There isn't much in Vanderbilt's history to suggest that they'll be able to pull off a win in the Swamp. Nearly 70 years have passed since the last time they did it.
Fortunately, things change over time, especially over a span as wide as the one between Saturday's matchup and the last Commodore win in Gainesville. It may have taken a 25-year span of mediocrity and a game-changing coach to pull Vanderbilt out of the SEC basement, but two straight bowl bids - and a great shot at a third, especially with a win this weekend - have proven that James Franklin's Brand New Vandy isn't just a flashy hashtag.
A victory over Florida is a gamechanger - not just for the 'Dores, but for Florida coach Will Muschamp. Sports Illustrated scribe Stewart Mandel suggested that Muschamp could get the axe with a tenure-defining loss to Vanderbilt. Alligator Army's Andy Hutchins agrees. While much of the Gators' struggles this year have been due to key injuries, it's telling that a loss to a resurgent, mid-level SEC team like Vandy could be a fireable offense. That's not a judgment on a 4-4 team that's coming off of a nine-win season - it's an indictment about just how far history has driven this rivalry into Florida's favor.
The 'Dores can swing things back to their side with a win on Saturday, but it's going to be tough. Vanderbilt will once again find themselves in front of a homecoming crowd in Gainesville, and that means that generations of Florida fans will be back on campus - a generation with no idea of how to comprehend a Commodore celebration on the sidelines of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. There's nothing that James Franklin would like more, outside of a win in Knoxville, than to hear some well-deserved silence in the Swamp.
Can Patton Robinette shake off a bad game against Texas A&M to do it? Let's take a closer look.
Christian D'Andrea: Florida presents Vanderbilt with a similar opportunity as Georgia did last month. The Commodores will have the chance to pick off a favored team that has been hobbled by injuries in 2013. The Gators are without the guy who nearly single-handedly wrecked Vandy last year (Jeff Driskel) and are now missing their three best offensive tackles thanks to Tyler Moore's season-ending scooter-related injury. As a result, the offense that hung 31 points on this team in 2012 won't be nearly as potent.
That's a good sign for a Vandy defense that hasn't grown much since Driskel picked them apart last fall. The Commodore D made plenty of progress in the second half of their upset win over Georgia, then promptly lost all that momentum when Texas A&M took them behind the woodshed in a 56-24 beating. This team will now have to show that their performance from two weeks ago was an aberration caused by a high-octane Aggie offense and not a return to the type of play that led to conference losses against Ole Miss, South Carolina, and Missouri.
If the defense can hold up their end of the bargain, the pressure will be on Patton Robinette's shoulders to lead this team to the rarest of rare SEC wins. The redshirt freshman's timing was demonstrably off against A&M, but the poor play of an underachieving offensive line attributed to that. The 'Dores big men will have their hands full with a solid Gator defense - led by DE Dante Fowler Jr. - but they are better than they've shown in recent weeks. Vandy's young passer has shown that he's got an accurate touch with his passes and enough speed to pull the ball down and run when called for. An extra few seconds of pocket time would do wonders for his confidence, and could be the difference between leaving the field to the cheers of raucous Gator fans or running triumphant to the locker room in the midst of a stunned silence.
That's a long way of saying that the 'Dores will need to improve in order to win this game. James Franklin's teams have shown that they get better as the year goes on, and that should be reflected on Saturday, especially with a bye week in the rearview mirror. That's enough time to rebuild Robinette's confidence, devise blocking schemes that work, and coax some more growth out of a young linebacking corps that have been the lynchpin to this team's defense.
I think it'll be a close one that could go either way, but I trust Franklin when he's riding a bye week into what could be the biggest win of his Vanderbilt tenure. Give me a late Carey Spear field goal for the win.
The Pick: Vanderbilt 24, Florida 23
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: See above. There aren't a lot of tempting lines in the SEC this week. Your best bet might be Arkansas as a 17-point underdog at Ole Miss. However, even since Mrs. Bielema's #karma tweet, all I'm rooting for with the Razorbacks is that Coach Bret completes his slow transformation into a pumpkin.