Every once in a while, the fates shine down upon Vanderbilt football, granting the team a win that affirms fanhood across Nashville and keeps us filling out season ticket forms. It is the lone shining beacon amongst a 2-10 season. A port in the midst of a hurricane. The cream filling inside a rancid twinkie wrapped in a pile of dog shit.
And more often than not, it comes against Ole Miss.
The Rebels have been on the losing side of the Commodore victory four times in the past six years. Some times it makes sense. The Vanderbilt team that beat Ole Miss in the Grove in 2008 was on their way to a 5-0 start and the team's first bowl game since 1982. Other times it does not. The Vandy team that won in 2010 would later get smashed by at least two touchdowns in every other SEC game after a 28-14 win in Oxford.
So why do the Commodores do this against a manufactured, cross-SEC rival like Ole Miss instead of their actual in-state rivals down I-40? I'll be damned if I know. Our colleagues over at Red Cup Rebellion and Every Day Should Be Saturday are equally baffled as well. Something about the Rebels brings out the best in the Commodores like the team were a one-week steroid boost. The defense hits harder, the receivers drop fewer passes, and the offensive line remembers its assignments. Games in Oxford become bizarre looking glass scenarios of what this team can become, and then slump back to reality once the team boards the bus back to campus.
This Saturday, there will be more on the line for Vanderbilt than there has been since Chris Marve stripped Dexter McCluster at the goal line back in 2008. Like that season, a win puts the team on the path to bowl eligibility and James Franklin into the discussion as SEC Coach of the Year. A loss stops the momentum from last week's victory against UConn dead in its tracks.
So who comes out ahead? Let's go to the AoG staff for some predictions, keeping in mind that we pretty much nailed last week's call against UConn.
Train Island - Last week's game against UConn told us more about this Vanderbilt team than the season opener, but questions still persist. We know that this team can handle adversity and that players like Zac Stacy and Casey Hayward are willing to step up in the clutch, but what we don't know is if the offense will ever really hit its stride. Larry Smith's development continues to languish behind a patchwork offensive line that took a huge hit when Jabo Burrow's career ended thanks to lingering concussion problems (and seriously, our hearts go out to you Jabo. Good luck with your future and thanks for being a Commodore).
If Smith can't get the job done, the calls for Jordan Rodgers will come down from the stands, but I'm not sure that's the right play yet either. Rodgers earned a reputation in practice for having great tools but being prone to mistakes. We saw this a bit in the Elon game when he had trouble dealing with pressure in his second series. The Ole Miss pass rush is going to be tougher than any team Vandy's faced this season - and the 'Dores allowed UConn to post seven sacks last week. Vanderbilt will need to base their QB decision on who is going to make fewer mistakes this game rather than who has more big play potential - at least if the o-line looks as helpless as they did against the Huskies.
Defensively, the 'Dores have looked solid outside of covering Aaron Mellette. A defensive or special teams touchdown is likely going to swing this battle of unimpressive offenses. We're due for a brawl at Dudley Field, but not an aesthetically-pleasing, high-scoring one. More like a combination of Vandy's 24-21 win last week and Miss's 13-14 loss to BYU in week one. That is to say, ugly.
Fortunately, Franklin and this upperclassmen-led team look like they're able to win ugly. In a game that may feature 500 total yards of offense, I think Vanderbilt takes this one in a squeaker. That prediction is based partially on Franklin's coaching voodoo, and mostly on the idea that we're playing Ole Miss.
TI's prediction? Vanderbilt 16, Ole Miss 14.
SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Louisville over Kentucky. I'm about to hit you with some logic based entirely on the gambler's fallacy. The Cardinals are DUE. After Louisville won four straight in the midst of their Big East glory days from 2003-2006, the Wildcats have taken the last four, including a 23-16 win in Louisville last year. UK will have home field advantage and the prospect of playing a team that JUST LOST TO FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL LAST WEEK, but they've looked horrible in their two wins so far.
Against Western Kentucky, the Wildcats have proven that they could barely get by the Sun Belt's worst team. Against Florida International, Louisville proved that they're probably about as good as a mid-level Sun Belt team. If I apply another totally irrelevant and incorrect measure to this prediction, I can use the transitive property to imply that Louisville, by virtue of a close loss to a better terrible opponent, should be able to beat Kentucky.
It's doubtful that either line of thought is all that accurate, but have you seen the SEC's schedule this weekend? It's nothing but cupcakes and Tennessee on the underdog side of things.
KingJamesIV - In all honesty, I haven't been this excited for a regular season Vanderbilt game since the Auburn GameDay weekend in 2008. Seriously. A win tomorrow would be historic.
This game could be the difference. A win versus Ole Miss and Vanderbilt has a shot at becoming bowl eligible. I don't expect Coach Franklin to hold anything back. Whether or not that means we see Josh Grady's potential redshirt burned, who knows? But I'm not surprised we've heard that both he and Jacquese Kirk have been lining up at WR this week in practice. As Franklin said himself, he's looking to get playmakers on the field. There will be surprises -- trick plays, new wrinkles in the offensive gameplan that we haven't yet seen -- but nothing will surprise me. It will be tough. It will be hard fought. Ole Miss will be out looking to prove that the recent history between these two teams is a thing of the past. Despite this, Coach Franklin finds a way to get this team 3-0.
KJIV's prediction? Vanderbilt 20, Ole Miss 17
SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Clemson over Auburn. Auburn has been living on the edge each week this season. Statistically, luck always runs out. Clemson wins at home. I look forward to reading EDSBS' account of the Clemson mascot's epic weekend.
SectFRow1Seat30: Open: Ole Miss favored by 1. Current line: Anywhere from a pick 'em to Ole Miss as a 2.5 point favorite. O/U: 48.5. Indication: Betting public thinks Vandy is finally going to drop a deuce. And who ever set the O/U hasn't seen these offenses at work.
As already noted, this game in recent years has represented a brief highlight in the wayward journey of the Commie faithful. And it seems like 9 times out of 10 it is the JP early game. The safest bet here is the under. Next best is Vandy on the money line if you can get it.
Prediction: Commies 24 Rebears: 17.
This weeks upset special: Flo-Rida's Secondary over T. Bray.
Question heard early this week on Nashville sports talk radio: "So, where you think Tyler Bray is in the Heisman hunt?" Correct Answer: Back at the lodge taking out the trash and tidying up. It's been Cincy and Montana. Rogers and Hunter are not, contrary to what one fan was trying to tell me, Randy Moss and T.O. All the pundits are saying that the Gator secondary is too small and terrible to slow down Back Tat. I say that Muschamp gets Bray under pressure and the secondary gets it done.
Bonus Tip: Today's tailgate items: cheapish OJ, fancyish vodka, and a bag of ten McDonald's sausage biscuits. God bless you early game.