Former head man Ed Orgeron stockpiled quality players. Former Texas Longhorn Jevan Snead has solidified the quarterback situation since transferring to Oxford. Former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt taught the Rebels to win last fall. Perhaps the key figure in Ole Miss' quest for a league title, however, is the schedule-maker.
The Rebels' non-conference schedule for 2009 consists of Memphis (6-7 last fall) and Alabama Birmingham (4-8), plus TWO teams from the Football Championship Subdivision – Southeastern Louisiana (5-7) and Northern Arizona (6-5). Playing at Memphis in Game 1 makes that contest at least a little challenging but Nutt's boys can win the other three just by showing up.
Secondly, Ole Miss manages to avoid the projected top two teams from the SEC East, Florida and Georgia. Instead, the Rebels' three non-divisional foes will be Tennessee, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.
In addition, Ole Miss' four SEC road games are all against projected also-rans – South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Auburn and Mississippi State.
Conversely, what projects to be the three toughest opponents on the Rebels' schedule – Alabama, LSU and Tennessee – must come to Oxford. The other home opponent is Arkansas, which appears to be significantly improved after going 5-7 in Bobby Petrino's first season.
For all of its pluses, Ole Miss' schedule has a few minuses. For instance:
The Rebels' open date comes between Game 1 (at Memphis) and Game 2 (Southeastern Louisiana). Ole Miss must play the final 11 weekends of the season without a rest, so the Rebels could be running on fumes in November.
Ole Miss plays three of its tougher games back-to-back-to-back – visiting South Carolina (Sept. 26), visiting Vanderbilt (Oct. 3) and hosting Alabama (Oct. 10). The Rebels close with another testy three-game run – hosting Tennessee (Nov. 14) and LSU (Nov. 21), then visiting heated in-state rival Mississippi State (Nov. 28).
Bottom line: With four winnable SEC road games and four non-conference pushovers, the schedule-maker has given Ole Miss a clear path to the league championship game. The Rebels just need to avoid tripping themselves up along the way.