The football season comes to a merciful end tomorrow, as the two worst teams in BCS Conferences face off at Dudley Field in front of a potential crowd of hundreds. The Rivals 120 has Vanderbilt at 108 and Wake Forest at 110, suggesting that the Commodores will win a game where the only offense comes from turnover yardage and safeties. The winner will receive an invitation from the Sun Belt, while the loser will be relegated to the UAA for a season to play against Carnegie Mellon and Case Western until they get their affairs in order.
Robbie Caldwell may be stepping onto the field in Nashville for the final time as Vandy's head coach, as even a win Saturday may not be enough to save his job. His Commodores steadfastly refused to take advantage of any of the Volunteers' mistakes and failed to jump at the opportunity to be the saddest team to ever stake their claim as "Best in Tennessee" for 2010. Instead, players and fans saw the SEC season come to a close with just one win and about 8 competitive quarters in the books.
Ideally, tomorrow's battle will honor the team's seniors (if you don't stand and clap for John Stokes at least once then your season tickets should be revoked) and give playing time to the young guys who will play key roles in 2011. Stokes, Kennard Reeves, Theron Kadri, Jared Funk, Adam Smotherman (assuming he doesn't get a special medical redshirt after this year), and Turner Wimberly are the key players graduating, and while these role players will be missed, their absences won't have a major impact on the 'Dores next year. In their stead, look for freshmen like Wesley Tate, Jordan Matthews, and Walker May to get closer looks from the administration in the final test of the season.
While the matchup looks dire on paper, Vanderbilt versus Wake Forest has the potential to be a lot of fun. These are two teams that have gotten stomped over the past two months and have nothing to play for except pride. Expect a battle and some unexpected heroes to emerge from the scrum. If Vandy wins, it'll provide nine months of hope to sustain us until summer practices start up again. If they lose...well, it IS basketball season, you know.
Staff predictions after the jump. I'd post stats on our prognosticating for you, but I'm too lazy - so let's just assume that we're 11-0 at this point...
Train Island - All I want to see in this game are loads of targets for guys like Jordan Matthews and Jonathan Krause. If we're going to let Jared Funk sit in the pocket and do his thing (i.e. taking sacks and floating passes to no one in particular), then we need to at least incorporate the guys who are clearly the future of the offense at wideout. Give Funk (and Larry) the greenlight to throw all over the field against a team that's given up nearly 38 points per game and see what happens. At this point, the team can't make the fans feel much worse about the season - but there is a huge opportunity to instill hope for 2011.
Vanderbilt is packed with young players, and while the seniors will deservedly get their due, the coaching staff needs to use Saturday to get their underclass talent on the field and start planning for next year. On defense this won't be an issue since that squad is so young to begin with, but the offense needs to cycle in the guys who should be getting big minutes in 2011 - and that means Matthews, Krause, Wesley Tate, and Brandon Barden need to have an additional focus on them against Wake. These are the guys who can drive this team through the SEC and into a bowl game. Giving them the keys to the kingdom a game early is a low-risk, high-reward bet that will not only help increase fan buy-in for next season, but encourage players and recruits as well.
Wake Forest doesn't do much particularly well aside from getting blown out in league games. This means that the players from each side will have some similar stories to swap in the postgame handshake. The Demon Deacons also run the ball relatively well, so they should provide a nice test for Vandy's defensive line. WFU's defense has been as inconsistent as the Commodores', so the season finale presents the team's best chance for scoring big since the Eastern Michigan game. Every BCS opponent that has played Wake has scored at least 23 points, so we may be in store for a shootout on Saturday. With that in mind...
Prediction?: Vanderbilt 31, Wake Forest 27. This was originally 38-34, then I realized how bad Vandy's offense has looked recently. 31 points might be a stretch, but I'm hoping we see a whole new Commodore squad on Saturday. Fingers crossed.