HOOVER, Ala. -- Houston Nutt's surging Ole Miss football program doesn't have many problems, relatively speaking.

Unlike most of the conference's traditional powers other than Florida, the Rebels return their star quarterback from last season, Jevan Snead.

End Greg Hardy is one of several significant players back on the line-led Ole Miss defense. Tailback Dexter McCluster, like Snead, was a key offensive component of a team that shocked LSU and defending national champion Florida on the road.

"People may have been so surprised with us last year," safety Kendrick Lewis said. "But we knew we could do that, and we know we can be even better this year."

The Rebels have a few reasons for concern, though, and one of them is literally quite large.

"I've got a 600-pound problem," Nutt said during Thursday's afternoon session at the SEC media days.

Actually, Nutt has two 300-pound problems. The Rebels must replace Michael Oher and Peria Jerry, two first-round NFL draft picks who anchored the Ole Miss lines last season.

Oher went No. 23 overall to the New England Patriots, and Jerry -- arguably the SEC's most unheralded star last season -- went No. 24 to the Atlanta Falcons.

"Those two guys were not only captains of our football team, but they just played so hard," said Nutt, the extroverted former Arkansas coach.

Plenty of talent stayed in Oxford, though. That and last season's results -- including a convincing Cotton Bowl victory over Texas Tech -- have brought lofty preseason expectations to a program that hasn't won an SEC championship since 1963 and went 0-8 in league play two seasons ago.

"I'm excited for our players, because they're embracing it the right way, with how they go to a 5:30 workout, how they go to school, how they go to study hall, how they're doing things," Nutt said. "Our antennas were up as coaches, how they would approach this offseason with all the pat on the backs, much different. They're in uncharted waters.

"But again, the way they're handling things, I love what they're doing right now. That's why we can't wait to get to camp and get back to work and carry that over, keep that going.

"It is different, a lot different. But we're excited about it."

Snead, a Texas transfer who originally committed to Florida coach Urban Meyer, is a large reason for the hype. He completed more than 56 percent of his passes last season for 2,762 yards and 26 touchdowns.

The strong finish helped momentum, too. Snead, the only quarterback other than Florida's Tim Tebow to get a first-team vote on the All-SEC preseason team, tossed 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions in the last five games of the 2008 season.

"I've had a rocky road getting to where I am," Snead said. "Just to be mentioned with all the great players and for the Heisman is a great honor for me. But at the same time, I'm not focused on that. That's not my main goal.

"My main goal is to do everything I can to improve so I can help my team get some wins."

The Rebels avoid Florida and Georgia in the regular season, and most of their biggest league games -- Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU -- will be played at home.

Still, Nutt refused to call anything short of an SEC West title this season a disappointment.

"Our staff (at Arkansas) has been to Atlanta before," Nutt said. "That's a difficult journey. It's very hard to get there. Things have to go right ... but I think our team is on the rise. I think there's some good things that are happening.

"We had a very good recruiting class. When you see our freshmen on campus, they don't look like freshmen. You just feel like things are getting ready to happen, and we're excited."

Added Lewis: "I wouldn't say, 'Atlanta or bust,' but I definitely think we have the talent to get there."

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