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Saturday Predictions: Vanderbilt at Ole Miss

It's been a week of terrible timing for AoG, as the Commodores' first blowout loss was followed by a week where both KJIV and I will likely be off the books due to outside commitments (for KJ, a wedding - for me, the Badgers/ASU game with fellow Vandy grad and occasional commenter DWhit - let's see who gets more belligerently drunk). Of course, this by no means means that we'll be ignoring the happenings in Oxford this weekend. Vandy comes off an awful performance against LSU but draws a rival they've had moderate success against recently in hopes of their first win of 2010. Ole Miss, on the other hand, is still trying to wash the taste of a loss to Jacksonville State out of their mouths. Last week's win over Tulane was a step in the right direction, but Vanderbilt will pose the biggest threat of the blossoming season for a 1-1 Rebel team.

Despite Ole Miss's struggles, Vandy is still a 12 point underdog (+380 to win outright), and that's not entirely undeserved. Anyone who watched last week's game with LSU saw a team that was simply unable to operate against a SEC-caliber defense. While the Commodore defense proved that it can hang with the conference's best, Larry Smith and company will have to make some serious strides from week two to week three in order to threaten the Rebels in their league opener.

So with last week's performance entrenched deeply in our thoughts and nightmares, let's turn to the magnificent prognosticators of our humble website. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments, so we can later laugh at how terribly misguided they were.

Train Island - Normally I'd be scared of another SEC defense, but the Rebels let Jacksonville State score 49 points in their home opener. Though they rebounded to limit Tulane to only 13 points, there are still a lot of questions that Ole Miss needs to answer before I can chalk the mistakes of week one up to jitters. These results make me think that Vandy can put at least two touchdowns up on the Rebels - which would give them a decent chance to win and a great opportunity to cover the spread (not to step on VandyfanwithaTie's toes, but +12 is an enormous spread for this game; take the 'Dores to cover).

However, for VU to make this a tight game, Larry Smith is going to have to show that he's not susceptible to the mental curse that has affected Commodore quarterbacks since the Jay Cutler era (and possibly beyond). Chris Nickson and Mackenzi Adams both struggled with consistency and never seemed to regain their strength after particularly rough games - and Saturday's loss was one of the roughest of Smith's career. The onus will be on Larry to regain the form he showed against Northwestern (not spectacular, just steady) in order to make this a competitive game in Oxford. He'll need to make a statement and prove that he can throw to his receivers against a SEC opponent soon, or else Vandy fans will begin to write this season off.

Of course, Smith's success will factor heavily on his line and his running backs. His talents are best served in the pocket rather than running away from myriad defenders (shocking, I know). Unless the young o-line gets better in a hurry, Vanderbilt will lead the nation in passes thrown while being flattened. Young bucks Warren Norman and Zac Stacy will also have the onus put upon them to relieve some of the pressure from the passing game through effective running. They couldn't do it against LSU, and Ole Miss has allowed just 98.5 yards per game on the ground in their first two games - though neither team had the running talent of the 'Dores.

In the end, I think Vandy falls short, but limits Ole Miss's offense and gives us a reason to keep watching after last week's shellacking. This team is better than what the final score showed against LSU, but still has a long way to go. I expect a close game with mental mistakes on both sides, but in the end the Rebels, thanks to superior talent and the home field edge, take this one. The Prediction?: Ole Miss 24, Vanderbilt 16

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Vandy Dan - What happens when irresistible force meets an immovable object? We'll find out on Saturday when the mighty Vanderbilt offense storms into Oxford fresh off its impressive 3-point performance against LSU. Awaiting our mighty air attack is an Ole Miss defense that gave up 49-points to the Gamecocks - and not the Gamecocks that you're thinking of.

While I hope this game resembles the Rebels' Week 1 debacle, I think it is more likely to resemble Vanderbilt's game against Northwestern. Assuming Jeremiah Masoli stays out of jail between now and Saturday, expect the Parks & Recreation major to start where Dan Persa left off. Masoli is completing 70% of his passes this year and improved significantly between Jacksonville St. and Tulane. Although Larry Smith was respectable against Northwestern, I think that's about as good as it will get for Smith. I also worry that the O-line will struggle to open up holes against a decent Ole Miss rushing defense.

The difference between 1-2 and 0-3 is enormous not only for Vanderbilt, but for Coach Orgeron Caldwell. At 1-2, with two winnable games coming up against UConn and Eastern Michigan, the season might be salvageable. At 0-3, David Williams better start thinking about putting together a list of potential new coaches. Will Caldwell get his first victory as head coach? The Prediction?: Ole Miss 27, Vanderbilt 17

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KingJamesIV - looks like we all agree so far: I expect this game to be more like the Northwestern game than the LSU game. I think most people believe Ole Miss to be a better team than the Commodores, but it's really hard to figure out on paper considering the vast difference in the quality of opponents each has faced. VU has played a middle-tier Big Ten team that's floating on the outskirts of the Top 25 and a very solid Top 15 SEC team. Ole Miss lost to an FCS team and then beat a perennial CUSA cellar dweller. It's really saying something when Vanderbilt is far and away the best team you've faced. In football. On the one hand, the Rebels are probably ready to play their first SEC opponent, regardless of who it is. On the other, they haven't really been tested by anyone of our skill. [PAUSE - Excuse me while I step away from the computer for a few minutes to savor that last's likely to be one of the few times I ever use it when talking about our football team -- DEEP SATISFYING BREATH -- OKAY CONTINUE]

I think this game is going to be much closer than the initial 12 or so points that Vegas immediately shelled out in the Commodores favor after a deceiving scoreline against LSU. Assuming the VU offense stays on the field much longer than they were able to against the LSU defense, the VU defense could have enough juice to fend off the Ole Miss attack a full four quarters. Prediction?: An optimistic Vanderbilt 20, Ole Miss 17 with the Commodore defense making another clutch play to help seal the deal, whether that's a stop or a score.