And here is why old Eli will be our NEW QB!
Consistency key for Manning, Ole Miss
By Ivan Maisel
Eli Manning is embarking on his senior season at the University of Mississippi as a quarterback with instant name recognition, a prototype NFL body, an unmatched NFL pedigree and 24 school passing records -- 13 of them set or held at one time by his father Archie.
Eli has also been 14-10 as a starter, which doesn't translate into championships. It translates into one bowl game in Shreveport.
As the season begins, the first Southeastern Conference quarterback on NFL minds is not Manning, but Jared Lorenzen of Kentucky. That raises the question: if he were Eli Jones, would anyone look twice at him? Is he among the first wave of quarterback names because he is a quarterback, or because he is a name?
Eli Manning owns 24 school passing records at Ole Miss.
Ole Miss thinks he's a name, but it's not Manning. The university is promoting him on its football web site by posting his accomplishments at www.olemisssports.com/eli. He is one with the campus. He grew up coming to Oxford, which his parents considered a second home (and now own one, purchased during Eli's career). He lives on the Square in the center of town, in an apartment that his brother Cooper rented when he played wide receiver for the Rebels a decade ago.
Still, if he hadn't been a Manning, he may not have thought twice about Ole Miss. Not that he hasn't enjoyed his time as campus royalty, even if he never looked at it as such.
"I don't think I could have had it better at any other college," Manning says. "I definitely chose the right school. I've had a great time. It's been a perfect place for me."
The fact is, you can't anymore take the Manning out of Eli, anymore than you can decide he's no longer 6-foot-5, 218 pounds. His size and his experience are what make him tick. CBS analyst Todd Blackledge, who tells me something I don't know in just about every conversation, watched Eli and Peyton work together over the summer and couldn't get over how Little Bro' is a carbon copy of Big Bro'. They drop back the same, set up the same, throw the same. That's what happens when you grow up in the same house and have been taught by the same man, David Cutcliffe.
"They are unbelievably accurate with the ball and balanced emotionally," says Cutcliffe, the former Tennessee offensive coordinator beginning his fifth full season as Ole Miss head coach. "You gain a sense of confidence. Eli is looking for a consistent level of outstanding play, and that's what Mannings are able to do. I've had nine years. It will be unusual (without one). I don't have anything to complain about. Most would say I'm pretty lucky."
That said, Eli's numbers traveled in the wrong direction from his sophomore year to his junior year. Averaging roughly the same number of attempts per game in each season, Manning's touchdown passes decreased from 31 to 21. His interceptions increased from nine to 15.
In 10 games against BCS opponents last season, the Rebels rushed for no more than 107 yards in any one game. Manning decided he had to make something happen, and often he did -- for the other team.
As a sophomore, Manning said, "Things were easier. People were open. Last year, things were tight. We had a lot of third-and-sevens, third-and-10s. I got frustrated trying to make plays, forcing the ball, throwing interceptions.
"It's hard not to be competitive but you just can't force balls. Throw it away, lay it off and see if the back can make a guy miss and get a first down. You just got to play smart football."
It sounds as if he has learned the right lesson. He may need to heed it. Four tailbacks suffered injuries during spring ball. Redshirt freshman Jamal Pittman, who tore an ACL during spring practice, has rehabbed so quickly that the trainer took away his yellow jersey this week. He is Ole Miss's best hope to take a load off of Manning's right shoulder.
Manning dipped his toe into the NFL draft pool last January but decided against diving in.
"It was a hard decision. I looked into everything," Manning says. "I wanted to improve as a quarterback. I've only started 24 games. That's not a whole lot of games to play at the college level. Twelve or 13 more is a big difference."
If Ole Miss is to challenge Auburn and LSU for the SEC West championship, it will be because of experience. Manning is one of 11 fifth-year players on the roster. Their camaraderie is another reason he returned for this fall. Cutcliffe spoke of Manning's consistency. If he can get it from his entire team, the Rebels will be tough.
"We've beaten Alabama, Arkansas, Florida. We've beaten all those teams," Manning says of his career. "We just have to do it in one season."
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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