HOOVER, Ala. - Ole Miss had its turn at the Southeastern Conference's annual media days Friday, but the Rebels spent a lot of their time discussing their in-state rivals.
Mississippi State has won the last two matchups in the Egg Bowl rivalry, and the Bulldogs' marketing department took the bragging rights to a different level with eight to 10 billboards strategically placed at various entrances into the state that read, "Welcome to Our State."
MSU coach Dan Mullen discussed the billboards during his media days appearance Wednesday, and Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt responded Friday.
"You checked recruiting this past season, right?" Nutt said. "[The billboards] didn't affect us. We had the best recruiting in the state of Mississippi."
According to Rivals.com, the Rebels signed five four-star recruits to MSU's one in February, and five-star linebacker C.J. Johnson signed with Ole Miss after originally committing to the Bulldogs. Nutt did acknowledge that the Bulldogs had the right to boast about their 2009 and '10 wins.
"That's a real interesting billboard," sixth-year senior defensive end Kentrell Lockett said, smiling. "If that's what they need and that's what it takes for them to get them going, so be it. That's them. It's a billboard. It's words.
Said senior tailback Brandon Bolden: "They have a right to say stuff like that. They beat us two years straight."
Nutt's Rebels were just 4-8 last season after winning back-to-back Cotton Bowls his first two seasons. Ole Miss is the only SEC West division school that hasn't reached the league's annual title game in Atlanta, and Nutt said he's more focused on changing that than any billboards.
"I want to go to Atlanta," he said. "It's one of the greatest games, greatest venues, environments there is to win a championship. Ole Miss has never been to Atlanta. That's all I really focus on.
"Using just valuable energy on something like [the billboards] is a waste of time. You better be concentrating on recruiting, concentrating on winning [and] helping your players become a better person and a better football player."
LSU receiver Russell Shepard was originally scheduled to appear Friday as one of the Tigers' three players, but offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert replaced the junior. Tiger Sports Digest reported before LSU coach Les Miles took the podium early Friday afternoon that Shepard had a compliance issue related to off-campus housing arrangements.
"I don't know exactly the specifics of that," Miles said. "The only thing I can tell you is this was an issue where there were some things that he had to handle in his personal life that needed immediate resolution, so that's why he's not with us."
LSU rotated its quarterbacks throughout last season, when Jordan Jefferson started all 13 games and reserve Jarrett Lee played in all but one. Jefferson is 20-7 as a starter in his career, but the often maligned senior enters the preseason as the clear-cut starter despite Lee's presence and the arrival of former Georgia quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who joined the Tigers in December after a year at Butler (Kan.) Community College.
"I think the addition of [offensive coordinator] Steve Kragthorpe has really helped Jefferson," Miles said. "Jefferson is in his final campaign and really is at the best position that he has been in in listening and taking coaching. He also has a want to make this his team."
Ole Miss is much more unsettled at quarterback. West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti and junior college transfers Randall Mackey and Zack Stoudt will battle for the Rebels' starting spot.
"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. [But] that's why we have two-a-day [practices]."