Traditionally, Ole Miss-Vanderbilt hasn't been a marquee matchup on the SEC calendar. Both programs -- Vandy especially -- have seen their share of struggles over the years, and neither has made a trip to the SEC Championship Game as a division winner. This year, though, the Rebels and Commodores are riding momentum and hoping to step up against conference competition. They'll have their first chance Thursday night at 9:15 p.m. ET.
Last season, head coach James Franklin made history in Nashville. His 'Dores went to a bowl game for the second straight year - the first time in the history of the program that's happened. Vandy won five SEC games for the first time since 1935 and was ranked at the end of the season for the first time since 1948. Now, Franklin is hoping to build upon that success.
In Oxford, Hugh Freeze brought Ole Miss back from the dead, leading the Rebels to a 6-6 regular season and a seventh win in the BBVA Compass Bowl against Pittsburgh. After Ole Miss went 2-10 in Houston Nutt's final campaign two years ago, no one expected Freeze to have his team so competitive so quickly. The Rebs continued their success in recruiting, signing the No. 1 player in the class of 2013 and finishing eighth in the 247Composite rankings. Like Vanderbilt, Ole Miss will try to turn its momentum into even more on-field success in 2013.
Rankings and records: Neither team is ranked, but both enter the year in the "others receiving votes" category of both polls. Ole Miss holds a 47-38-2 all-time advantage over Vanderbilt, but the Commodores have won the last three and six of the last eight.
Vegas: Vanderbilt opened as a 1½-point favorite, but that line has flipped to Ole Miss being a 3- or 3½-point favorite at most sportsbooks. The over/under is 53 points.
Weather: It's a good thing this one will be played after sundown. The weather report calls for mostly clear skies, a high of 95 and a low of 75.
Three names to know
Bo Wallace: The Ole Miss quarterback had a nice year in 2012, throwing for 2,994 yards and 22 touchdowns and rushing for 390 yards and eight more scores. However, he also threw 17 interceptions. Wallace could be the difference-maker running the Rebels' high-powered offense, but if he's careless with the football, he could give the game away.
Jordan Matthews: Matthews is one of the more underrated players in the SEC, coming off a season in which he caught 94 passes for 1,323 yards and eight touchdowns. He'll need to be good again in 2013 since Vanderbilt no longer has Jordan Rodgers under center. New starting QB Austyn Carta-Samuels has talent, but he'll need Matthews to help him out, especially early in the year.
Nkemdiche: As in Denzel and Robert. Denzel Nkemdiche, a sophomore linebacker, led Ole Miss with 82 tackles last season. His younger brother Robert Nkemdiche, a true freshman defensive end, was the No. 1 prospect in the class of 2013 and figures to see early playing time. These two will wreak havoc for opposing offenses all season.
Two things at stake
1-0 (1-0 SEC): It's the first game of the year, and neither team can afford to come out rusty. Various pundits and analysts have picked both the Rebels and Commodores as potential SEC darlings this season, and the winner of this game will start the season with a win in conference play. The loser, on the other hand, will already be digging out of a hole with a conference loss.
Franklin vs. Freeze: The reason Vandy and Ole Miss have received some preseason buzz is because of their respective head coaches. Both led their teams to better-than-expected records in 2012, and both have amped up their programs' recruiting prowess. Franklin came out on top last season with a narrow 27-26 win in Oxford. Can Freeze exact his revenge in Nashville?
How to witness
TV: ESPN, 9:15 p.m. ET
Radio: 1510 AM, 95.9 FM, 560 AM in Nashville; 93.7 FM, 105.5 FM in Oxford
Online streaming: ESPN3
- Anchor of Gold, SB Nation's Vanderbilt blog
- Red Cup Rebellion, SB Nation's Ole Miss blog
- Vanderbilt planning a blackout for the Ole Miss game
- James Franklin will call your boss to get you out of work for this game
- The Rebels and Commodores have been trash talking since July