Vanderbilt can improve to 4-4 with a win over MAC newcomer Massachusetts. Can the Commodores roll over an overmatched foe that has yet to win in 2012?
Let's just get this one right out in the open. With all due respect to Massachusetts, this game shouldn't be a competitive one.
UMass is better than Presbyterian, the FCS opponent that Vanderbilt squashed 58-0 back in September. Other than that, they're the worst team on the Commodores' 2012 schedule. The Minutemen are in their first season as a FBS program, and they've had to replace almost every offensive playmaker from a team that went 5-6 in the Colonial Athletic Association in 2011. While there's definitely some high level talent on the Massachusetts roster, they just don't have the depth or athletic ability to put a good Vandy team on upset alert right now.
The biggest question heading into tomorrow's matchup will be how James Franklin manages his team. The last time Vanderbilt faced an overmatched foe, Jordan Rodgers only saw duty holding kicks for Carey Spear. Redshirt junior Austyn Carta-Samuels started his first game as a Commodore against Presbyterian and looked solid in the rout of the Blue Hose.
Carta-Samuels is likely to see the field against an opponent that is a step up from I-AA competition, but still a level below the SEC and non-conference opponents that dot the end of Vandy's schedule. Two solid outings in wins over Missouri and Auburn seem to have cemented Rodgers's starting spot for the near future, but Carta-Samuels can prove that he's ready for action in 2012 or 2013 with a big showing against UMass this weekend. Last time, he was able to target first-team players like Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd over the first three quarters of play. Will Franklin give his starters a similar gameplan if Saturday's matchup turns into a runaway?
The Commodores should be able to shine under the lights against UMass, but there's always a chance that a motivated Minutemen squad comes out firing on all cylinders. Can Vandy roll over a team that they are a 32.5 point favorite against? Let's take a look.
Christian D'Andrea: This game won't be as hopeless a trip as Presbyterian's was, but it's tough to see how UMass wins in Nashville tomorrow night. Mike Wegzyn is a nice building block for the Minutemen to have for the next four years, and I'm sure that Vanderbilt fans will get tired of seeing him over the course of their four-game series with UMass. By the time he's a senior, he could be one of the better quarterbacks outside of the BCS conferences.
However, he's still a redshirt freshman who has only faced one team - Michigan - that can boast a similar level of defense as the Commodores. Wegzyn went just 14-29 for 141 yards that day, and the only touchdown that the Minutemen scored came courtesy of a Denard Robinson pick-six in the second quarter. It's tough to imagine UMass sustaining many drives behind an offense that has struggled throughout their first year in I-A football.
That doesn't mean that Massachusetts will be completely hopeless, though. Wegzyn is a budding quarterback who should have his moments on Saturday, and Deion Walker has emerged as a reliable target this season. Ultimately, the relative weakness of UMass's offense, combined with Vandy's strength across their defense, will make this one a long night for anyone who made the trip down from Amherst.
The Prediction? Vanderbilt 34, UMass 9.
SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Mississippi (+6) over ARKANSAS. Ole Miss can prove that they're shaking off the stigma of some terrible Rebel teams with a big win over SEC West rival Arkansas this weekend. So far, Mississippi's three losses have come to respectable foes - Alabama, Texas, and Texas A&M. Arkansas, on the other hand, has gone in the opposite direction, surprising their fanbase with losses despite a high level of overall talent. A defeat at the hands of Louisiana-Monroe kicked off a four-game losing streak that featured blowouts against Alabama and Texas A&M. Though they've turned things around with a pair of wins over Auburn and Kentucky, they still have to prove that they can beat a team that resides outside of the SEC's bottom two.
The burden is on the Razorbacks for this one, and that's why I'm running with Ole Miss this weekend.