Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  By STEVE EUBANKS  |  Last updated 8/26/13
You could call this one the Battle of the Rising Stars. When Ole Miss travels to Nashville to play Vanderbilt on Thursday, Aug. 29 -- the official kickoff of the SEC football schedule -- the two men grabbing the most attention will be the ones who wont play a down. The teams leaders -- Hugh Freeze in his second season in Oxford and James Franklin in his third at Vanderbilt -- have generated more enthusiasm and excitement on their respective campuses than anyone would have dreamed possible just a few short years ago. Now, a game that would have easily been branded the Who Cares Bowl in 2010 is a nationally-televised, must-see event. How times have changed. Just three football seasons ago, the Vanderbilt Commodores were commonly known as the Dore mats of the SEC, a witty nickname that they had earned. Vandy went 2-10 (1-7 SEC) in 2010. Its average margin of defeat was 23.1 points. But as bad as the Dores were, their lone SEC victory that year came against Ole Miss, a team that was on the downside of awful. The Rebels also finished 1-7 in the conference in 2010 and 4-8 overall, although that season proved to be rosy compared to 2011 when Ole Miss went 2-10 overall and 0-8 in the SEC. Franklin arrived in Nashville after the final play of 2010. Freeze gave a tearful acceptance speech on his first day in Oxford in December 2011. Since then Vandy is 15-11 and has made two consecutive bowl appearances for the first time in school history, while Ole Miss went 7-6 last year with an Egg Bowl victory over in-state rival Mississippi State and a walloping of Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl. Last seasons matchup between the two up-and-comers was a barnburner with since-graduated QB Jordan Rodgers hitting receiver Chris Boyd for a touchdown pass with 52 seconds left to give the Commodores a 27-26 lead. At that time, the game was to determine which of the two perennial cellar-dwellers would be bowl eligible (although both ended up going to and winning bowl games). Now, the game is a Thursday night special and a potential launching pad for a run at a divisional title -- at least that is what the players, coaches and optimistic fans believe. The teams couldnt be more closely matched, either. The Rebels had one of the best recruiting hauls in school history and they return a dangerous tandem in quarterback Bo Wallace and wide receiver Donte Moncrief. Meanwhile Vanderbilt has a new quarterback, Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels, who saw limited action last year in Nashville behind Rodgers, and two of the best receivers in the conference in Boyd and Jordan Matthews. Defensively, both teams are solid, although Ole Miss could have the edge with some of their true freshmen, including Robert Nkemdiche, last years top high school prospect in the nation. Returning linebackers Denzel Nkemdiche (Roberts older brother), Mike Marry and C.J. Johnson could also tilt the defensive advantage in the Rebels favor. But the Commodores are playing at home, where they are 9-4 under Franklin. Certainly both coaches are ready. At SEC Media Days the only game Franklin and Freeze would talk about was the first one. Each man knows the importance of walking away with a 1-0 record, both overall and in the conference. It would be hard to imagine as better game than the one between these two teams a year ago, and unless it goes to overtime, it would be impossible for it to be any closer. One thing is certain: no teams will be more prepared and no fans will be more fired up. No matter which coach, which team, or which fan base walks away with the victory, this one could be the best SEC season opener in many years
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

NFL players wrote Roger Goodell seeking support for political activism

On the similarities between Kyrie Irving and Kobe Bryant

Tickets for 49ers-Rams game at Levi's going for $14

Sixers still open to trading Jahlil Okafor

Aaron Rodgers has funny quote on never beating the Bengals

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Raul Mondesi sentenced to prison for corruption as mayor in Dominican Republic

WATCH: Youth football coaches engage in ugly brawl

Richard Sherman critical of NFL injury report: It is for gamblers

Adidas hooked Giannis Antetokounmpo up with an entire truck full of sneakers

Carmelo Anthony trade rumors suggest he’s headed to the Rockets soon

John Farrell may use David Price as temporary closer

NFL Week 3 predictions

The 'MLB is as powerful as ever' quiz

After a decade in the WNBA, MVP Sylvia Fowles is ready for the spotlight

College football 2017 Week 4 predictions

10 teams that can unseat the Warriors in 2018

NFL Referee Hotline: Mike McCarthy is sick of these calls

The 'Kevin Durant has mad (Twitter) handles' quiz

Baseball's most underwhelming teams of 2017

The 'Remember the tight ends' quiz

Ranking the best college football fan bases

Getaway Day: Time runs short as postseason nears

Sports & Politics Intersect: White House sticks it to sports

College Football News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Yardbarker Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.

NFL Week 3 predictions

After a decade in the WNBA, MVP Sylvia Fowles is ready for the spotlight

The 'MLB is as powerful as ever' quiz

10 teams that can unseat the Warriors in 2018

College football 2017 Week 4 predictions

NFL Referee Hotline: Mike McCarthy is sick of these calls

Baseball's most underwhelming teams of 2017

The 'Kevin Durant has mad (Twitter) handles' quiz

Ranking the best college football fan bases

The 'Remember the tight ends' quiz

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker