The Ole Miss faithful, and the rest of the nation, will find out a lot about this year’s Rebels as they face a tough opening game at Vanderbilt Stadium Thursday night. Both teams are up and coming programs looking to carry their momentum forward from last season into an opener that could easily set the tone for the rest of the season.
Vanderbilt is entering the third year under Head Coach James Franklin, coming off a 9-4 season, its best record since 1915 according to vucommodores.com. The Commodores ended the year with a win over NC State in the Music City Bowl and finished with an SEC best seven straight wins. This year’s team returns 14 starters, including 13 seniors, something the Commodores believe will give them the edge.
In a story from knoxnews.com, wide receiver Jordan Matthews said “We’re a veteran group, a senior-laden team, so that’s really going to help us tremendously.”
Meanwhile, Hugh Freeze begins his second year at Ole Miss after helping the program rebound from the dismal 2-10 season in 2011. The Rebels were among one of the most improved teams in the country, pulling off a 7-6 record capped off by a 38-17 win over Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl. Freeze and his staff then pulled off a major upset by coming away with the No.5 best recruiting class according to ESPN, giving the program major momentum and higher expectations entering the 2013 campaign.
The Rebels return 19 starters, including quarterback Bo Wallace who threw for 2,994 yards and 22 touchdowns along with 8 rushing touchdowns. The Rebels are looking for revenge having lost five of their last seven to Vanderbilt, including a 27-26 heartbreaker in Oxford last year. In the Daily Mississippian, Freeze emphasized the significance of the opener, especially being on national TV and having no tune-up game to prepare the team.
“To open the college season on opening night on national TV is somewhat of a responsibility to our staff and our kids have to this great university to represent it well,” Freeze said. “We don’t take that lightly. We’re very motivated. We’ve spent an enormous amount of time preparing, hopefully to go in with a very young football team in an environment with a very mature football team. That’s somewhat of an unknown with how our young kids will perform.”
The game airs on ESPN2 at 8:15 p.m.
In a blog report from The Clarion-Ledger’s Ole Miss beat writer Hugh Kellenberger, Franklin said “Really excited to basically open up college football. I think it’s great for the SEC, I know it’s great for Nashville and Vanderbilt specifically. …(Ole Miss and Vanderbilt) are two rising programs in the SEC.”
Freeze says he expects the Ole Miss faithful to turn out in great numbers in Nashville for the game.
“I’d be extremely disappointed if Ole Miss didn’t turn out very, very strong in Nashville,” Freeze said. “I think you’ll see our folks show up. I don’t know how many tickets we have. I know Ross watches all of that. I know our folks will show up.”
According to Ole Miss Athletics, all 7,000 of the tickets they get for Rebel fans have been sold.