November 9, 2012 9:17:21 AM
OXFORD -- Many football programs in the Southeastern Conference win so often it's easy to take bowl eligibility for granted.
Vanderbilt University and the University of Mississippi aren't among them.
The Commodores (5-4, 2-3 SEC) travel to face the Rebels (5-4, 2-3) on Saturday night at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. One team will leave bowl eligible and know the postseason is almost certainly in its future.
Vanderbilt is trying to become bowl eligible in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. Ole Miss hasn't been to the postseason since 2009.
The road gets even tougher for Ole Miss after Saturday's game.
If the Rebels don't beat Vanderbilt, they'll have to try to become bowl eligible against either No. 9 LSU or 23rd-ranked Mississippi State.
"I really would like to get that sixth win," Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze said. "Number one, because it is six -- four more than last year -- and it helps us build. Number two, to be playing in a 13th game somewhere to send these seniors out would be nice."
Vanderbilt has a slightly easier schedule after the Ole Miss game with a home matchup against Tennessee before a road trip to Wake Forest that ends the regular season.
Still, there's no doubt the Commodores would like to get their sixth win sooner than later.
The matchup will feature Ole Miss' productive spread offense against Vanderbilt's stingy defense.
The Rebels use a quick tempo that has sometimes produced big results. They're averaging nearly 30 points per game, which ranks 7th in the 14-team conference.
Vanderbilt's second-year coach James Franklin said the Rebels' pace means there is less time for play-to-play adjustments.
"It's a challenge," Franklin said. "You're not going to be able to make the perfect call on defense, so it's about executing better than them. I think some defensive coordinators feel that they have to call the perfect play to stop the offense based on personnel groups, and this eliminates a little of that. We'll be in shape and ready for this."
Vanderbilt's defense gives up just 17.1 points per game, which ranks fourth in the SEC. The Commodores are especially good against the pass, giving up just 151 yards through the air per game.
"I think it's just a mentality of 11 players functioning as one," Vanderbilt defensive tackle Rob Lohr said. "That's how we look at it. We don't always have people that jump out at you on the stat sheet, but we work together well and I think we complement each other. We execute the defense and make plays. We don't really care who makes the play, as long as they're made."
The Commodores enter Saturday's game with three straight victories over Auburn, Massachusetts and Kentucky. Freeze said Vanderbilt's defense is impressive on tape.
"They totally understand what they are and what they need to do," Freeze said. "They don't make many mistakes ... Their kids play every play extremely hard and effort's a big deal with them. They're getting a lot out of their kids and that carries you a long way on defense."
Freeze and Franklin -- two of the younger coaches in the ultra-competitive SEC -- have forged a good relationship over the past several months. Freeze even called Franklin earlier in the week to congratulate him on a good season so far and welcome him to Oxford.
The respect is mutual. But only one program can get that crucial sixth win on Saturday.
Ole Miss is "going to come with a fight," Lohr said. "I believe they are a lot better this year. Their offense is up-tempo and they have a lot of really good skill players. Their offensive line is solid and they pack a punch. Their fast tempo is tough to adjust to, so it's a matter of us lining up and executing. It will be a challenge, but we'll be ready for the challenge."
1. Starkville High's Mattox receives Gatorade award HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
2. McQuary, Rooker lead MSU past Ole Miss COLLEGE SPORTS
3. International flavor works for MSU men's tennis team COLLEGE SPORTS
4. Errors cost Heritage Academy in Game 1 of playoffs HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. Ole Miss baseball team will take on No. 16 Arkansas COLLEGE SPORTS