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Chris Dufresne's preseason top 25: No. 10 Mississippi

Top 25 countdown

The Times' Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason college football top 25, one day (and team) at a time.

August 25, 2009|Chris Dufresne

The Times' Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason college football top 25, one day (and team) at a time.

Wow. A team has a hot finish in the Southeastern Conference and pollsters -- including this one -- start tripping over themselves.

Mississippi hasn't won an outright SEC title since 1963, hasn't produced a Manning in years and even isn't what it used to be in the beauty-pageant department.

After Mary Ann Mobley and Lynda Lee Mead went back-to-back in 1959 and 1960, the saying around campus became, "We don't redshirt All-Americas; we redshirt Miss Americas."

Mississippi has earned preseason No. 1 in "best tailgate party" in the past, an ode to the 10-acre patch of paradise known as "The Grove," where Rebels gather to gab in the sumptuous surroundings of tablecloths and finger sandwiches before cheering for their boys across campus at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

If you could ever add a good football team to that, William Faulkner might rise from his Oxford, Miss., plot, add two letters to "The Reivers," and call his sequel "The Receivers."

Anyway, this is how preseason pandemonium breaks out: Mississippi was the only team to beat Florida last year and then, after losing two straight, closed with a six-game winning streak that included a win over Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl.

Ole Miss returns 16 starters from that 9-4 unit and starts No. 8 in the Associated Press and No. 10 in the USA Today coaches' polls.

It's the Rebels' highest preseason ranking in nearly 40 years and has everyone strolling down memory lane.

In 1969, the great Archie Manning, No. 18, also the speed limit on campus, led Ole Miss to an 8-3 record and a win in the Cotton Bowl. In 1970, the Rebels opened at No. 5.

This year's team looks a little like Florida's championship team in 2006. Those Gators were coached by Urban Meyer, but recruited mostly by predecessor Ron Zook.

These Rebels are led by second-year Coach Houston Nutt, but recruited mostly by predecessor Ed Orgeron.

Among the returning starters are quarterback Jevan Snead, a transfer from Texas who threw for 26 touchdowns last year, and receiver Dexter McCluster, who sometimes takes direct snaps in the "Wild Rebel" formation.

Among the missing are All-American tackle Michael Oher and defensive tackle Peria Jerry.

"The one problem I have is 600 pounds," Nutt said of the combined weight lost on his fronts in the forms of Oher and Jerry.

Ole Miss opens with three of its first four games on the road, but they are all winnable, and that could mean a 4-0 record when Alabama comes to Oxford on Oct. 10.

The Rebels also get Tennessee (Nov. 14) and Louisiana State (Nov. 21) in Oxford and wouldn't have to face Florida until the SEC championship game.

See why the pundits are so excited?

Of course, part of Nutt's job as coach is to keep the clamoring down.

"Last year the same group of experts picked us toward the bottom," he says. "The same group of experts now are picking us toward the top."

That's what pundits do, and then we blame the coach if he finishes 7-6.

The countdown so far: 25. UCLA; 24. Nevada; 23. Notre Dame; 22. Oregon State; 21. Florida State; 20. Nebraska; 19. North Carolina; 18. Utah; 17. Georgia Tech; 16. California; 15. Virginia Tech; 14. Alabama; 13. Georgia; 12. Boise State; 11. Texas Christian; 10. Mississippi.

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chris.dufresne@latimes.com

Twitter.com/DufresneLATimes

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