There's one thing that I'm sure several Volunteer fans will be able to agree with me on when Saturday rolls around. Whether the Commodores win or the Commodores lose, there's going to be an unhealthy amount of alcohol consumed.
Whether that's the joyous, boisterous drinking that comes along with the cathartic relief of beating a team that Vandy has only defeated once since 1982 or the anxious, nerve-deadening drunk that Vanderbilt fans became friendly with through the Widenhofer, Dowhower, and Caldwell eras will come down to Saturday's result. James Franklin has the opportunity to erase three decades of futility on Saturday. A win would singlehandedly improve Vandy's bowl stock while ensuring that the Vols won't make it to the postseason in 2012. That's a tall order, but a victory at Dudley Field tomorrow would go a long way in turning a hashtag (#BrandNewVandy) into a reality.
This year looks like Vanderbilt's best chance to defeat Tennessee in decades. Not only do the Commodores have their most talented roster in decades, but they'll also face one of the worst Volunteer defenses to ever set up shop in Knoxville. That's music to the ears of Jordan Rodgers; the redshirt senior quarterback has only gotten better as the season's progressed, and he's primed for the biggest game of his career on Saturday.
Of course, that's easier said than done. Commodore fans know better than to count their chickens before they've hatched, and the idea of jinxes run strong through this fanbase. Even with that in mind, this season has been a refreshing turn from the close-but-no-cigar teams of the past. Just look at how they've improved over the past year.
In 2011, this team was 1-5 in games that were decided by a touchdown or less. Their only win in those situations came against UConn. In 2012, the 'Dores are 3-1 in those same circumstances and have notched clutch victories over SEC programs - Missouri, Auburn, and Ole Miss - in that span.
That's an encouraging turnaround, but this is still Tennessee. Regular logic and statistical analysis don't apply here. No matter what the lines in Vegas say, Vanderbilt is still coming into this game as an underdog. That's what happens when you fail to beat your biggest rivals at home for nearly 30 years.
So what will we end up pouring on Saturday night when all is said and done? Will it be a tumbler of Blanton's poured over ice in celebration? Or will it be a liter of warm purple drank sipped out of styrofoam cups in shame? We went to the experts* for their prognostications:
Christian D'Andrea: Like KJIV, I'm terrified of making a prediction with the concern that it could affect things negatively. I tend to be stupidly superstitious about these things. For example, I spent the last three minutes of the Vandy/Ole Miss game in a friend's garage watching via Gamecast when I realized that the 'Dores looked like garbage whenever I watched in HD. My biggest fear for this game is that it happens again.
Scratch that. My biggest fear, rather, is that we're going to have to see another YouTube video of Derek Dooley celebrating an overtime win against Vandy like he just won the goddamn Super Bowl (conversely, a similar video with Franklin as the subject would make me giggle like a schoolgirl throughout its duration). Even with a win, the Vols will probably be more reserved. Still, that's a sight that no one in black and gold wants to see.
All signs point to this one being a shootout, but Vanderbilt has avoided those this season. The closest they've come to a high scoring affair was last week's 27-26 win against Ole Miss. Still, they haven't played a team with a bigger offensive/defensive disparity than Tennessee this year. The Vols have scored nearly 38 points per game in their last six contests. They've gone 1-5 over that span because their opponents have scored an average of 45.5 points in those games.
That means that the fate of this game will rest in Jordan Rodgers's hands. If he can parlay his momentum from last week's come-from-behind win over MIssissippi into a strong showing on Saturday, he might just have the biggest game of his life against the Vols. Tennessee allowed Troy - Troy! - to amass nearly 500 passing yards in their contest two weeks ago. If Rodgers can find Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd consistently tomorrow night, then he'll be primed for the first 300+ yard passing performance of his college career.
Unfortunately, Tyler Bray will be on a similar path. The Vanderbilt secondary will be one of the toughest he's faced all season, but Bray has been a strong passer with exceptional receivers to run under his deep passes all season. He may not get the recognition he deserves since the Vols are 0-6 in conference play, but he's one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC right now.
That means that the 'Dores will have to do two things to win (comfortably) Saturday night. They'll need a big game from Rodgers, and they'll need their defense to force Bray into some drive-killing turnovers. The Vols are going to score points, but if Vandy can end a few of their drives with backbreaking interceptions, it could be enough to take the wind out of a rudderless Tennessee team.
For what it's worth, I think Rodgers can do it, and I have more faith in this defense than I have had all season (albeit somewhat irrationally after last week's performance). I'm going Commodores.
The Pick: Vanderbilt 37, Tennessee 35
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Arkansas (+6) over MISSISSIPPI STATE. Behold, the worst week of SEC football the season has to offer! This week's smattering of SEC games features high powered showdowns with teams like Alabama A&M, Western Carolina, Wofford, Jacksonville State, Georgia Southern, Samford, Sam Houston State, and Syracuse. Congratulations Vanderbilt/Tennessee, you're the game of the week by default!
Anyway, Mississippi State is fading hard and I still can't believe that this Razorback team is as bad as it is. It's a stretch to pick the hogs here, but the SEC upset options are limited. I'm taking Arkansas with that caveat in mind.