PROVO — For Ole Miss left tackle Bradley Sowell, there's no shortage of motivation as the Rebels prepare to host BYU.
The 6-foot-7, 315-pound senior hasn't forgotten that the Rebels lost their final three games last season, including a 31-23 setback to archrival Mississippi State, and failed to go to a bowl game after two straight trips to the Cotton Bowl. Ole Miss finished with a disappointing 4-8 record.
Sowell is looking at Saturday's game against the Cougars (2:45 p.m. MT, ESPN) as the first step to a winning campaign.
"The last game we played we lost, and it was at the end of a bad season, so we've had a bad taste in our mouths these past several months," Sowell said. "We're ready to get back out there. It would mean so much to get off to a fast start and show the fans that last year wasn't something that will happen often. We have a mission and we want to accomplish it."
"Getting back to the postseason," Sowell said.
Coach Houston Nutt wants to see his team start strong. "There is no doubt about it that in the first game you need to get off on the right foot. It is very important. We would not approach it any other way. Our players know that and respect BYU. They know they have a good football team. This is a big game, a new start and a new season. Everyone is very anxious. There is no doubt about it, this is a big game."
Nutt has a talented, but young team. On the Rebels' two-deep chart, 24 players are either true freshmen, redshirt freshmen or transfers.
"That is what is so much fun. It is a new year with new faces, names and attitudes," Nutt said. "I don't know what we have. I know what they have put into it and how hard they have worked. We put them through a grind. It is time to take the training wheels off."
Quarterback Barry Brunetti, a sophomore transfer from West Virginia, will make his first collegiate start Saturday. Meanwhile, the Rebels have four freshmen wide receivers — Donte Moncrief, Nickolas Brassell, Collins Moore, and Tobias Singleton — who are expected to see significant playing time.
It is a "good group that has gotten a lot of reps," Nutt said. "They do not know everything but they are so much further along than I thought they'd be. We have to make sure they are lined up right and not too tight when the first whistle blows."
Because of that youth, the Ole Miss offense will rely heavily on senior running back Brandon Bolden and its massive, and experienced, offensive line.
"We want the team on our back on offense," Sowell said. "We're experienced guys, so we have to keep defenses off the quarterback. We have to make things happen. We can't put a whole lot of pressure on the quarterback and receivers. We have to take it off them. We don't mind it because we have experience."
Originally, Ole Miss' season-opener was supposed to be against Boise State, but that was changed, and ESPN helped facilitate this matchup with the Cougars.
"BYU is on the schedule and that is all we have been thinking about," Nutt said. "They are a good football team. I know our fans love it. I don't have much to do with scheduling. There is nothing we can do but look forward to BYU. We have been looking forward to BYU since the off-season started. I know that Bronco Mendenhall and his team will be tough. They will be smart and disciplined. They have a quarterback coming back with a lot of confidence and experience. They have receivers that are tall and some big offensive linemen. They have a good football team. There is nothing like momentum coming off a bowl victory in the off-season. It gives your team a lot of confidence and hope. They are tough, experienced and disciplined. They don't beat themselves."
Weather could be a factor in the game. The forecast on Saturday calls for temperatures in the high 90s — and it will feel even hotter than that on the FieldTurf surface at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
"The humidity could be a factor for (BYU)," Nutt said. "It has been one of the hottest summers to date. Once the game kicks off and the sun goes down, we will see. The humidity is definitely different."
Cougars on the air
BYU (0-0) at Ole Miss (0-0)
Saturday, 2:45 p.m. MT
Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, Miss.
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM