Top 25 Countdown

No. 5 Mississippi

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Last Season: 9-4 (defeated Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl).

Returning Starters: 16 (8 offense, 8 defense).

Key Game: vs. Alabama, Oct. 10.

Why They're Worth Watching

After inheriting a team that went winless in the Southeastern Conference in 2007, Coach Houston Nutt led the Rebels to five wins in the nation's toughest conference and a No. 14 final ranking last season. They also beat Florida in the Swamp. The Rebels are a trendy pick to challenge for the national title. Nutt has a strong Heisman Trophy hopeful in quarterback Jevan Snead. A defense that ranked fourth nationally against the run returns eight starters, including two stud linemen in Greg Hardy and Ted Laurent. All-SEC place kicker Joshua Shene is back, as well.

Why They're Vulnerable

Everyone is gunning for the Rebels this season. They lost experience and depth along the offensive line. The absence of all-American left tackle Michael Oher will linger throughout the season. The loss of another first-round NFL draft selection, defensive tackle Peria Jerry, will also hurt. The secondary needs to improve if the Rebels are to outlast Louisiana State and Alabama to win the SEC West. Mississippi ranked last in the SEC in passing defense last season. The Rebels should match last season's win total, but are expectations too high?

Player to Watch

Dexter McCluster, WR, Sr.

Snead is the face of the team, but the 5-foot-9, 170-pound McCluster is an exciting and dangerous playmaker. Check out the "Wild Rebel" direct-snap formation that Mississippi occasionally employed. McCluster, who rushed for 655 yards and six touchdowns last season, thrived in that role.

-- Eric Prisbell



© 2009 The Washington Post Company