Expectations are high for both Vanderbilt and Ole Miss as they prepare for their season-opener on Thursday night.
Both schools are approaching a turning point in their SEC existences, but which will take the next step into full-blown contender this season?
After a nine-win campaign in 2012, Vandy has the leadership it needs to get it done. However, with few returning starters, coach James Franklin has his work cut out for him. And it’s not going to be easy with the schedule his team is facing.
That difficult road starts with a date with Mississippi to kick things off. The Rebels are also on the verge of breaking out—this year or next—thanks to an incredible top-10 recruiting class. They’ll hope to continue to draw in successful classes, and keep the recruits they’ve already signed, by producing success on the field.
When: Thursday, August 29 at 9:15 p.m. ET
Where: Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, Tenn.
TV Coverage: ESPN
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Betting Line (per Bovada): Over/Under: 53; Spread: Ole Miss (-3.5)
Out: WR Korvic Neat (knee)
Questionable: TE Christian Morgan (knee), RB I’Tavius Mathers (ankle)
Probable: RB Kailo Moore (concussion), DE C.J. Johnson (leg), LB Denzel Nkemdiche (groin), DT Isaac Gross (hernia)
Out: WR Chris Boyd (suspension)
Revenge is the sweetest motivator. That’s exactly what the Rebels have on their minds as they prepare for this important season-opener. Last year, Vandy stole a victory from them on a late fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Chris Boyd at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
That ending didn’t come without some controversy. Prior to the game-winning grab, Vandy seemed to come up short on a 4th-and-1 attempt, but referees gave them a generous spot that garnered them a first down. Later, SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw labeled the call “an incorrect one,” according to Hugh Kellenberger of The Clarion-Ledger.
Not only is revenge on the Rebels’ minds, but justice is as well.
Vandy is going to struggle moving the football early on in 2013 without running back Zac Stacy and quarterback Jordan Rodgers. To make matters worse, receiver Chris Boyd—50 rec., 774 yards and five touchdowns in 2012—has been suspended indefinitely after being indicted for providing cover-up assistance to former teammates implicated in a campus rape case.
In addition to those gaps, the Commodores are facing a tough defense headlined by All-SEC linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche and his brother, Robert, the No. 1 overall high school prospect in 2013. The Rebels also are fielding 10 returning starters from a unit that boasted the 46th-best total defense in 2012, allowing just 375.85 points per contest.
The odds aren’t good that the shorthanded and inexperienced ‘Dores will be able to hang with Ole Miss, even at home, on Thursday night. They might get better as the season progresses, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready to contend.
Final Score: Ole Miss 35, Vanderbilt 21