FOOTBALL: 2003 vs. 2008

Who ya got?

While the 2003 Ole Miss football team was led by arguably the best quarterback in school history, won 10 games and finished No. 13 in the rankings, I’ll take 2008 as the better team.

The 2008 defense was clearly better and improved throughout the season, even until the bowl game when the cornerbacks — with help from a standout line and pass rush — made some plays in man coverage against an outstanding passing offense.

The 2003 team led the SEC in total offense with 433.2 yards a game, compared to the 2008 team’s 407.6 yards a game that ranked third in the SEC.

The 2008 team was a much better rushing team, about 40 yards a game better statistically. That balance, that the 2003 team didn’t have, subtracts a little bit from your passing numbers, though the Rebels finished fourth in the league there at 221.1 yards a game.

Eli’s senior team led the SEC in passing at 286.0 yards a game.

The 2003 team had good receivers but collectively not the talent this year’s team had, nor did it spread the ball around as effectively. The 2003 team also did not have a multi-purpose threat like Dexter McCluster.

I did not arrive in Mississippi until 1989, so I fall short of being a football historian for the state.

I have covered some really good teams, and I’ve covered some flops.

The 2000 Mississippi State team, that finished 8-4 after the Snow Bowl win in Shreveport, was the best team I’d covered for a long time. That changed this season.

That 2000 MSU team, when healthy, had a nice collection of talent and rebounded from a slow start to post very impressive back-to-back wins over Florida and Auburn, both in Starkville and both televised by CBS.

No Mississippi team I’ve covered, however, clicked in all three phases for such a sustained period of time as Ole Miss did this season.

I try not to get too involved in the “if they’d have just made this play or not turned the ball over against (insert Wake Forest, South Carolina, Vanderbilt or all three) then they’d have had this many wins.”

When you do that it’s only fair to say “If TIm Tebow had made this throw or that throw, then it’s doubtful Ole Miss would have won at Florida.”

Yes, the Rebels were very close to 11 or 12 wins and being in the BCS bowl discussion.

Just taking the season for what it was, however, is still mighty impressive.

— PA

37 Responses to “FOOTBALL: 2003 vs. 2008”

  1. Raleighrebel Says:

    Agreed. I’m no historian either, but I think this is the best Rebel team in decades. I was still pumped about the Cotton Bowl win yesterday and watched the replay of the Ole Miss vs Florida win online, and although we played a great game, those turnovers by Florida sure helped a lot. That game could have gone either way. I just hope we can carry this momentum and experience into next season and put up a fight for the SEC West. However, if that doesn’t happen, I’ll be happy with just another bowl appearance.

  2. JakeFuryReb Says:

    I agree that the 2008 team is better. The 2003 team only had a few playmakers, like Eli, Vashon Pearson, and Mike Espy. This year, the list could continue until probably every starter is named. There was just more depth and more quality guys on the field.

    But you know what PA? Maybe this time next year, we’ll be discussing 1962 vs. 2009, which to throw some facts in there, won a share of the national title in ’62. Just maybe.

  3. djrebel Says:

    Jake, this team has a chance to be very good in 2009. It will be new territory for the program, to be the team with the target on its back, and Nutt, staff and players will have to respond to that.

    They also need to stay injury-free, kind of like this season once that got past that rash of DL injuries in August.

    Speaking of the DL, there’s talent on depth in place, but the loss of Peria Jerry will be felt, and Greg Hardy is still TBA.

    All in all it’s a much better situation for the Rebels than their recent past.

    — PA

  4. VA Reb Says:

    Agree. The 2008 team is better, mostly based on depth and guys who can make plays from anywhere on the field. Eli, and I’m a huge fan of his, would also sling one to the opposition on occasion. I think most of that came from having to do too much by himself. This year’s running attack and Coach Nutt’s willingness to stick to it in the early part of the game so that it was more effective in the 4th quarter also set this team apart. Teams just can’t be one dimensional any more. The defenses are too quick and too smart. And, I’m thinking that the 2009 team is going to be even better!!

  5. JB Says:

    how about the 1959 team? They only gave up 21 points the entire season and beat LSU in the Sugar Bowl 21-0.

  6. oxfordrebel Says:

    I think that the 2003 offense could hold their own with anyone, but the defense in the 2008 squad makes the big difference. I haven’t seen a D-line this dominant for the Rebs in my life me thinks. Jerry will be greatly missed, but we’ve got some great potential coming in as well. Even if Hardy goes, that means more time for Lockett which showed great skill at the position at times during the season.

    It was also really good to see the secondary grow up through the season, from starting off weak to finish as a seemingly totally different bunch of guys. They really responded in a positive way through every game, and it showed in the Cotton Bowl.

    Who saw this coming? What a great season, and hopefully a sign of a first Western Division crown in 2009. Congrats Rebs, and thanks again for great coverage this season PA, you did another excellent job.

  7. JakeFuryReb Says:

    I agree with that year too, JB. Maybe in a few years we can forget the ears and start comparing Nutt to Vaught.

  8. cr Says:

    The 2008 team was better coached.

  9. rebbacker Says:

    I would go with the 2008 team over the 2003 team for one reason overall team speed this is the fastest team from top to bottom that I believe Ole Miss has fielded in the modern era. Although, the Eli factor would make it a very close game.

  10. Charles Says:

    Here is a replay of the game for those who haven’t already seen it twice and would like to savor this one……

    I think our team should be really solid next year. We will have a ton of strengths. Just curious to see what everyone thinks we will need to work on in the offseason and where our weaknesses will be? P. Jerry will be missed as well as Hardy if he leaves, but we should be solid at D-line, QB, RB’s, Receivers(although from what I’m hearing we need to bring in a speed guy to replace Wallace). G. Harris looks like he will be a big target for Snead next year. Also really looking forward to seeing Melvin Harris in action next year. Secondary should be improved. Marshay Green has really impressed me in the last several games. Jamar Hornsby will be a big pickup since we’re losing Sanford. LB’s will miss Palmer, but have good talent returning. Shene will be coming back as a solid kicker. I’m a little concerned about our depth at O-line, but think we should have a solid group of starters. Will John Jerry move to left tackle, or will that be Bradley Sowell?

  11. Mike Says:

    Offensive line is my biggest concern for next year. If Markuson can coach him up and I think he can, Sowell could be a monster at left tackle. Does anyone know what the latest is on Bobby Massie? Would love to see him in Ole Miss colors next year.

  12. Charles Says:

    If we can pull a suprise and land Bobbie Massie or if somehow Roy Watts changes his mind after watching the Cotton bowl, then I really like our chances at contending for the West next year. Both seem to be long shots, but Nutt does have the reputation for pulling a few tricks out of his sleave.

  13. PatrickH Says:

    Gotta agree: the 2008 team is better.

    Replays: Thanks for that link, Charles. I just watched the first half again, and it’s the first time I’ve ever watched anything on

    The game is now also available for download at iTunes for $2.99. (I don’t think you can download videos from, but I may be mistaken.)

  14. rebelt Says:

    I think Jevan Snead could make a run at Eli’s records.

  15. colreb420 Says:

    2008 team hands down they would dominate the line of scrimmage.

  16. djrebel Says:

    There’s a tendency here on a question like this to favor the 2008 team, because that team is so clear and fresh in the memory bank, but I honestly think the 2008 team is better and by not just a little bit.

    — PA

  17. Jorel Says:

    Agree on the 2008 squad. Better line play, better skill players, better running game, better special teams, and much, much more creative playcalling. Better coaching all around, in fact.

    Here’s hoping the 2009 squad will make us forget about 2008.

  18. JB Says:

    With a six (6) game winning streak on the tail end of this season, I doubt that the Rebels will not finish up in the final polls as high as the 2003 team.

  19. djrebel Says:

    JB, it’s hard to compare different eras, but does the 2008 team remind you of any of Vaught’s better teams? I see your post on the 1959 team above.

    — PA

  20. RavenReb Says:


    Marcus Temple was our second leading tackler in Cotton Bowl. How did he end up at Ole Miss? I did not see his name on any committment lists on the Ole Miss web site. I noticed he came from Hargrave and wondered if he came as part of the Enrique Davis signing.

    Thanks, and I really enjoy your blog; you do a great job.

  21. pBeez Says:

    I’ll vote for the ’08 team. In ’03 I was so excited, I really thought we’d win the conference, I was disappointed. A lot of this way Eli-hype, but I never felt those teams lived up to expectations. Great teams, but not great enough . . . how is that for being an fan-atic?

    That being said, on Fienbaum this afternoon, of course all they talked about was Bama, but some folks talked about the great staffs being assembled at A-Burn and UT. Nothing about Ole Miss (while I was in the car). Let them over look us, that makes our row that much easier to hoe.

  22. JakeFuryReb Says:

    I just got to say, Mike Leach looks like a heavy-set Dustin Hoffman. 😀

  23. hodges Says:


    eli was great but i think the QB before him deserve just as much credit. Who took them thru the motor city bowl, and 3 more bowls after that. It was with his signing that brought duece mcallister along with speedy wide out joseph thompson. The ole miss rebel QB was great in all aspects of the game. I know eli is a hero to some but their was saviors before him as well.
    I remember Romero Miller. 3 bowls, great passer and runner… never hear his name mentioned……..

  24. hodges Says:


    From the mississippi soldiers stationed abroad like myself, We love you,
    Looking forward to 2009 i will be watching from iraq, make us proud……

  25. JB Says:

    PA, Sorry about the delay, we were on line with our friend in England,UK.

    The best that I can remember about that 1959 team and college football teams of that era, is the players much smaller than the players on todays teams , College and Pro.
    59 Ole Miss OL much smaller than today. Line range about 6’2″-6’5″ and at from 230 to around 250. They had speed and maneuverability. The defense about the same, or maybe smaller. The o-end on that team Larry Grantham, who went on to the NYJets as a linebacker at 212 lb, and played for years, some as All-Pro. Other on that team to NFL and Pro-baseball. Jake Gibbs, NY Yankee, Billy Brewer, Johnny Brewer Charley Flowers, Bobby Franklin, others memory collapse. (Dr. Robert Khayat) on that team.

    The Rebels ran a split-T form of offense, option, ball control. They executed this style offense superbly.

  26. RebelDave Says:

    PA, I’ve been a rabid fan since 1969 and that includes Archie(Manning). Trying to be totally objective, I believe this is the best Ole Miss team I’ve seen. I still worry somewhat about depth as we were very blessed after losing Hardy and P. Jerry early in year. I believe the chemistry was unusual on this team because of the past loses and failures.

  27. djrebel Says:

    Thanks JB.

    RavenReb, Temple was a Hargrave kid, a late signee. I forget what his deal was around signing day, but he was basically a Virginia kid who had some talks with UVA and Tech but nothing that went anywhere. I think that’s what he told us back in September. He jumped into the consciousness on fourth-and-1 in Gainesville when he was the first to make contact with Tebow.

    — PA

  28. djrebel Says:

    Hodges, thanks for checking in. I appreciate the sacrifice you make for all of us.

    The Motor City Bowl was before my time on the beat, but I’m thinking that was Stewart Patridge at quarterback for Ole Miss.

    — PA

  29. JB Says:

    This 2008 team is a very good one, and thanks to Coach O for bringing it to Ole Miss. Thanks to Coach Nutt and staff for handling and leading it to a victorious season.

  30. JB Says:

    Hodges, thanks to you in taking time out of your life to serve in military services for our country. Hoping that your tour of duty will be over soon and you can be back home with your loved ones.

  31. m4rebs Says:

    This year’s team was impressive, and the overachieving that it did is helping add to it’s ora. One thing this team did do was get us Ole Miss folks excited again, like someone else mentioned above, sucking for 4 years helps do some things to the way you feel about a team. Looking at the attendances of the bowl games, other than the BCS National Championship game, I suspect we will be the highest percentage attended game. By that, I mean we sold all the tickets to the game. We will only trail the BCS NC game and the Rose Bowl in attendance. The Rose Bowl had 93K in attendance, but like I said, we had a higher percentage of folks in the seats for the Cotton. I think the Rose seats like 108K. Looks like the Fiesta is pretty packed, so my numbers may be skewed, but long story short, we supported our teams that made it to the Cotton Bowl. The Cotton Bowl folks had to sit the Cotton Bowl Band in the Tech side of the Bowl, I suppose since we sold more tickets….something to be said for the 2nd smallest school in the Southeastern Conference.

  32. m4rebs Says:

    For the record, I picked Ole Miss against the Red Raiders in 3 of the 4 Bowl Pools I submitted:

    I tried to copy and paste the picks, but you guys will just have to take my word.

  33. JakeFuryReb Says:

    m4, just remember..91% of America DIDN’T vote for Ole Miss. You have to feel good about that one.

  34. RebelGiant Says:

    I would say that my favorite all time season was in 2003, highlighted by the game against LSU for the SEC west (even though it was a loss), then the Cotton bowl win against OK State.

    But now I gotta rank 08 as the best so far.

    I agree that the ’08 rebs are a better team from top to bottom. Also, it is an awesome feeling to know the Rebs have 2 more years of excellent QB play, as opposed to ’03 when we knew Eli was moving on.

    The future looks bright!

    JakeFuryReb, I think Leach looks like a hefty Vince Gill.

  35. L2 Says:

    Agreed on ’08 team. ’03 was amazing….but as many mentioned above, with Eli in charge, it seemed like they feel beneath the expectations set. I still feel like one of his 3 years leading the team should somehow have led to Atlanta??
    After this team started 3-4, somehow you still had to feel like ‘it’ was still there for them to be a good team.
    I remember reading a post one Alabama fan put up after they beat us there….he said that ‘if Ole Miss plays the rest of the year like they just played us, then they have lost their final game this season.’ Boy, were they prophetic!
    I’m not wanting to sound like a HOMER too much with Nutt, but he just exudes excitement. Not one game was this team unprepared to play – at least it felt that way to me. Looking back – I don’t know if I can say that. There were some games that team didn’t play to what some might have expected….even though I am not complaining about what the ’03 team accomplished!!
    For me personally, this year was just the most fun I’ve had as a Rebel in a LONG TIME!

    I know an injury here or there can affect things greatly as we have witnessed with the BBall team – but for the next 6 1/2 months – we have got a WHOLE LOT to look forward too. Here’s hoping 91.4% of the Nation is against this year’s bunch!!

  36. L2 Says:

    Excuse me – meant to say ….. ‘Looking back, I don’t know that I can say that about the ’03 team.’ I can’t type and think at the same time!

  37. Mike Says:

    Actually, I think Mike Leach sort of looks like Ben Stiller at the end of the movie Dodgeball, sitting in the recliner eating the turkey leg. “Freakin’ Chuck Norris.”

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