Charles Kano, senior writer for Truebluecougars.com, spoke with Ole Miss insiders Austin Miller, sports editor for the Daily Mississippian newspaper, and Jake Adams, senior writer for Theolemissblog.com sports blog. We asked them a series of questions to help Cougar fans get familiar with Ole Miss and its football team in anticipation of the season opener in Oxford, Miss., against BYU.
What is the buzz around campus and the community about the impending home opener?
Miller: Fans are reminded of the home opening 49-48 loss to Jacksonville State last year. They are hoping for a better showing this year against BYU.
Adams: Fans are cautiously optimistic coming into the home opener, especially given the bad showing in 2010. Ole Miss is an SEC team, so they should have the speed and size advantage over BYU.
What are Ole Miss fan expectations for the season? Miller: There is some excitement coming into the season based on the solid recruiting class. Ole Miss picked up Nickolas Brassell, a 6-foot, 175-pound, speedy wide receiver from Batesville, Miss., and Tobias Singleton, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound receiver from Madison, Miss.
Ole Miss also returns a very deep offensive line from last year under the leadership of 6-foot-7, 315-pound Bradley Sowell and 6-foot-6, 325-pound Bobby Massie.
Adams: I think most fans are expecting a 6-6 or 7-5 season. The biggest issue is the defense. Ole Miss has had a traditionally strong defense, but the 2011 team is thin at linebacker, and the secondary was just awful last year with little to no sign of improvement this year.
What are fans saying about the Cougars? How familiar are they with BYU? Miller: Cougar fans will be in for a bit of culture shock at Ole Miss and the Grove, that’s all I can say.
Ole Miss fans are also familiar with BYU quarterback Jake Heaps and the numbers he put up at the end of last year. They are also aware of the long tradition of BYU quarterbacks. The other factor that Ole Miss fans are aware of is the older age and increased experience of the players at BYU. Adams: Fans have recently been made aware of BYU’s balanced attack on offense. Seems like Bronco Mendenhall has been moving away from just an air attack. Ole Miss fans are familiar with players like Detmer, Young and Bosco and their passing ability.
What is something that BYU fans should know about Ole Miss tradition? Miller: First is the fact that Ole Miss knows how to party. We have a saying that goes, “We may lose the game, but we never lose a party." It has been a rallying cry for the students and fans, especially when the team is down.
Second, Ole Miss is rolling out a new on the field mascot, Rebel the Bear. It will be interesting to see how that is received by the fans.
Adams: Tailgating and The Grove at Ole Miss are bar none the best college tailgating experience ever. There is a giant lawn with huge oak trees that is covered with red and blue tents. The fans dress up and the ladies wear all the latest fashions, which is not bad to look at. The day is spent sipping bourbon and beer celebrating Ole Miss.
In terms of Rebel the Bear, I am interested to see if the Ole Miss administration unveils the Bear on national TV. Fans have not been supportive of the change, and I think it would be disastrous to have fans boo the bear in front of a nationwide audience. Hopefully they will wait a week and ease him in.
What is the biggest news coming out of Ole Miss fall camp?
Miller: Barry Brunetti being named the starting quarterback has to be the biggest news. However one of the more interesting stories surrounds cornerback Senquez Golson, who turned down a seven-figure contract with the Boston Red Sox to return to the Ole Miss team. Senquez has become a cult hero at Ole Miss.
Adams: QB Barry Brunetti winning the starting QB job by default when Randall Mackey was arrested for fighting. There was a chance that Brunetti may have won the position anyway, but fans were upset to see it play out how it did.
There is a lot of buzz around the infusion of talent from this years highly rated recruiting class. Fans are excited to see what type of impact freshman receiver Donte Moncrief can have against the smaller BYU secondary.
What is the Ole Miss team’s biggest strength coming into the game?
Miller: The massive offensive, especially the tackles. Look for Ole Miss to run early and often behind these guys.
Adams: Size of the offensive line. Reports are Ole Miss would have the fifth biggest offensive line in the NFL. They are two deep and all have experience after being forced into duty last year.
Senior running back Brandon Bolden was nearly a 1,000-yard rusher last year and is a proven commodity and team leader.
What is the Ole Miss team’s biggest perceived weakness?
Miller: The secondary is the biggest weakness. There are a lot of new guys, and the secondary gave up the most passing yards in the league. They also gave up 51 points to Auburn.
Adams: Defense, Ole Miss gave up the most points and yards in the SEC last year. In short, they were a train wreck, giving up 49 to Jackson State in the opener.
What is the current weather report for kick-off?
Miller: 94 degrees and humid last I checked, which should be good for Ole Miss.
Adams: It keeps changing, but I saw 88 degrees and sunny, which will be pretty nice considering the past few days we have been in the 100-degree range with high humidity.
Do visiting teams ever mention the weather as a factor and is it a perceived benefit for Ole Miss players and fans? Miller: It never really has been an issue. Ole Miss usually plays other teams from the South, within a 100-mile radius. In the case of BYU, it can be a factor. It certainly was for Fresno State last year.
Adams: Ole Miss rarely plays outside of the SEC or the South. BYU fans should know that the heat can be oppressive. It can also affect the home fans, especially if Ole Miss gets down early. Bring some sunscreen.
Who are the Ole Miss team’s playmakers and team leaders?
Miller: On defense it would have been junior linebacker D.T. Shackelford, who was lost to an ACL injury. Now it will be sixth-year senior defensive end Kentrell Lockett.
Offensively, the Rebels will look to running back Brandon Bolden and his enormous offensive tackles, Sowell and Massie.
Adams: It remains to be seen on defense, and fans will have a better idea after the BYU game. My guess would have to be Shackelford, who was supposed to be All-SEC before he was injured last year.
Offensively, I think it has to fall on Bolden, Sowell and maybe Brunetti.
What are the keys to the game for Ole Miss to be successful? Miller: Ole Miss has to run the ball and control the clock. If they can keep it close or protect a lead late in the game, Ole Miss has a good chance. Defense will also have to put pressure on Jake Heaps, something the coaches have really emphasized.
Adams: No turnovers on offense, this is huge with a new quarterback. If Ole Miss gets down early, Brunetti may feel like he has to do too much. Lack of confidence could snowball for the Rebels.
Bolden and running game will be the key to Ole Miss winning, they just need to wear down the BYU defensive line, and I think they will be fine.
Who do you think will win, and give us a score. Miller: Ole Miss 38-31, with the offensive line wearing down the BYU front seven for a victory.
Adams: I will have to be a homer and say Rebels 28-24. Although Ole Miss is a SEC team, a win for BYU shouldn’t be seen as a program maker. But if they lose, they should be worried about how they will be perceived by the SEC and other BCS programs. Who do you think will be the game MVP?
Miller: Bolden or fellow running back Enrique Davis. I could also see Jeff Scott the kick returner being an MVP, as he has legitimate SEC speed.
Adams: Hands down, Brandon Bolden.
Charles Kano is a senior writer for truebluecougars.com, a Deseret News partner. He is an avid sports fan with a particular interest in high school and college athletics.