Ole Miss-Memphis Odds

Memphis, TN - It took a late September win over the eventual national champions for Mississippi to even receive a vote in the AP poll in 2008, a victory that coach Houston Nutt's team followed with two more losses.

After six consecutive wins to end the season, there was no shortage of votes for Ole Miss.

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That's the case again to begin 2009, and the No. 8 Rebels hope to live up to their highest ranking in nearly 40 years beginning Sunday when they travel to Memphis looking for a fifth straight season-opening win over the Tigers.

Oddsmakers from online sports book Sportsbook.com have made Mississippi -16.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 81% of bets for this game have been placed on  Mississippi -16.5 (View College Football bet percentages).

Little was expected in Nutt's first season in Oxford following a 3-9 record in 2007 that saw Ole Miss go winless in eight SEC games.

A stunning 31-30 win at Florida on Sept. 27 seemed to show the Rebels were progressing, but losses in their next two games dropped them to 3-4.

Ole Miss (9-4) began its turnaround Oct. 25 at Arkansas - where Nutt spent the previous 10 years as coach - with a 23-21 win, and didn't look back. The Rebels averaged 37.0 points in winning their final six games, finishing with a 47-34 Cotton Bowl win over then-No. 8 Texas Tech that vaulted Nutt's team to No. 14 in the final AP poll and has raised expectations in 2009.

Ole Miss hasn't been this high in the AP poll since the 1970 season, which it entered with the No. 5 ranking.

"Last year, I didn't know if we were going to get them to believe in themselves, it took us that long," Nutt said. "This (year) is different because our guys haven't been in these uncharted waters. But I'd rather it be this way."

Much of the preseason hype surrounds Jevan Snead, a former top recruit at Texas who sat out the 2007 season after transferring. It took Snead a while to get going in Nutt's offense - he threw 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in Ole Miss' first seven games - but when he did, he evolved into one of the country's most impressive signal-callers.

Snead threw 16 touchdown passes and three interceptions in the final six games of his sophomore season, and he's the preseason All-SEC second team quarterback - Florida's Tim Tebow leads the first team.

"I think that's one of the things that's helping us work hard," Snead said. "We know the expectations are high. We work hard every year, but we've definitely got our eye on the prize this year and just working as hard as we can to get to those expectations and our goals."

Snead's Ole Miss debut came against Memphis on Aug. 30, 2008, throwing for 185 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-24 win. It was the fourth year in a row the Rebels opened the season by beating the Tigers.

Snead and senior wideout Dexter McCluster - who had more than 600 yards rushing and receiving in Nutt's "Wild Rebel" formation - are among six returning starters on offense, but one loss in particular will be felt. Tackle Michael Oher was a first-round draft pick, leaving sophomore Bradley Sowell to protect Snead's blind side.

Defensive tackle Peria Jerry also was a first-rounder, leaving a big hole up front, but Ole Miss has its premier pass rusher coming back. Senior defensive end Greg Hardy, one of eight returning defensive starters, had 8 1/2 sacks last season in eight games.

Hardy missed four games due to a stress fracture in his right foot and had surgery that kept him out of some spring drills. He was on track for full preseason participation when he and McCluster were involved in a car accident in July.

Now, he likely won't start against Memphis (6-7), though Nutt expects him to play.

"Greg is going to have significant snaps, but probably won't be out there the very first play," Nutt said. "We consider Greg a starter. ... I want him to get confidence in his foot. Hopefully he will be as good as ever."

The Tigers started last season 0-3 but bounced back to qualify for their fourth bowl game in five seasons.

A trip to the St. Petersburg Bowl didn't go well for coach Tommy West's team, though. Memphis was outgained 496-238 in a 41-14 loss to South Florida.

The Tigers' biggest challenge will be replacing four offensive linemen, which may leave senior quarterback Arkelon Hall under a lot of pressure. Hall completed 57.0 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season, his first as a starter.

Behind Hall will be tailback Curtis Steele, a junior college transfer who ran for 1,223 yards in 2008 and was named Conference USA's newcomer of the year. Steele had 83 yards on 15 carries against the Rebels last season.

Ole Miss leads the series 46-10-2, winning 13 of the past 17 meetings.

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Posted: 9/2/09 5:57PM ET

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