<
>

Key stretch: Ole Miss

The Ole Miss Rebels are next on the docket in our key stretch series.

Key stretch: BYU (Sept. 3), Southern Illinois (Sept. 10), at Vanderbilt (Sept. 17), Georgia (Sept. 24)

Breakdown: There may be a tougher stretch of games later in the season when the Rebels face Alabama, Arkansas and Auburn in successive weeks, but the most important stretch comes that first month of the season. Unfortunately, everybody in Oxford remembers what happened in the season opener a year ago, which makes the BYU opener all the more important this season. It's the kind of game that could get this program pointed back in the right direction again if the Rebels can win and build some momentum out of the gate. They have three of their first four games at home, including Georgia to close out the stretch. They need to protect their home turf.

Prediction: So much of it hinges on the opener against BYU. Win that game, and it's not unreasonable to think that the Rebels could be 4-1 or even unbeaten going into that bye week following the trip to Fresno State on Oct. 1. But a loss to BYU could easily send the Rebels reeling similar to last season's loss to Jacksonville State. Southern Illinois is certainly a game Ole Miss should win the second week of the season and then comes a trip to Vanderbilt. Nobody's counting that as a sure win, especially with the way Vanderbilt has seemed to have Ole Miss' number lately. The Rebels would love to go into that Georgia game at home 3-0 and with "Hotty Toddy" ringing in their ears. My sense is that they will do just that, only to lose to the Bulldogs and exit the month of September with a 3-1 record and very much in play to return to the postseason in 2011.

The rundown