While the Dawgs' opening month of the 2011 season can't exactly be called easy, they do at least get to play their first three games at home, or at least nearby. The fourth week of the season features the team's first true road trip of 2011, to Oxford, Miss., where the Ole Miss Rebels will be waiting. The Rebels have been a hard team to predict under Houston Nutt -- he steered them out of their embarrassing Ed Orgeron trough to go 18-8 his first two seasons, only to face-plant to 4-8 last year despite fielding a transfer QB with a Pac-10 title on his résumé. Regardless, Nutt has been a dangerous guy to overlook or underestimate.
BETTER KNOW THE REBELS
Coach: Houston Nutt, 22-16 in three years at Ole Miss; 133-86 overall
Last season: 4-8, 1-7 SEC; finished 6th in the SEC West and unranked
Returning starters for 2011: 16 (nine offense, five defense, two special teams)
Key returners: RB Branden Bolden, LT Bradley Sowell, CB Damien Jackson, DE Wayne Dorsey
Key losses: DE Kentrell Lockett, NT Jerrell Powe, WR Markeith Summers, QB Jeremiah Masoli
Best-case scenario: Isaiah Crowell racks up big numbers against a weakened Ole Miss front seven, giving the Dawgs a confidence-building win as they head into the heart of their SEC schedule. The Rebels ranked near the bottom of the conference in every defensive category last season, and it's hard to see that improving much with the biggest contributors on their defensive front moving on (and with linebacker D.T. Shackelford likely to miss the season with a torn ACL). If the Dawgs win in Oxford and at least split the Boise State and South Carolina games, they'd be no worse than 3-1 heading into the second month of the season -- the exact reverse of their record at the same point last year.
Worst-case scenario: Quarterback Randall Mackey manages to exploit the weaknesses in Georgia's secondary and lead the Rebs to a win. Make no mistake, the Rebels' QB situation is less than optimal -- first Jeremiah Masoli belly-flopped throughout most of 2011, then his presumptive successor, Nathan Stanley, got fed up with his spring depth-chart descent and transferred -- but Georgia simply doesn't have enough warm bodies in the secondary at this point, particularly at safety, to be overconfident about anything related to pass defense. And while Georgia's improving front seven should be able to take some heat off the DBs by applying greater pressure to Mackey, the Ole Miss offensive front returns all five starters from last year and should be formidable. The Dawgs suffered a stunning loss on their last late-September road trip to the Magnolia State -- they can't afford to let that happen again.