The college football season kicks off on Thursday, and Vanderbilt and Ole Miss will throw down in one of the week's most exciting matchups. Both teams are primed for big seasons in 2013, and a win in this budding East/West rivalry matchup could be the difference between bowl eligibility and an early trip home for Thanksgiving. Not a single player on the Rebels' side has ever taken the field in a win over the Commodores, and there's no doubt that Hugh Freeze's team will come out fired up at Dudley Field.
To adequately prepare for the next chapter in the Mississippi/Vanderbilt sage, we've enlisted the help of our friends over at Red Cup Rebellion, the internet's finest purveyors of Ole Miss news. Staff writer Juco All-American was nice enough to sort out a Q&A exchange to preview Thursday's matchup between the two unheralded titans of the SEC. His comments on the Rebels are below, while my answers to RCR's questions about the 'Dores will post over on their site shortly.
1. Bo Wallace had a great freshman year and went big against Vandy in '12, passing for more than 400 yards. What do you expect from him this season, and where would you rank him amongst the SEC's quarterbacks?
Juco All-American, redcuprebellion.com: Wallace was actually a sophomore last year [yep, I'm an idiot. - CD], having transferred in from junior college the preceding January. That said, he certainly came out of the gate firing as a sophomore. Fans had no idea what to expect, but his first year as a starter was definitely encouraging. He throws too many interceptions, but that's what you get with a "gunslinger" quarterback. He also completes passes he has no business throwing.
2. Vanderbilt's defense famously bent against Ole Miss last year, but never broke, holding the Rebels to four field goals, including three from within 30 yards. The 'Dores return the bulk of their defense in '13 - will the Rebels have the firepower to find the end zone on Thursday? Or do you anticipate more trouble finishing drives this fall?
JCAA: Ugh. I don't even want to think about the points we left on the table in that game. In short answer, maybe. Ole Miss certainly didn't lose much in terms of major contributors. Adding the #5 recruiting class in the country and another year in the system, they're in a good situation offensively. Donte Moncrief is nearly impossible to single cover, and the #1 high school receiver in the country a year ago, Laquon Treadwell, gives the Rebs another look they maybe didn't have last year.
The real question though is whether or not Ole Miss can run better than they did last year. In that game, Vanderbilt held the Rebels to 40 carries for 55 yards. There aren't many teams who can win a game like that. Ole Miss only really had one running back option last season in Jeff Scott, but two sophomores have come on, and the recruiting class included three four-star backs. It's beginning to look like a position of strength.
3. Hugh Freeze threw together one hell of a recruiting class in 2013, bringing three 5-star and nine 4-star recruits to campus. Who amongst these players can we expect to see make an impact on Thursday night?
JCAA: Freeze has said ten true freshmen will see the field against Vanderbilt. Of those, here are the ones who are most likely to make a big impact:
DE Robert Nkemdiche - Perhaps you've heard of him. He was the #1 recruit in the country on every recruiting service's rankings. He immediately stepped in as a starter despite the Rebels returning both starters from last season and hasn't looked back. The learning curve is steep, but the word from practice is that they're having to double-team him a lot. Oh... he's also 6'5" 290.
WR Laquon Treadwell - Treadwell is a fluid receiver who is built in the Moncrief-mold. Some practice observers have called him a more physically impressive player than Moncrief. Obviously, he has a ways to go to match Moncrief's actual production and contributions, but the talent is there. He's starting in the slot.
Huskie (LB/S Hybrid) Tony Conner - Conner is 6'1" 210 and hits absurdly hard. He's fighting for a starting job with the incumbent starter and is likely to play a ton against Vanderbilt. I anticipate he'll be used as a spy for Carta-Samuels a good bit. An aside: Conner is actually the forgotten five-star. Everyone talked about Treadwell, Nkemdiche, and Laremy Tunsil (the #1 OT in the country), but Scout also ranked Conner as the #2 safety nationally. He's a very impressive player who could have gone anywhere he wanted.
4. Ole Miss is bringing back 19 starters this year, none of whom have been on the field for a victory over Vanderbilt. How important is this game to those players and to the Ole Miss fanbase in general? Do you think Vandy/Ole Miss is developing into a proper rivalry?
JCAA: That's an interesting question. I certainly wouldn't call it a "rivalry" since there's still not a legitimate hatred like there is for LSU or Mississippi State. Our program is very tired of losing to you though. I think this being the first game of the season might have built up the vitriol more than normal, but when the game is over, regardless of outcome, the rivalry is over. There's not likely to be a ton of gloating, at least not from intelligent fans (of which we have fewer than you).
It's an important game for us though, since the next four SEC games on our schedule are Alabama, Auburn, A&M, and LSU. An 0-5 start in the conference could be disastrous.
5. What kind of Ole Miss contingent are you expecting in Nashville for a Thursday night game? How many businesses around Oxford can expect to have a rash of sick days called in when Friday rolls around?
JCAA: I'll be there with bells on. I'd guess a lot of people are making the trip. Tickets on the visitor side have been nearly impossible for me to come by, and there's a lot of excitement around this team. It's the first chance to see those touted freshmen in action, and that's on everyone's mind. I'm certainly not predicting a 50/50 split or anything, but I do think there will be more Ole Miss fans there than usual.
6. Finally, what's your prediction for the game? And, if you're up for it, your prediction for the season and how well you'll do in the Liberty Bowl.
JCAA: I've gone back and forth on this game. Until Chris Boyd's possible suspension, I expected Vanderbilt to win. That likely suspension coupled with a few things I've heard out of practice lead me to believe that Ole Miss will win this one. Last time I checked, the line was Ole Miss by 3, and I think that's about right. It could honestly go either way.
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