Fourth ranked Rebs ready

Published 3:44 am Thursday, September 24, 2009


AP Sports Writer

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The fourth-ranked Mississippi Rebels sure sound ready for their college football close up.

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The Rebels are highly ranked but untested after easy opening victories against Memphis and Southeastern Louisiana.

Ole Miss (2-0) opens its Southeastern Conference schedule Thursday night at South Carolina (2-1, 1-0) in front of a national television audience.

“It’s going to be a big showcase for us,” defensive end Kentrell Lockett said. “We can show the work and show people that we’re a top-five caliber team. So it’s going to be a big opportunity for us.”

And maybe a chance for Mississippi quarterback Jevan Snead to show Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier he should have stuck to his original preseason all-SEC team ballot, the one with Snead instead of Florida’s Tim Tebow.

Remember that summertime whodunit? It turned out Spurrier had a staffer fill out his all-SEC ballot and didn’t realize Snead was placed ahead of Tebow. He later changed his vote to make Tebow a unanimous selection.

Snead and the Rebels have drawn plenty of attention coming into this season.

They haven’t been ranked this high since Manning — father Archie and not son Eli — was at quarterback in 1970. They’re riding an eight-game winning streak, the school’s longest in 37 years. A 3-0 start would be its best opening since 1989.

Lose to an unranked opponent, even one coached by Spurrier, and Ole Miss would likely take a dramatic tumble in the rankings.

“You are ready to play a game like this,” Mississippi coach Houston Nutt said. “It’s going to be a great atmosphere. Our guys are looking forward to it. I know as coaches, we are. I think our players are even more so.”

Mississippi figured to be that jacked up a year ago against the Gamecocks, returning home as heroes on the Grove after defeating the eventual national champion Florida Gators 31-30 a week earlier. Instead, Snead and the Rebels bobbled things away in a 31-24 loss to South Carolina.

Snead threw an interception and had a fumble as Mississippi coughed up a 14-3 lead. The Rebels lost the next week to Alabama and haven’t been beaten since, landing everywhere this summer — including on the cover of Sports Illustrated — as one of college football’s rising teams.

Nutt has seen before how quickly that can disappear.

“The intensity and the focus have to be a very high level,” he said. “This is why you come to Ole Miss to play the type of game like this. Really, there is nothing like it.”

The contest got a little extra juice in July when Snead picked up a vote for first-team all-SEC preseason quarterback. One-by-one, league coaches stepped to the microphone at the summer media gathering saying it wasn’t them. Finally, Spurrier fessed up to what he called an error on his part.

There’s no doubt Spurrier, a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, admires Snead’s ability. Last year, Spurrier “just noticed the way the ball came out of his hand,” he said. “He threw almost perfect spirals most every time.”

But, as Spurrier pointed out, “good defense can stop just about any quarterback. Hopefully we are going to have good defense here Thursday night.”

Spurrier hopes South Carolina can call on its Thursday night success the past few years. The Gamecocks have won five of seven such spotlight games with their head ball coach, including a 38-23 victory in 2007 over an unbeaten and rising Kentucky program.

Two South Carolina starters, receiver Tori Gurley and cornerback Akeem Auguste, both said they committed to Spurrier after watching that win over the Wildcats.

“After the game, I called up … and told them I wanted to be part of the Gamecock nation,” Gurley said.

Mississippi would love such a boost after this week’s game — and perhaps in bigger profile games to come.

“I do feel like this is a chance for us to kind of prove ourselves,” Snead said of his first Thursday night appearance, “and show the world what we can do.”