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Key stretch: Vanderbilt

Looking closer at the most important stretch the Vanderbilt Commodores will face in 2011:

Key stretch: Elon (Sept. 3), Connecticut (Sept. 10), Ole Miss (Sept. 17)

Breakdown: There are different ways to look at key stretches and what defines one for different teams. In Vanderbilt's case, there's not a more important stretch of games than the first three the Commodores will play this season, starting with Saturday's opener against Elon. All three are at home, and it's critical that this team in James Franklin's first season gives the fans a reason to believe that good things are coming down the road. And if the Commodores even want to think about making a run at a .500 season or better, they have to be 3-0 going into that road game at South Carolina the fourth week of the season.

Prediction: There are a lot of question marks and unknowns with the new coaching staff, but Franklin has been upbeat throughout the preseason. Nothing is guaranteed, but it goes without saying that Vanderbilt should be able to beat Elon. Connecticut has its quarterback issues to straighten out and lost a lot of firepower on offense from a year ago, and the Commodores have beaten the Rebels four out of the past six years. A 3-0 record would be a great way to start off the Franklin era, but I'm going 2-1. Ole Miss will finally figure out a way to beat Vanderbilt this season.

The Rundown