Vanderbilt will start the road to recovery after a heartbreaking SEC loss last week, and their first step won't be a difficult one.
The Commodores face their annual FCS foe on Saturday when Austin Peay comes to Nashville for the football equivalent of a squash match. James Franklin's team will be taking on the role of the Undertaker while they try to bounce back from a last-minute burial against Ole Miss in their season opener. The Governors, in this scenario, are a Middle Tennesseean cross between the Brooklyn Brawler and Barry Horowitz.
That's not meant to be disrespectful to APSU - it's just that their program has won nine Division I contests since 2008. In that span, Vanderbilt has won 12 games in the NCAA's toughest conference and 26 games overall. Most FBS programs are simply on a different level than the Governors, and Vandy is likely to extend their recent blowout streak against I-A programs to eight games.
WIth that in mind, let's examine the Austin Peay/Vanderbilt matchup and come up with some predictions.
Christian D'Andrea: Scheduling Austin Peay might look like the easy way out, but look at who else has done it recently: Virginia Tech, Cincinnati, Wisconsin, and Tennessee. Some very good teams have decided to cut the check and take a glorified scrimmage early in the season in order to prepare for conference play down the road.
Look, I'm perfectly fine with the matchup as long as we weren't the first ones to decide to challenge FCS Glass Joe to a fight. Hell, even if we were I'm sure I'd have to just dig into the bourbon-soaked recesses of my Robbie Caldwell memories and I'd be right back on board.
Not even Caldwell would have lost to the Governors. Vanderbilt could roll out a coaching tree of Caldwell, Woody Widenhofer, and the ghost of John Green and still get the W here. Watson Brown, a man who got exactly 10 wins out of the Commodores in five years in the late 80s has gone 3-1 against APSU with Tennessee Tech recently. Vanderbilt passed over any idea of taking a North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, or Appalachian State upset on their ledger this season, choosing instead to go with the Florida Atlantic of the FCS.
That's going to be very embarrassing to look back on if the Commodores lose, but I just can't see a way in which that happens. Austyn Carta-Samuels developed nicely in his first SEC game last week, and now he'll have the chance to incorporate other aspects of the Vandy offense into his passing against an overmatched Governor defense. The Commodore running game will get another chance to sort things out as well as they find the right balance between power back Wesley Tate and smaller, more elusive runners Brian Kimbrow and Jerron Seymour. And the defense should have plenty of motivation thanks to the opportunity to limit APSU to fewer yards and first downs than Tennessee had a week earlier.
So Austin Peay won't provide much intrigue, but this matchup will serve to lift the spirits of a fanbase that got absolutely crushed by last week's heartbreaker. Vanderbilt has all the tools to go out and dominate on Saturday, and a few early touchdowns will likely turn this one into a laugher by halftime. That's exactly what this team needs, and while it won't be pretty or competitive, it'll still be a lot of fun.
The Prediction? Vanderbilt 51, Austin Peay 3
SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Western Kentucky over TENNESSEE. The Hilltoppers got their first SEC win of the season last week by knocking off Kentucky in Nashville, but they can really turn heads by dealing Butch Jones his first loss as a head coach in Knoxville. Brandon Doughty led a balanced offense that put up nearly 500 yards against the Wildcats, and WKU's ability to run the ball will give them plenty of opportunities to grind time off the clock. Tennessee has plenty to prove at home, but the Hilltoppers could be the more motivated team, and that could be the difference between a close loss and an upset win at Neyland.