July 14, 2008

Rebels ready for big week at QB position

It's mid-July.

Ole Miss and Memphis don't kick off their respective football seasons for eight weeks or so.

Houston Nutt's first Southeastern Conference Football Media Days appearance as Ole Miss' coach is still 10 days away. The Rebels' much-anticipated invitation-only camp comes two days after Nutt, Michael Oher and Peria Jerry make the rounds at The Wynfrey hotel.

Still, this is not a sleepy week for the Ole Miss football program. In fact, it's anything but that. Instead, the next few days could be downright critical.

You can win at Ole Miss, but it sure helps to have a good quarterback. The Rebels were solid with Stewart Patridge and Romaro Miller under center and almost perfect in the SEC during Eli Manning's senior campaign in 2003. Since then, the quarterback position in Oxford has mostly been a void, and the Rebels haven't sniffed a bowl game. That's not to imply that the lack of strong quarterback play is the only reason David Cutcliffe in 2004 and Ed Orgeron over the past three years couldn't get the Rebels into the postseason, but let's face it -- it didn't help.

There are awfully high hopes for incoming quarterback Jevan Snead, and after watching the former Texas signal-caller run the offense in the spring, the belief here is those hopes are very much justified. Former tight end Billy Tapp had his moments in the spring as Snead's backup, and the staff is high on incoming freshman Nathan Stanley.

The Rebels had planned to bring in two quarterbacks this fall, but Chris Wilkes signed a professional baseball contact with the San Diego Padres' organization. That made it imperative that the Rebels sign two quarterbacks in February.

One, Louisville, Miss., three-star prospect Clayton Moore, is already committed. Moore has a chance to be a very good player, as evidenced by his considerable offer list. He's a good athlete with an above average arm. He's coachable and seems to possess strong leadership skills. However, it's far from a secret that Moore wasn't on top of the Rebels' wish-list at quarterback.

One of the players above Moore, Mobile, Ala., four-star A.J. McCarron, took an unofficial visit to Ole Miss earlier this summer and reportedly loved it. However, McCarron is verbally committed to Alabama, and there are no real signs that he plans to back off that commitment to the Crimson Tide, whether it be to go to Ole Miss or anywhere else.

Two of the other prospects above Moore _ Kansas City, Mo., standout Nathan Scheelhaase and San Antonio, Texas, fast-riser Drew Allen _ are very much in the news this week.

Scheelhaase, who began his whirlwind summer tour with a trip to Ole Miss in early June, is scheduled to make his college choice known on Wednesday afternoon. The four-star standout has publicly narrowed his choices to Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Ole Miss, Stanford, Missouri and South Florida. There has been quite a bit of conflicting information _ much of it coming from Scheelhaase's father, former Iowa player Nate Creer _ coming out in recent days, but most sources believe Oklahoma, Iowa and Kansas (and perhaps Illinois) are the finalists.

That looming decision hangs in the background of Allen's visit to Ole Miss today and tomorrow. The Rebels' staff covets Allen, but Oklahoma State made a very strong impression on the Texan earlier this summer. It's expected that Allen won't make a decision during his visit to Oxford, the second one he's made during his recruiting. Instead, he'll likely return to San Antonio to talk things over with his father and other family members.

However, should Allen tell Ole Miss coaches this week that he wants to be a Rebel, Nutt and Co. would accept his commitment in celebratory fashion, Scheelhaase's decision notwithstanding. In other words, Allen isn't on anything resembling a back burner this week. Ole Miss would love nothing more than for Allen to leave Oxford very much a Rebel.

Make no mistake, Ole Miss would absolutely love to land commitments from both Scheelhaase and Allen, but that scenario is far from realistic. A more realistic possibility, unfortunately, is one in which both Scheelhaase and Allen make decisions that don't include Ole Miss.

Following a weekend that saw Mississippi State add three more in-state commitments _ Patrick Patterson, Deontae Skinner and William Shumpert _ it's important for the Rebels' recruiting efforts to gain some traction. Getting a commitment from either Scheelhaase or Allen in the coming days would do just that. Losing both, make no mistake about it, would leave the new Rebel staff scrambling.

So yeah, it's mid-July, but these are days that will likely be often-discussed in the coming years.

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