If you stayed up past your bedtime last night for the duration of the Southeastern Conference opener between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, the reward was one of the best finishes to a game you’ll ever see. To be honest, the game was great from start to finish, but the final minutes in Vanderbilt Stadium were more electrifying than the thunderbolts that delayed the South Carolina–North Carolina game.
Ole Miss prevailed 39-35, but the outcome of this game wasn’t the most important note that rang out of Nashville last night. Like a record label executive who happened to discover a new talent in a smoky honky-tonk on Broadway, those who paid attention to what transpired on the gridiron had a revelation – these are two good football teams.
For the traditional haves in the SEC – I’m talking to you Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU and Texas A&M – it would be wise to take heed of these two perennial have-nots. Ole Miss and Vanderbilt could each take down one, if not more, of the big boys.
Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace was clutch last night, making huge plays when it counted. We already knew running back Jeff Scott was good, before his dazzling 75-yard game-winning touchdown. Freshman Laquon Treadwell hauled in nine receptions for 82 yards in his first college game. At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, he will be a mismatch against every defender he faces.
The Ole Miss defense has a lot of young players, but they’re pretty darn good. Freshman Robert Nkemdiche was a disruptive force all night on the defensive line. Freshman cornerback Tony Conner also has star potential, contributing three tackles and an interception in his college debut.
The Commodores also gave us plenty of reasons to believe they can compete against the top teams in the league. Wide receiver Jordan Matthews was as advertised, hauling in a game-high 10 receptions for 178 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown. Quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels also played well, throwing for 300 yards and two touchdowns. Vandy’s running back duo of Jerron Seymour and Wesley Tate combined for three rushing TDs.
Despite giving up 39 points, Vandy’s defense played tough all night, led by defensive ends Kyle Woestmann, Walker May and Caleb Azubike. Cornerback Andre Hal also had a good game. This unit is solid enough to stand up to any offense.
If overlooked, either of these two teams could knock someone out of title contention. Let’s look at the Rebs’ and Dores’ 2013 upset opportunities.
Sept. 28 @ No. 1 Alabama: It’s never easy to go into Bryant-Denny Stadium and beat the Crimson Tide, nor will it be this year. But the Rebels have the benefit of an extra week of preparation, drawing a BYE on Sept. 21. Despite losing 33-14 last year, Ole Miss played Alabama tough, holding the Tide to a season-low 305 yards of total offense.
Oct. 12 @ Texas A&M: The Rebels fell three points short of knocking off the Aggies last year. Ole Miss held a 27-17 lead in the fourth quarter, only to give up two late touchdowns and allow A&M to escape with a 30-27 win. This year, the tables could be turned.
Oct. 19 vs. LSU: Hugh Freeze took Ole Miss into Death Valley for the first time and nearly won last year, losing 41-35. This year, LSU has to come to Oxford and you can bet the Rebs will be ready.
Sept. 14 @ South Carolina: Vanderbilt led the Gamecocks 13-10 in the second half last season, only to allow South Carolina to rally for a victory behind a fourth-quarter touchdown run by Marcus Lattimore. Lattimore’s gone this year, but taking down the Gamecocks will still be tough.
Oct. 19 vs. Georgia: The Bulldogs embarrassed Vanderbilt last year, 48-3. You can bet James Franklin and crew have not forgotten that and will be out for revenge.
Oct. 26 @ Texas A&M: These two have never met on the field. What would be a better way to start the series than knocking off a potentially Top 10 ranked Aggies squad?
Nov. 9 @ Florida: The Commodores lost to Florida for the 22nd consecutive time last year. If there’s one upset that would signify Vandy’s arrival, it would come against the Gators.