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Heisman hype boosts Manning

The same is synonymous with great quarterbacks.

Certainly, Ole Miss senior Eli Manning has greatness written allover him. Experts say he can become a better quarterback thaneither his father, Archie, or his older brother, Peyton.

NFL fans are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Eli Manning.Opposing SEC teams are gearing up for the Rebels. Defensivecoordinators are devising devilish schemes to stop Manning and theOle Miss passing attack.

Meanwhile, in Oxford, Eli’s Heisman Trophy campaign is beinglaunched by Ole Miss sports information director LangstonRogers. But no matter how much money is spent on thepromotional campaign, Manning and the Rebels must first be winnerson the gridiron.

That’s the hard part and that’s the bottom line.

According to a Sports Illustrated rating, Manning hasfive Heisman hopefuls ahead of him. What kind of season runningback Maurice Claret of Ohio State, wide receiverRoy Williams of Texas and quarterbacksPhillip Rivera of North Carolina State,Eli Roberson of Kansas State and CodyPickett of Washington produce this fall could determineManning’s Heisman stock when December rolls around.

Well, hotty-toddy. Who in the heck am I?

For sure, yours truly would love to see Eli win the Heisman.That’s good for Ole Miss and very good for the Magnolia State andthe South in general.

Ole Miss must win this season and win impressively against atough schedule. It certainly would help to win the SEC West and theSEC championship. That’s a tall order and we doubt if the Rebelsare up to that level.

By all rights, the Rebels should be 3-0 after playingVanderbilt, Memphis and Louisiana-Monroe. They have an open date onSept. 20, before hosting Texas Tech in another probable win.

Next up is a severe test Oct. 4, at Florida. Then the Rebelsreturn home for Arkansas State and homecoming. At worst, theyshould be 5-1 entering an Oct. 18 home date with Alabama.

Next comes the crushing stretch run of the SEC schedule. TheRebels host Arkansas Oct. 25 and South Carolina Nov. 1. Then theyvisit Auburn and Coach Tommy Tuberville on Nov.15. After another open date, the Rebels host LSU on Nov. 22.

Five days later, Ole Miss travels to Starkville to playMississippi State on Thanksgiving night. The Egg Bowl will be morelate-season national television exposure for Manning.

On paper, the schedule certainly favors Ole Miss. Last year theyfinished 7-6, beating Nebraska in the Independence Bowl.

Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe has 50 lettermenreturning but first pause and consider the starters lost who mustbe replaced.

On offense, center Ben Claxton, tackleBelton Johnson, tight end DougZiegler and wide receiver Jason Armsteadwill be missed. On the bright side, linemen DougBuckles and Marcus Johnson are returningat guard and Tre’ Stallings returns at tackle.

Manning has a stable of talented receivers back in ChrisCollins, Bill Flowers and Mario Hill atsplit end and Mike Espy and TayeBiddle at flanker. Running back should be better withTremaine Turner and VashonPearson returning. Certainly, a strong running game wouldtake some heat off Manning. At fullback, RickRazzano and Brandon Jacobs are theleaders.

How much the Ole Miss defense improves this season shouldmeasure how many games the Rebels win in the SEC West. Next toCutcliffe, Ole Miss defensive coordinator ChuckDreisbach has the most pressure-packed position on thestaff.

On the defensive line, Charlie Anderson andJosh Cooper are 3-year lettermen and returningstarters at end. Jesse Mitchell is a 3-yearlettermen at tackle.

At linebacker, Ole Miss lost one starter in 4-year lettermanEddie Strong. Returning is JustinWade. In the secondary, Von Hutchins andTravis Johnson return at cornerback. EricOliver is a returning starter at free safety.Travis Blanchard returns at whip safety.

At middle linebacker, L.P. Spence andJami Northcutt are senior, 2-year lettermen.

On the local scene, Lawrence County and Co-Lin productKen Bournes is expected to make a contribution atlinebacker after redshirting last season. Bournes (6-2, 265) wasconsidered the top player in the junior college ranks two yearsago.

The kicking game should be in good shape with the return ofpunter Cody Ridgeway and placekickerJonathan Nichols.

Cutcliffe is concerned about replacing 3-year long snapperA.J. Kiamie. Top candidates are SidneyMcLaurin, a sophomore from Brandon (Jackson Prep)andAndrew Wicker, a redshirt freshman from Zachary,La., by way of Silliman Institute.

Most of the players are on campus taking summer courses andkeeping in shape. Offseason strength and conditioning workouts aremandatory.

Obviously, Manning and his Rebel teammates have highexpectations. So do the Ole Miss fans.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz at P.O. Box 551,Brookhaven, Miss., or e-mail sports@dailyleader.com.