College football countdown: No. 24 Mississippi

Friday, July 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Rebels won't shy away from great expectations

Editors Note: Today continues the Dallas Morning News' look at their pre-season Top 25 college football teams. will reprint the countdown everyday.

David Cutliffe knows about expectations. As an assistant at Tennessee for 16 years, Cutliffe learned a lot about good not being good enough. And he's instituted those teachings at Mississippi.

When Cutliffe took over as head coach in December 1998, he inherited a team that just experienced a crushing end to a promising season with three consecutive losses. Instead of merely showing up for the Sanford Independence Bowl, the Rebels walloped Texas Tech (a 9½-point favorite), 35-18. Last season, Cutliffe led Ole Miss to an 8-4 season that wasn't far from being an outstanding year. They finished with a No. 22 ranking, the second time since 1992 the program appeared in a final poll.

Ole Miss has already shattered school records with more than 34,000 season tickets sold.

"We're never afraid of expectations," he said. "We believe in ourselves, and we have some big-time playmakers on both sides of the ball.''

The biggest playmaker of them all is running back Deuce McAllister, the school's most legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate since Archie Manning in 1969-70. McAllister's 1,692 all-purpose yards last season broke the 61-year-old Ole Miss record, and he's already the school's all-time leader in that category.

Romaro Miller last season missed by one yard becoming the first Ole Miss quarterback to eclipse 2,000 yards passing in two consecutive years. Junior tailback Joe Gunn, who joined McAllister on the all-Southeastern Conference first team, and fullbacks Charles Stackhouse and Toward Sanford give the Rebels a ton of backfield experience and talent.

The Rebels lost a number of talented players at key positions, including eight on defense.

Mississippi defensive coaches began piecing together the puzzle in the spring, which observers called one of the most physical in recent memory.

Mississippi Schedule- September 2 Tulane: September 9 Auburn; September 16 at Vanderbilt; September 30 Kentucky; October 7 Arkansas St.; October 14 at Alabama; October 28 UNLV; November 4 at Arkansas; November 11 LSU; November 18 at Georgia; November 23 Mississippi State.

Mississippi Rebels Capsule

Coach- David Cutcliffe (9-4 in one-plus season at Ole Miss and overall).

Last Year- 8-4, No. 22 AP and USA Today-ESPN.

Out- Eight key defensive performers, including four tackles who helped Ole Miss rank fourth in the country against the run (76.9 ypg).

In- Junior Terrence Metcalf, a guard the past two years, moves to left tackle. Based on spring practice, Cutcliffe believes Metcalf will become one of the best in the country.

Big Plus- The entire offensive backfield returns, including standout all-purpose back Deuce McAllister.

Big Minus- The Rebels lost three fourth-quarter leads last year, largely because they allowed more than 250 yards passing per game.

National Title If- The defense can become more balanced and stop the SEC's higher-octane offenses.

Bottom Line- The Rebels must play at Georgia and Alabama. Winning even one wil be difficult.

Top 25 So Far

25. Clemson
24 Mississippi