Ole Miss vs. Vanderbilt
Ole Miss entered Thursday's game under the weight of a three-game losing streak to Vanderbilt and having lost six out of the last eight games to a team that only beat Ole Miss 10 times out of the last 50 years previously.
Obviously, this is not your father's Vanderbilt in 2013. After finally capitalizing on the early SEC playing time and a priceless diploma, head coach James Franklin has stacked up some talent in Nashville and has developed a lot more.
Vandy's tradition has been playing tough and accepting moral victories after collapsing in the last five minutes of games, year after year.
James Franklin has begun to break that mold and make believers in Nashville. Even with the first game setback as Ole Miss pulled out a last-minute miracle over Franklin's squad 39-35, this is not the same old heartbreak for Vanderbilt fans.
Franklin lost a lot of offense to the NFL draft, graduation and the Nashville Police Department (WR Chris Boyd suspension). His ability to hold this team together and put up 35 points in an SEC opener is remarkable, and Ole Miss should feel very lucky right now to steal this win. It will not happen many times in Nashville again this year.
Once Vanderbilt has a couple of weeks to make corrections and tweak this offense, they will be knocking on nine wins again and headed for their third consecutive bowl in 2013, for the first time in their history.
For Ole Miss, the pressure of the Vanderbilt losing streak and the hype of a top-five recruiting class has put a spotlight on Hugh Freeze's Rebels that he worked hard in the offseason to dim.
The fans' expectations of getting solid production out of true freshmen is a losing proposition normally. Before the days of speed/spread-option football, each freshman you started would normally equate to a loss on your season's schedule.
That is no longer the case as standout freshmen are beginning to hold their own, and in the case of Johnny Manziel last year, they are rewriting the record books.
Ole Miss started or played seven prominent freshmen in this primetime matchup. While this would normally be a desperate move during a rebuilding year, it is becoming more mainstream if they deserve the time on the field.
The nation's top-ranked prep player, Robert Nkemdiche, started at defensive end and finished with two tackles for loss, commanded frequent double teams and was really the only consistent rush threat on the line for the Rebels in this first game.
The nation's top-ranked prep wide receiver, Laquon Treadwell, had his coming out party by dominating the third quarter, finishing with nine catches and 82 total yards.
One of the nation's top safeties, Tony Conner, got an early interception and was around the ball all night.
Freshman tight end, Evan Engram, finished with five receptions for 61 yards.
Maybe the biggest surprise was the success freshmen offensive linemen, Laremy Tunsil and Austin Golson, had in handling the Vandy rush in the second half after the starters gave up four sacks in the first half of the game.
Whether a freshman or sophomore slump is in store is yet to be seen, but to be able to see success in Freeze's offense so quickly will catch the eye of many top players in the recruiting class of 2014.
You also have to be impressed with the senior leadership of running back Jeff Scott, single-handedly willing his team to a win when all hope seemed lost, when Ole Miss found themselves down three points with just over a minute left in the game.
If the Rebels can continue to win close games and keep some level of momentum and excitement on this team, head coach Hugh Freeze may be setting himself up for a long run in Oxford, Miss.