Grading Mississippi student-athletes in the still-young college football season:
President's list: Ole Miss. The Rebels get an A-plus-plus. What's not to like? Ole Miss is 3-0 and averaging 64 points per game. The Rebs are a plus-6 in turnovers. The defense is salty. The offense is both efficient and explosive. The special teams have been especial.
Keep in mind, the Rebels have played without their best player, left tackle Laremy Tunsil, who might be the one guy in the country who could block teammate Robert Nkemdiche if called upon to do so. (I would not bet my life on this, however.)
The re-worked offensive line went into Tuscaloosa against the best front seven this side of the NFL and more than held its own. And we haven't even gotten to the best part.
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Chad Kelly, the JUCO transfer quarterback, has been nearly perfect. Stress-less performances against Tennessee-Martin and Fresno State were one thing. Smart folks wanted to see how he would perform after getting hit and under pressure. We saw. He answered all those questions at Tuscaloosa. He's the real deal. He has "it."
This refrain may sound familiar but is nevertheless true: If the Rebels can avoid the injuries that wrecked their 2014 championship hopes, they have a really good chance to be in the Final Four.
Honor roll: Mississippi State. That two-point loss to LSU doesn't look too awful after the Tigers' dominating performance against Auburn, does it? It appears now that the Bulldogs "held" Leonard Fournette to 159 yards. (While we're at it, give Fournette magna cum laude, the Rhodes scholarship or whatever the highest grade you can receive for two weeks of work. The guy is, well, he is to the point where we will be talking about Herschel, Bo and Leonard.)
State, 2-1 and headed to Auburn, faces a must-win situation on The Plains. The Bulldogs are far from a finished product. The secondary has been leaky. The offensive line needs work. But there's a lot of talent in Starkville, a lot of young talent that should only get better as the season progresses.
So much hinges on Saturday. They need to force Jeremy Johnson, the Auburn quarterback, to have to make plays. So far, he hasn't shown he can. Dak vs. Jeremy? No contest.
And if the Bulldogs get past Auburn, as they can and perhaps should, they then get a trip to College Station. Such is life in the SEC West.
Most improved: Without question, Southern Miss. And, yes, I realize a cynic would say the Golden Eagles didn't have far to go to be most improved.
But the Golden Eagles appear vastly improved. They even look better, much more sleek, stronger and more fit. They really did play well against Mississippi State, looking like they belonged on the same field. They toyed with Austin Peay and then survived their own errors and one of the best quarterbacks in the country (Tyler Jones) nobody has ever heard of in a 56-50 victory over Texas State.
Looking back over USM's proud history that road victory in San Marcos, Texas, might not look like much. But compared to the last three years, it is a huge step forward. USM won a game it would have lost last year, the year before or the year before that. That's progress.
Next: Nebraska, at Nebraska. The Golden Eagles will be huge underdogs, but if they can protect Nick Mullens -- a huge if -- they can make it really interesting. Given time, Mullens is accurate and his arm strength will surprise you. He has thrown for 913 yards and eight touchdowns (vs. three interceptions) in three games.
And in the SWAC: Alcorn, 2-1, gets a B. Jackson State and Mississippi Valley, at 0-3, get Fs. Valley has been outscored 172-17. JSU has given up 52 per game. The only way to go is up. They play one another Oct. 31 at Itta Bena. Meanwhile, neither wants a piece of D-II Delta State (another A-plus), undefeated and averaging 50 points per game.
Rick Cleveland, (email@example.com) is executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.