This is the first installment our breakdown of Vanderbilt Commodore football's 2013 opponents. We begin by taking an early look into the 'Dore's season-opening opponent, Mississippi. WHEN: Thursday, Aug. 29; 8:15 p.m. CST
WHERE: Vanderbilt Stadium (Nashville, TN.)
LAST SEASON: 7-6 (3-5 SEC, 5th place in SEC West; defeated Pittsburgh 38-17 in BBVA Compass Bowl)
CURRENT PRESEASON RANKING: consensus 25th (in large part due to an 11th place ranking from Athlon Sports)
SERIES HISTORY: Ole Miss leads, 47-37-2. (Last meeting: Vanderbilt 27, Ole Miss 26 in game 10 last season)
OFFENSE: Quarterback Bo Wallace is the main man for an Ole Miss offense which returns eight starters from a unit which ranked in the top five in the SEC in scoring and total offense a year after finishing second last in both categories. Wallace was a quick slant away from 3,000 yards through the air last year and threw for 22 touchdowns on a team which got better as the year progressed. A heady quarterback who sees plays develop and who runs with no fear, Wallace also picked up almost 400 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground last fall.
Outside of the ultra productive Wallace, who is expected to have a huge junior year, junior wide receiver Donte Moncrief is a big (6-3, 226) and productive (66 catches, 979 yards, 10 TDs in 2012) target, while senior running back Jeff Scott (70.5 ypg in 2012) will operate behind an offensive line with four starters back. In fact outside of guard A.J. Hawkins (who went undrafted and signed with the Kansas City Chiefs) this unit has every major player back in 2013.
Conclusion: If Ole Miss are as good as many within the game think they can be, then Wallace could be a sleeper candidate for awards come December. The Vanderbilt secondary is going to have to be at its very best to keep the Rebs under control, while Wallace is a dangerous enough runner, outside containment from the defensive line and linebackers has to be a top priority.
DEFENSE: If I were to tell you that in an SEC game this year Vandy would be taking on both the number one high school recruit in the country AND the top junior college transfer there would be very few people who would identify Mississippi as the team in question. Head coach Hugh Freeze has hit the recruiting trail with all the fervor of a James Franklin and in landing end Robert Nkemdiche and tackle Lavon Hook respectively he has everyone's attention in Oxford.
Both Nkemdiche and Hook will have to perform right away though as the unit which was most hit by departures was the Ole Miss defensive line. The Rebs lost four contributors from that group and new players will have to step up to allow talent like Freshman All-American linebacker Daniel Nkemdiche (82 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss) to do their thing. Another question mark entering the fall is cornerback Nick Brassell (photo at right) who could be a game changer, or a non-factor, depending on eligibility.
Conclusion: Depth is a worry for the Rebs who are paper thin and just a couple of injuries away from disaster in key spots. With this game being on opening night though, that shouldn't be a concern and the Ole Miss defense will be keen to make a statement after the collapse against Vandy last year. Look for the 'Dores to attack the defensive front early to test out new starters and determine their strengths and weaknesses.
Other Factors: The Rebs may have the most buzz of any seven win team in the country entering this fall and it is in large part down to Freeze. The comparisons between he and Franklin are obvious, but as good as the Vanderbilt recruiting classes have been recently they cannot touch the top five nationally class Freeze has put together. Returning fifteen starters, including all the skill positions, is huge, and this is a Rebel team who look set to challenge Vanderbilt every step of the way both on opening night and throughout the SEC season.
Conclusion: This game is as much of a toss-up as any on the 'Dore schedule. Just looking at the two head to head it is hard to pick a winner, and when you add in unknowns such as first night jitters and players going live for the first time it just gets more muddled. In these cases coaching can make all the difference and it is hard to pick against Franklin and Vanderbilt based purely on the results from the end of last season.
Preseason Preview: Vandy vs Ole Miss
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