WR Chris Collins

2002 Statistics

Coach: David Cutcliffe
30-19, 5 years
2002 Record: 7-6
at Texas Tech LOST 28-42
at Alabama LOST 7-42
at Arkansas LOST 28-48
at Georgia LOST 17-31
at Louisiana State LOST 13-14
Nebraska WON 27-23

2002 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR

2003 Outlook

The first big victory of 2003 for David Cutcliffe and Ole Miss came Jan. 15, when the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft came and went without Eli Manning putting his name in the lottery. Manning's presence means that this team has almost everything it needs to compete in the SEC West, which will once again be anybody's to win (but, surprisingly, to be the tougher, more competitive division.)

The Rebels went through their 2002 growing pains, showing flashes of ability - the 17-14 win over Florida - and inconsistency - five straight SEC losses in October and November. The team did seem to take one final step forward, beating archrival Mississippi State and still-potent Nebraska in its final two games. With Manning back on the roster and intent on proving himself, the Rebels should take further steps.

Ole Miss returns 12 starters from last season, but bids farewell to most of its best players, with the exception of Manning. Four Rebels were second-team All-SEC selections - Manning and Chris Collins return. The losses of Claxton, Grier, and Von Hutchins will present a challenge. However, the Rebels have capable young players ready to step up in all three positions, and will be even more potent on offense in 2003 than they were last season.

Apart from road trips to Florida and Auburn, most of the season's toughest tests will come at home - Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, and Texas Tech highlight the list of visitors to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. That advantage, combined with a weak non-conference slate, means that at the least, Ole Miss will do no worse than last season's Independence Bowl finish.

If Manning can continue maturing at the quarterback position, the defense can gel quickly with the addition of 6 new starters, and Tremaine Turner can be more productive running the football, the Rebels could be the team to beat in the SEC West. That's a lot of ifs. Instead, look for Ole Miss to turn in another solid 7-5 or possibly 8-4 season in typical Cutcliffe fashion - losing at least one game they should win and winning at least one game they should lose. The running game will be the challenge, and the difference in getting that extra win or two.

Projected 2003 record: 8-4
QB Eli Manning
DE Charlie Anderson
CB Bryan Brown
QB - 4.5 DL - 3.5
RB - 2.5 LB - 3
WR - 4 DB - 2.5
OL - 3 ..

Passing: Eli Manning, 481-279-15, 3401 yds., 21 TD's

Rushing: Ronald McClendon, 96 att., 378 yds., 3 TD's

Receiving: Chris Collins, 55 rec., 812 yds., 10 TD's

Scoring: Jonathan Nichols, 15-20 FG, 40-40 PAT, 85 pts.

Punting: Cody Ridgeway, 67 punts, 42.4 avg.

Kicking: Jonathan Nichols, 15-20 FG, 40-40 PAT, 85 pts.

Tackles: Eric Oliver, 129 tot., 80 solo

Sacks: Charlie Anderson, 3.5 sacks

Interceptions: Von Hutchins, 6 for 28 yds.

Kickoff returns: Ronald McClendon, 15 ret., 16.8 avg.

Punt returns: Mike Espy, 4 ret., 7.0 avg.


WS Von Hutchins
OFFENSE: Jason Armstead-WR, Doug Zeigler-TE, Ben Claxton-C, Belton Johnson-OT
DEFENSE: Yahrek Johnson-DT, Eddie Strong-MLB, Ryan Hamilton-SLB, Lanier Goethie-MLB, Matt Grier-SS, Desmon Johnson-CB, Chris Knight-CB

written by Collin Mickle

Junior quarterback Eli Manning finished second in the SEC in total offense with 3,401 yards. The Rebels as a team totaled 4663 yards, meaning that Manning was responsible for 72.9 percent of the team's entire offense output. The next-highest total in the SEC was Florida's Rex Grossman, who contributed 64.3%. Although the Rebels' struggling ground game can be partially blamed for this remarkable statistic, Manning deserves plenty of credit for essentially carrying his team to 7-6 and a bowl victory.

Manning is entering his third year as the Rebels' full time starter, and he has grown increasingly comfortable in the Rebels' pass-happy offense. He operated the 23rd ranked pass offense, the brainchild of head coach David Cutcliffe, offensive coordinator John Latina, and quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper. The offense plays to Manning's strengths - accuracy and a quick release - while spreading the field for the Rebels' speedy wideouts. In an age of scrambling, multi-threat quarterbacks, Manning is a relative statue in the pocket, but the Rebels' quality offensive line has done an outstanding job of pass protection (17 sacks in 12 games in 2002). Don't discount Manning's savvy in making that sack total so low.

Latina, who doubles as the team's offensive line coach, welcomes back an interesting mix of experienced youth and untested seniority to the o-line mix. Three starters return from the best 2002 pass-protecting unit in the SEC. All three - junior guards Doug Buckles and Marcus Johnson and sophomore left tackle Tre' Stallings - have at least two seasons of eligibility remaining.

The Rebels also return a solid group of wide receivers, headlined by senior Chris Collins and junior Bill Flowers. Collins was the fifth-leading receiver in the conference, catching 55 balls for 812 yards and 10 touchdowns and earning second-team all-SEC honors, despite starting only two games. Flowers, the starting split end, also had a productive season (53, 588, and three scores) as Manning's second option.

Speedy sophomore Mike Espy (30, 365, and three) led the team in average yards per reception last season. Espy is a big play waiting to happen, and could well be headed for a breakout season in 2003. Espy could play a major role in the Rebels' preferred three- and four-wide receiver sets.

The newcomers on the offensive line are untested and inexperienced. Senior Justin Sawyer, a three-year backup with just one start, will have the unenviable task of replacing center Ben Claxton, who was a second-team All-SEC selection last season. Senior Cliff Woodruff is the other new starter, replacing steady veteran Belton Johnson at right tackle.

The ground game was a major disappointment. Manning and the passing offense will remain the major focus, but the running game needs consistent production for overall offensive success. Tailback Robert Williams was productive in the early going before losing his job, first to injuries and then to discipline (Williams was kicked off the team in November 2002). Replacements Ronald McClendon, Tremaine Turner, and Vashon Pearson took turns rotating in and out of the lineup, but none was effective. All three return in 2003, with Turner the early favorite to take the starting job.

Whoever wins the competition will need to be considerably improved if Ole Miss is to capitalize on favorable match-ups created in the passing game. For now, the running game is Mississippi's most glaring weakness. The real dilemma is in figuring out the cause of such a poor ground attack. Was it the backs or the line? Answering that question will isolate the true weakness (it will probably point to both). It will be evident quickly as the season starts whether this was broken down and fixed in spring/summer ball. Our guess, as of now, is that this area will garner much attention and marginally improve.


QB Eli Manning


Returning Starters in bold
QB Eli Manning-Sr (6-5,218) Micheal Spurlock-So (5-11, 200)
FB Rick Razzano-Jr (5-11, 240) Lorenzo Townsend-Jr (6-2, 235)
RB Tremaine Turner-Sr (5-10, 200) Ronald McClendon-Sr / Vashon Pearson-So
WR Bill Flowers-Jr (6-1, 193) Tay Biddle-So (6-1, 175) / Kerry Johnson-Jr
WR Chris Collins-Sr (6-2, 190) Mike Espy-So (6-0, 187)
TE Eric Rice-Jr (6-3, 230) Lawrence Lilly-Fr (6-4, 265)
OT Tre' Stallings-So (6-4, 317) Bobby Harris-So (6-4, 315)
OG Doug Buckles-Jr (6-5, 300) James Campbell-Jr (6-5, 310)
C Justin Sawyer-Sr (6-3, 315) Tony Bonds-So (6-4, 308)
OG Marcus Johnson-Jr (6-6, 330) Chris Spencer-So (6-4, 320)
OT Cliff Woodruff-Sr (6-6, 301) Antonio Sanders-Fr (6-3, 310)
K Jonathan Nichols-Jr (6-0, 180) Lee Rogers-Sr (5-11, 182)



written by Collin Mickle

The road to improvement on defense starts up front, where the defensive line underachieved in 2002. Three of four starters return. Inside, senior NT Jesse Mitchell (6-1, 270), despite being undersized, plays big, as proven with his 11 TFLs in 2002. Next to Mitchell, sophomore McKinley Boykin will try to replace gritty, space-eating DT Yahrek Johnson. Boykin racked up 48 tackles in a reserve role and has the build (6-2, 285) to clog holes and free Mitchell to make plays. At defensive end, junior Josh Cooper and Charlie Anderson both return. Both players were inconsistent last season. Both are capable pass rushers (7 and 8.5 sacks, respectively) but are a little undersized to compete consistently against the run.

All three starting linebackers are gone, but their replacements are more than solid. The new starters - seniors Justin Wade, L.P. Spence, and Travis Blanchard - have a combined 17 career starts, all coming in 2002. Wade, who replaces Ryan Hamilton on the strong side, started the last eight games of the season at the position and played well, finishing with 59 tackles. Although Wade is undersized to play the strong side at 225 pounds, his speed enables him to work around blockers without having to fight through them. Spence, who will start at middle linebacker, played sparingly behind starter Eddie Strong. Entering his senior season after a detour through junior college, look for Spence to break out with a vengeance from the middle of the Rebels' defense.

The defensive backfield returns its top player in free safety Eric Oliver. Oliver led the team with 129 tackles. Corners Hutchins (five INTs) and Travis Johnson (three) return. Hutchins started the last three games after switching from rover, while Johnson replaced starter Chris Knight after the fifth game. Sophomore Kelvin Robinson, who played in all 13 games as a reserve, will take over at rover for Matt Grier. Robinson must grow up quickly, a tall task in the SEC.

Defensively, the 2002 Rebels were plagued by inconsistency. Solid defensive efforts - like the victory over Florida which held the Gators' to just 14 points - were overshadowed by disappointing performances like in their 42-7 loss to Alabama. Ole Miss was equally inept in finishing seventh in the SEC in rush defense and eighth in SEC pass defense.

Adding to the difficulty in 2003 will be the departure of six players who were opening day starters. The unit will have to adjust to six new faces in the starting lineup while improving overall performance. Coordinator Chuck Dreisbach will have his work cut out for him.


NT Jesse Mitchell


Returning Starters in bold
DE Josh Copper-Sr (6-4, 245) Jayme Mitchell-So (6-6, 280)
DT Daniel Booth-Jr (6-4, 281) Michael Bozeman-So (6-2, 290)
NT Jesse Mitchell-Sr (6-1, 277) Mike Gibson-So (6-2, 290)
DE Charlie Anderson-Sr (6-4, 240) Cory Robinson-Jr (6-4, 250)
MLB L.P. Spence-Sr (6-3, 220) Jamil Northcutt-Sr (6-2, 235)
SLB Justin Wade-Sr (6-3, 225) Rob Robertson-Jr (6-2, 228)
WS Travis Blanchard-Sr (5-11, 185) Wes Scott-Sr (6-1, 195)
CB Travis Johnson-So (6-1, 191) Bryan Brown-Fr (5-9, 185)
CB Von Hutchins-Sr (5-11, 184) Bryant Thomas-So (6-1, 195)
SS Kelvin Robinson-So (6-1, 215) Jeremy Ruffin-So (6-2, 200)
FS Eric Oliver-Jr (6-2, 210) Tavarus Horne-Jr (6-0, 203)
P Cody Ridgeway-Jr (6-1, 190) Wesley Bryan-Jr (6-2, 210)




The Rebels' special teams return largely intact. Junior kicker Jonathan Nichols (15-20 on FGAs) was one of the SEC's better kickers, scoring 85 points. Punter Cory Ridgeway was a solid performer, averaging 42.4 yards per kick but, more importantly, dropping 18 punts inside opponents' 20-yard lines.

Departed Jason Armstead handled both kickoff and punt return duties, and coaches have not yet designated his replacement. The coverage units ranked in the bottom half of the ACC, and the elevation of several backups to the starting lineup on defense will weaken defensive depth, especially on special teams.


QB Eli Manning passed up NFL dollars to come back and play one more season for his beloved Rebels- the ole boy truly is Ole Miss. He looks to take advantage of his final campaign and has already gotten a jumpstart on a great senior season with a marvelous spring practice. He is more focused than he has ever been and should be in the thick of the Heisman race all season long. Folks- watch out! … Cutcliffe says the run game has improved but there is still a good ways to go, in order for the Rebs to pose an honest ground threat. Leading the way after spring ball was Turner and Pearson in respective order. Look for freshman Dawan Woods to figure into the mix as well… With Razzano hurt most of the spring, junior Lorenzo Townsend was able to take most of the reps at fullback, giving the Rebels two quality blockers in the backfield… Sophomore WR Mario Hill stepped up in the absence of starters this spring, giving Manning just one more weapon to use at his disposal… Lack of depth on the O-line brings reason for worry, as this unit displayed some growing pains this spring.

The run defense has gotten better with practice this spring and, come fall, should be an improved area on the defense. Leading the way is fifth year senior Jesse Mitchell, who displayed not only talent this off-season, but valued leadership, which can take a team a little further than talent sometimes. The D-line is hoping for the return of soph McKinley Boykin this fall. Boykin, who sat out the spring due to back problems, was dubbed as the best defensive lineman of this group. His return would be greatly welcomed… LB Rob Robertson was the most improved player this spring and had admirable practices, boasting signs of good things from this side of the ball. Junior Ken Bournes is another player whom the coaching staff really likes and hopes he continues to blossom into a player this off-season. Jamil Northcutt has also drawn smiles with his play in the middle… An impact newcomer in the secondary might be JR SS Iroko Ayodele, who scattered hits all across the field this off-season.

There is a bit of concern in the Rebels' kicking game due to the loss of three-year snapper A.J. Kiamie. Transitioning a new deep snapper usually poses concerns against blocked kicks or botched attempts, especially early in the season.