Much more than conference rankings are at stake for senior defensive end Greg Hardy and junior quarterback Jevan Snead when #4 Mississippi travels to South Carolina this evening.
The heavily hyped duo have been less than impressive in the Rebels' first two games of the season. Hardy, seemingly perpetually battling foot injuries, was held out of last week's tuneup against Southeastern Louisiana. He posted a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery in the opener against Memphis on September 6th, but was injured early on and only made spot appearances the rest of the game. He enters tonight's game with only the one tackle thus far.
Scouts know Hardy has talent. Unlike many of the recent SEC pass rushers with his type of production (33.5 career TFLS, 21.5 sacks), Hardy is a complete defensive end, blessed with the size and strength to be a force in the running game, as well as a pass-rusher. His struggles with durability and odd behavior, however, make him especially vulnerable to a significant slip down draft boards should his play not improve soon.
Snead, after struggling mightily against Memphis early with poor decision-making, inaccurate throws to all levels of the field and questionable mechanics (especially when on the move), settled down late. He was great last week against Southeastern Louisiana (3 TDs-0 INTs), but then again, it was Southeastern Louisiana... He enters the game with a TD-INT ratio of 5-2, with obviously his two touchdowns and two interceptions coming against the Tigers on the 6th. Snead has the arm that every NFL team is looking for, but will have to play under control tonight against a very aggressive and athletic USC defensive backfield. I know of scouts who feel the Gamecocks are as deep in the secondary as any team in the country. And without Michael Oher there to protect Snead's blindside, it would be typical Eric Norwood-style to steal Greg Hardy's thunder with a big performance in front of the scouts and national television audience.
Besides the NFL draft angle, this game is huge in terms of the SEC race and BCS rankings. The game, which will be televised nationally by ESPN, features a Mississippi squad that hasn't been ranked this high in nearly 40 years. They have loads of NFL talent on their roster and appear ready to avenge last season's loss to South Carolina. Don't sleep on the Spurrier-led Gamecocks, however. Their ability to beat more talented teams in their house makes them one of the more dangerous opponents in all of the SEC.