Key tone-setter for Commodores, Rebels

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The last time Vanderbilt opened a football season coming off nine wins was three years after the Titantic sank in the North Atlantic.

So, clearly, this is rarefied air for the Commodores.

We start to find out Thursday night how they handle the raised expectations when they take on Ole Miss, another team on the rise in the SEC.

Vanderbilt owns the SEC’s longest active winning streak after closing last season with seven straight wins, but the offseason has been a rocky one with the rape investigation and charges against four former players.

A fifth player, starting receiver Chris Boyd, has been suspended in connection with that incident and won’t play Thursday.

Third-year coach James Franklin has done his best to hold everything together and keep the Commodores on point. In a lot of ways, it will be therapeutic for them to go up against somebody else and play in a game.

Franklin thinks this is the deepest and the best the Commodores have been in both lines of scrimmage since he arrived.

It’s a big game for both teams. But Ole Miss will probably have the most difficult time recovering from a loss. The Rebels have to play at Texas in two weeks, and after a bye, travel to Alabama and Auburn in back-to-back weeks.

So the last thing they need is open the season 0-1.

All eyes will be on the Rebels’ touted freshman class. Defensive end Robert Nkemdiche and receiver Laquon Treadwell are both scheduled to start.