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July 22, 2011

Notes: Rebels use preseason poll as motivation

HOOVER, Ala. -- The media covering SEC Football Media Days overwhelmingly voted Ole Miss to finish last in the SEC West.

"That doesn't bother me," coach Houston Nutt said. "I don't worry about that. I like the position. Again, it's about what you do on the field in between those lines. You just want a team to play with an unbelievable amount of passion and spirit, and you want your guys representing Ole Miss the right way.

"I love our attitude right now. I love their work ethic, the way they're going about things. (It is) a little bit different than last year. I think last year after two seasons of some success, (we) got in that mood of assuming. …You can't do that. You got to play very, very hard, take care of all the little things."

Of the 167 media members who voted, 111 picked Alabama to win the SEC West. LSU got 30 first-place votes and is picked to finish second. Arkansas received 23 votes and is projected as a third-place finisher. Mississippi State picked up a first-place vote and is predicted to finish fourth. Defending national champion Auburn is predicted to finish fifth. Ole Miss received two first-place votes.

"When people pick us last in the West, that's something we talk about it in workouts," running back Brandon Bolden said. "I say, 'You know we're picked to finish last, right?' You kind of see everybody get that mean demeanor about themselves like, 'You're not going to call me last and get away with that.' Everybody has been working. Everybody knows we're at the bottom and we have to get to the top. Everybody has that working mentality. There's a very, very bad taste in our mouths from last season and all these predictions and stuff, we don't really pay attention to it, but when people say we're going to be last in the SEC, it brings a new mindset to us."

South Carolina was picked to win the SEC East, followed by Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky and Vanderbilt.

Alabama received 98 overall first-place votes, followed by LSU (29), Arkansas (18), South Carolina (14), Georgia (4), Florida (2) and Ole Miss (2).

"I don't understand how you come to the decisions that you come to," Alabama coach Nick Saban said sarcastically, noting that two other SEC West teams have as many returning starters as the Crimson Tide and that Alabama's quarterback position is unsettled as camp begins.

SOWELL, LOCKETT NAMED FIRST-TEAM ALL-SEC: Offensive tackle Bradley Sowell and defensive end Kentrell Lockett were selected by media to the preseason All-SEC first-team Friday. Offensive tackle Bobby Massie was selected to the second-team offense, while running back Brandon Bolden was named to the third-team offense.

Punter Tyler Campbell was named preseason second-team All-SEC while kicker Bryson Rose earned third-team recognition.

NUTT EXCITED ABOUT FRESHMAN CLASS: Nutt said Friday he feels his program has momentum, thanks in large part to the Rebels' recent signing class.

"I feel a lot of momentum right now," Nutt said. "Even though the year wasn't what we wanted it to be, the momentum started with recruiting. We signed the best players in Mississippi. We signed four U.S. Army All-Americans. The Rebel Clubs that I've been to, there's a lot of enthusiasm right now. This is an exciting time. I'm excited this year."

Nutt said the Rebels' goal to get to Atlanta hasn't changed.

"But I know this: there's a process and it's not easy," Nutt said. "It's a very difficult road. But I know this: I know we're on the right track. I believe it. …There's no doubt in my mind that's what caused these young man to say, 'Coach, I know you didn't have a good year this past year, (but) we're coming with you, we're coming, we're coming to Ole Miss.' They didn't have to. They were heavily recruited. They could have gone anywhere. They see it. They see something at Ole Miss that they feel is going to be very, very special. That's what I feel good about."

BRUNETTI LEADS: Nutt said new offensive coordinator David Lee will pick a starting quarterback 10-11 days after the start of fall camp Aug. 6, but he said West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti enters camp as the leader.

"If we played tonight, and I'm glad that we don't, Barry Brunetti would probably go out there first," Nutt said. "If there's a little separation, we'd say he's the most accountable. That's why we have two-a-days. There's nothing like that competition, that competitive spirit. It's going to bring the best out of every one of them. We'll pick one real soon once we get into camp."

NUTT LOOKING FOR INTENSITY FROM OFFENSIVE LINE: Ole Miss' most experienced unit going into the 2011 season is its offensive line. Nutt said Friday that group needs to lead the Rebels and take the next step toward becoming a dominant group.

"I want them to be very physical," Nutt said. "I want the chemistry to be so good. This is the biggest offensive line we've ever coached. To have that much size doesn't mean anything if you're not physical and know who to block. I'm really expecting a lot from those guys to set a tone in the trenches."

OPENER CRITICAL FOR REBELS: Ole Miss lost to Jacksonville State in its season opener last year and never fully recovered. The Rebels open the season on Sept. 3 against Brigham Young at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The Cougars won six of their last eight games in 2010, including a 52-24 win over UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl.

"(Jacksonville State) Coach (Jack) Crowe came up and put it on us and really put our season in a tailspin," Nutt said." It's very important to get off on the right foot and we're playing a very good football team. They've got a lot of tradition at BYU and we're looking forward to it."

JOHNSON TO GET EARLY LOOK: Nutt said Friday freshman linebacker C.J. Johnson will be asked to help fill the void opened when D.T. Shackelford suffered a torn ACL in April. Shackelford will likely miss all of the upcoming season.

"Physically, (Johnson) looks the part," Nutt said. "We'll give him every opportunity to get in the mix. Just by default, he'll line up second-team Day One. He'll have an opportunity to play a lot of football."


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