This game features two teams looking to rebound. Both BYU and Ole Miss suffered disappointing seasons in 2010 after great success the previous two seasons. BYU was 10-3 and 11-2 in 2008 and 2009, respectively, while Ole Miss was 9-4 both years. Last year, the two teams combined for just 11 wins.
Offensively, Ole Miss' strength lies in its massive, talented offensive line. The Rebels return two running backs who averaged over six yards per carry last year. The BYU front seven will have stopping the run as its top priority.
The BYU offensive line is also big and loaded with talent. While many have pointed to the two offensive lines as a storyline for this game, I expect them to nullify each other. The deciding match up will probably be the BYU secondary versus the Ole Miss passing game. Ole Miss didn’t name a starting quarterback until a few days ago. The BYU secondary is replacing three starters. If the BYU secondary does its job well, then the BYU front seven can fully commit to stopping the run.
The real story line for this game is how legitimate is the theory that a significant talent gap exists between “BCS” and “non-BCS” teams. Ole Miss was one of the worst SEC teams last year. Many expect Ole Miss to be at the bottom of the SEC West again this year. The more you look at the Ole Miss team, the more red flags that pop up. Looking at all the unfavorable circumstances for Ole Miss, a 21-point win isn't out of the question.
Consider the following:
Quarterback—BYU has a returning starter who is a Davey O’Brien Award candidate. Ole Miss has a transfer QB who is in his first year with the program and only played very limited time in two games for West Virginia last year against Coastal Carolina and UNLV.
Wide Receivers—Ole Miss has no known deep threat. True freshman Donte Moncrief or Nickolas Brassell hope to be that deep threat, but at this point that is pure speculation.
Defense—The red flags about the Ole Miss defense were detalied separately. Click here to read them in depth. Basically, every single player is a question mark. The reasons range from inexperience to playing a new position to playing poorly a year ago. Even Kentrell Lockett, who started every game in 2008 and 2009, is a question mark. He is coming off an ACL injury last year. Hopefully, he is back at 100%, but until that first game is played some concern still exists.
Season openers—Ole Miss Head Coach Houston Nutt doesn’t have the best track record in season openers the last few years. Ole Miss lost to FCS foe Jacksonville State last year, and two years ago, when everyone had the Rebels ranked in the top 10, they struggled to pull away from a very, very bad Memphis team. BYU Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall has won his last four season openers, including 2009 against #3 Oklahoma.
The only thing that would keep this game close is if Ole Miss has an advantage because it is a BCS/SEC team. To summarize, Ole Miss has a one dimensional offense. The defense has a whole lot to prove, and the coaching is suspect. Whereas, the strength of BYU's defense is in the front seven and stopping the run. The BYU offense is "light years" ahead of last year, and Bronco Mendenhall has done a great job preparing his team for the last two season opening games.
In the end, the magin of victory will probably be close to 10 points. BYU usually tries too hard in games like this, and turns the ball over at least three times. Additionally, even coming off a 4-8 season, Ole Miss was able to sign a recruiting class that was 100% very highly touted recruits or highly touted recruits by Phil Steele, and the number of very highly touted recruits outweighs the highly touted by a 2:1 ratio (18 to 9). Regardless of the Rebels’ inexperience, their players have enough talent and football IQ to make up for some of the unfavorable circumstances.
Things to watch for:
- Big XII Audition? With the Big XII future up in the air, it doesn’t seem impossible that Big XII officials will have an eye on this game. The outcome could influence the speed of negotiations and willingness to make concessions. Could a big BYU win lead to the Big XII quickly presenting BYU an offer it can’t refuse? Or will a big BYU loss cause the Big XII to lose interest?
- Margin of Victory and Expectations. The magin of victory will be telling. If BYU wins by three touchdowns, then all those wild and crazy preseason expectations are probably valid. A less than 10 point win, or a loss, and BYU still has some work to do if this is going to be a great year.
- Reynolds Watch. Offensive tackle Matt Reynolds has a huge opportunity to boost his NFL stock and help his cause for the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award. Kentrell Lockett is a very well respected defensive end. If Reynolds can keep Jake Heaps' back side protected, while opening up the three hole and sealing the end on run plays, the offensive line guru's will take notice and move him up their charts.
- Newcomers. The long awaited debuts of Uona Kaveinga, Hebron Fangupo, Ross Apo, and the new BYU secondary will take place. How they perform will be closely monitored. BYU also has several new assistant coaches who will have their first chance to mentor players in a live game situation and bring about improvements on the field.
- J.J. Di Luigi. My expectations for Di Luigi this year have been low. With the way Joshua Quezada seemed to become the preferred running back at the end of last year, I thought coaches would give Di Luigi a lot fewer touches this year. Di Luigi, however, had a great fall camp. He was always making plays. I am now sensing that Di Luigi will be a key player on Saturday, and all year long.
KICKOFF: 2:45 PM (Mountain Time)
TV: ESPN / ESPN3.com
RADIO: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, http://www.ksl.com/
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