Opponent: Mississippi Rebels
Date: October 5 in Oxford. The other SEC games that day: Auburn-Florida, Georgia-Tennessee, Utah State-LSU, and Troy-Missouri. One of those first two will be the CBS game and I’m guessing the other one will be in prime time on an ESPN channel... so, uh, we’ll just guess that this one will be on the SEC Network because of course it will.
All-time Series Record: Officially, Ole Miss leads 49-40-2. That doesn’t count vacated wins from 2014 and 2015.
Last meeting: Vanderbilt beat Ole Miss 36-29 last year.
Last year: 5-7, 33rd in S&P+
Head Coach: Matt Luke (11-13, 3rd year)
How crucial has the annual matchup against Ole Miss been? Consider this: Of Vanderbilt’s last eight bowl teams, seven have beaten Ole Miss. (The lone exception: James Franklin’s 2013 team, which lost to Ole Miss in the season opener.)
Obviously, it isn’t that simple. Eight Vanderbilt teams in that span (going back to 1974) have beaten Ole Miss and still not bowled, but typically the Ole Miss game has served as a decent barometer for how Vanderbilt’s season is going. That’s because with few exceptions, Ole Miss’s football team has been good enough to feel like you’ve accomplished something by beating them, but not so good as to be an unwinnable game on the schedule.
So that’s what Ole Miss is going to be in 2019? Maybe. But my suspicion is that if the Rebels don’t fit that archetype in 2019, it’s because they’re bad — and not because they’re good.
The best news about Ole Miss’s defense is that it returns eight starters and has a new defensive coordinator in former Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre. The bad news: that unit gave up an average of 36.2 ppg last season, including a hideous 41 ppg average in SEC games. Oh, yeah, and the Rebels are also switching to a 3-4 defense in the offseason — which, maybe that’s a good thing, because it’s hard to imagine that defense getting worse.
The really bad news is that Ole Miss might need its defense to carry an offense that loses eight starters, and ranked 130th of 130 FBS teams in returning talent. Last year’s Ole Miss offense sported three top-notch receivers in A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, and DaMarkus Lodge, along with an experienced QB in Jordan Ta’amu. This year’s offense will have none of those, nor will it have starting TE Dawson Knox or three starters from last year’s offensive line. Presumptive starting QB Matt Corral has potential but has thrown just 22 passes at the collegiate level, so there are no guarantees. Oh, yeah, and Ole Miss has a new coordinator on this side of the ball, too, in Rich Rodriguez. (Matt Luke might actually be the third-best head coach on his own coaching staff.)
After reviewing all of this, Ole Miss looks very much like a team Vanderbilt is capable of beating and the only reason I’m hesitant to call it a game Vanderbilt should win is that it’s in Oxford. That means that the first half of Vanderbilt’s schedule includes two should-be wins (Northern Illinois and UNLV), two swing games (Purdue and Ole Miss), and two games that are likely losses (Georgia and LSU.)