published Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

Snead, Rebels aiming for Atlanta

LOOKING AHEAD

* Camp start: Aug. 10

* Camp objectives: 1. Strengthen the offensive front, which not only lost left tackle Michael Oher but both starting guards from a year ago. 2. Determine a pecking order at tailback among Cordera Eason, Brandon Bolden, Devin Thomas and Enrique Davis. 3. Find a capable backup to Jevan Snead at quarterback, whether it's Billy Tapp or Nathan Stanley.

* Season opener: At Memphis on Sept. 6 (3:30 p.m. EDT on ESPN)

* Fun fact: The Rebels have not played a game as a top-10 team since the 1970 Egg Bowl, when they were upset by Mississippi State, 19-14.

It took a couple of difficult decisions to get to Ole Miss, but junior quarterback Jevan Snead can't imagine anyone being any happier.

Then again, all Snead has to do is look at all the smiling faces he's created at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium to get an idea.

After committing to Florida's 2006 class of recruits, Snead signed with Texas after Tim Tebow committed to the Gators. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder from Stephenville, Texas, played as a freshman for the Longhorns but as the backup to fellow freshman Colt McCoy, so he transferred to Ole Miss.

"Any time you take a step like that, you're kind of leaping into the unknown," Snead said. "Fortunately, it's worked out great for me. I feel like God had a plan for me and that he's led me through this. I couldn't be in a better position than I am right now."

Snead completed 184 of 327 passes (56.3 percent) for 2,762 yards with 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in his SEC debut year. He got stronger as last season wore on, leading the Rebels to six straight closing victories.

Ole Miss whipped LSU (31-13) and Mississippi State (45-0) to conclude the regular season before racing past Texas Tech (47-34) in the Cotton Bowl. The Rebels finished with a No. 14 Associated Press ranking and will be ranked in the AP preseason poll for the first time since 2000.

Snead is being mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate, but "unsatisfied" is the motto for this year's Rebels.

"We had a great season last year, but our goal this season is to get to Atlanta and to play for the championship," Snead said. "We're going to focus on one game at a time, though, and not look too far down the road."

Ole Miss is the only West Division member yet to play for the SEC title.

Snead has a hard time explaining his road, which he figured would wind through Big 12 territory. He stayed in touch with Stephenville High coach Chad Morris after leaving Texas, and Morris suggested looking at the depth chart at Ole Miss.

The Rebels had been struggling in the post-Eli Manning era, so Snead visited Oxford and fell in love with the campus.

After sitting out the 2007 season, Snead battled inconsistency early last year, following a four-touchdown performance at Wake Forest with a four-interception debacle two weeks later against Vanderbilt. In his last six games, however, he tallied 16 touchdowns with three interceptions.

"I sat out for a year, so I was a little anxious to come in and see the game," he said. "I tried to make some things happen that I shouldn't have, and I forced some balls here and there and just made some bad plays. I took a step back and realized I don't have to make every play, and once I did that, I started calling it quits on a play and not trying to force it."

Said coach Houston Nutt: "You could see the last half of the year how much better Jevan got for us. I really expect him to be much, much better."

The Rebels also return receivers Shay Hodge and Dexter McCluster, who combined for 88 receptions for 1,350 yards last season. McCluster lined up at tailback and quarterback as well, rushing for 655 yards and six touchdowns on 109 carries.

Ole Miss returns eight starters defensively and should be formidable up front with Marcus Tillman, Ted Laurent, Greg Hardy and Kentrell Lockett. The Rebels were second in the league and fourth nationally in run defense (allowing 85.5 yards a game) last year but were last in the SEC and 81st nationally in pass defense (221.7).

Marshay Green, Cassius Vaughn and Kendrick Lewis return in the secondary, which should be stronger.

The Rebels get SEC West stalwarts Alabama and LSU in Oxford this year and don't have to play Florida, which they stunned last year in the Swamp. It's a favorable schedule provided they get past early league road trips to South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

Last year's season ended against Texas Tech in Dallas. Snead would like to see this season end against Texas in Pasadena, the site of the BCS title game.

"That's really looking ahead of ourselves right now, but I have so many great friends from Texas that I still talk to today," he said. "To spend that week with those guys and then to be able to play against them would just be tremendous."

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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