SEC FOOTBALL SERIESToday: Ole MissSunday: Mississippi StateOLE MISSCamp start: Aug. 6Opener: Sept. 3 against Brigham Young at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (4:45 p.m. EDT on ESPN)Fun fact: Ole Miss has lost two consecutive games to Mississippi State but hasn't lost three straight Egg Bowls since dropping four in a row from 1939 to '42. Houston Nutt's personal record against MSU is 10-3.
Ole Miss senior tailback Brandon Bolden doesn't need to glance back at the 2010 Southeastern Conference football standings to realize how stout the five other West Division teams were.
Looking at his personal stats will prove the same point.
In his seven games not against division rivals, the 5-foot-11, 221-pounder from Baton Rouge, La., averaged 110 yards a contest. In the games against Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU and Mississippi State, however, Bolden averaged 42 yards, and his 45-yard performance against State left him 24 yards shy of a 1,000-yard season.
Bolden was the closest thing to a bright spot a year ago for the Rebels, who plummeted to 4-8 after two nine-win seasons capped by Cotton Bowl victories.
"Everybody knows we were at the bottom and that we have to get to the top," he said. "Last season left a bad taste, and when you finish last, it brings about a different mindset. I would have liked to have had a 1,000-yard season last year, but it wouldn't have meant much since we weren't winning."
The Rebels were expecting to start Nathan Stanley at quarterback this time last year, but then Jeremiah Masoli transferred from Oregon and became eligible just before the opener after initially being denied by the NCAA. Stanley and Masoli played in the opener, a 49-48 loss to FCS member Jacksonville State in double overtime that set the tone for last year's disaster.
Masoli took over as the starter in the second game but never came close to replicating the numbers he had in 2009, when he guided the Ducks to the Rose Bowl.
The quarterback position is unsettled this year as well, with junior college transfers Randall Mackey and Zack Stoudt and West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti vying for the top spot. Rebels coach Houston Nutt said in April that Mackey had the slight edge but said last week at SEC media days that Brunetti, who's from Memphis, will enter camp with the advantage.
"It's going to be a very tight race," Bolden said. "All three have a strong arm, but the difference is that Mackey and Brunetti can run it a little bit faster than Zack can, but Zack's arm can make up for it."
While the quarterback situation gets ironed out under new offensive coordinator David Lee and new receivers coach and passing game coordinator Gunter Brewer, Bolden can expect to maintain his role as the primary offensive option. He not only led the team with 976 yards and 14 touchdowns on 163 rushes (6 yards per carry) but also in receptions with 32, which went for 344 yards and three scores.
Bolden's 17 total touchdowns last season tied Deuce McAllister (2000) for the school's single-season standard, and his 28 career scores rank second only to McAllister's 41.
"What can't you do with him?" Rebels senior defensive end Kentrell Lockett said. "He's a jack of all trades. You never know what you're going to get with this guy."
Bolden also has one of the league's more amusing recruiting tales.
After deciding to leave the state when LSU wanted him as a safety, he came down to Alabama and Ole Miss. Bolden then hinged his decision -- at least, sort of -- on the outcome in 2007 between the Crimson Tide and Rebels, a game Alabama won 27-24.
"Ole Miss actually could have beaten Alabama, but to me it kind of looked like Alabama's guy pushed [Rebels receiver] Shay Hodge out of bounds, which would have set them up for a touchdown," he said. "Ole Miss lost the game, and my mom asked me where I wanted to go, and I said Ole Miss. She said, 'But they lost,' and I said, 'But they could have won.'
"That kind of made my decision."