August 29, 2013 11:37:00 AM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Vanderbilt Commodores are hoping experience provides that little something extra against the University of Mississippi.
These teams are very similar. The coaches are trying to turn struggling programs around: James Franklin going into his third season at Vanderbilt and Hugh Freeze coming off a successful first year. Both won bowl games last season and go into tonight's nationally televised season opener with high expectations.
The Commodores believe they have an edge.
This is their second straight year helping open the college football season hosting a prime-time game. They lost a year ago 17-13 to then-No. 9 South Carolina, but Franklin counts 75 percent of his roster played in that game. Now 13 seniors are slotted to start Thursday.
"We're a veteran group, a senior-laden team, so that's really going to help us tremendously," Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews.
Vanderbilt finished last season with a seven-game win streak that's not only the longest in the Southeastern Conference but tied for the fourth-longest nationally. The Commodores went 9-4 and beat North Carolina State University in the Music City Bowl. Franklin lost quarterback Jordan Rodgers and the Commodores' all-time leading rusher in Zac Stacy, but he still has 14 starters back. The Commodores also have won five of the last six in this series.
Freeze led Ole Miss to a 7-6 record with a victory against the University of Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl, then he capped off possibly the best recruiting class in the program's history. He has quarterback Bo Wallace back after he threw for 2,994 yards among 19 starters returning.
But the Rebels list five sophomores as starters on defense along with freshman end Robert Nkemdiche, the consensus No. 1 recruit in the nation coming out of high school. Freeze also has freshman receiver Laquon Treadwell and tight end Evan Engram slotted as starters with a couple more freshmen expected to contribute early.
Freeze said Ole Miss is very motivated, especially after Vanderbilt pulled out a 27-26 win last season in Oxford.
"We don't get a warmup shot with a tuneup game," Freeze said. "We're going to have to do it for real in a tough environment against a team that's proven over the last few years that that opening game with them at home is something they're always ready for. No question coach Franklin and his staff have his kids ready to play. They're a play or two away from knocking a top-10 team off last year. It's going to be a great challenge."