head coach David Cutcliffe talks this pre-season with bowed head about McAllister’s departure.

Even considering McAllister’s graduation, though, Cutcliffe has been quoted as saying Ole Miss’ 2001 strength just might be at running back. All around, that is. After all, senior Joe Gunn is heralded as the one expected to take over &uot;the feature back role in hopes of returning to his sophomore form.&uot; Gunn was a sophomore All-SEC first-teamer when he rushed for 951 yards. But he tailed off some last season.

Joe’s just 5-10 and 200 pounds, but they say he’s tough as shoe leather. And swift. The coaches will be depending on Joe for big gains now and then. Right on the other hand, they’ll be expecting well-known defensive back Syniker Taylor to do a lot of smearing when the other team has the ball.

Von Hutchins, a highly-regarded sophomore defensive back from Natchez Cathedral, could very well be a starter in the Reb defensive backfield come game day this fall. Von’s a heady defender who will be getting his first big college chance after a good freshman season. Von’s 5-11, 180 pounds.

As usual, some see 2001 Ole Miss as good enough to be ranked in the top five in the SEC; others don’t think enough of the Rebels. Sports writers and broadcasters did think enough of the Rebels to rank them behind Alabama in SEC West preseason doodling. But Alabama was voted by 61 of the 84 taking part as the pre-season overall favorite.

Ole Miss, in other words, with just two votes, finished way down the line as regards potential in the SEC. The Rebels will of course set their sights higher.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs were discussed here two weeks ago, and it does sound good for coach Jackie Sherrill’s charges. But Sherrill’s being cautious, and you can’t blame him.

He’s not comfortable with some saying his 2001 team is the one to beat in the entire SEC. After all, even Ole Miss stunned State 45-30 last fall.

I guess it’s hard, though, not to expect a lot out of a team with an established quarterback (Wayne Madkin), plus two tried and proven tailbacks in Dontae Walker and Dicenzo Miller. And State’s so stingy on defense, where the best &uot;man&uot; returns in the person of defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn.

Ole Miss may not be an also-ran behind State, but behind in preseason ratings anyway.