Vanderbilt can make it three wins in a row on Saturday, but a rebuilding Mississippi State team will stand in their way. The Bulldogs have run out to an solid 13-7 record this year. While that includes a 3-4 mark in conference play, it doesn't exactly inspire confidence.
State has beaten just one team in the top 140 of the CBS RPI, in-state rival Ole Miss (in an upset we covered here last week). After the Rebels, MSU can point to wins over Tulsa (twice), Texas A&M, Florida Gulf Coast, and Auburn as their only significant victories of the season. That kind of schedule is a solid way to build up a program that was ravaged by departures two years ago, but it also pumped up a 13-win record that doesn't have much substance behind it.
Vanderbilt looks worse at 11-8, but while they have more losses, none of those defeats have come against a program outside of the top 100. Mississippi State, on the other hand, has three of those (UNLV, Utah State, and soon-to-be-examined TCU). However, those letdowns against established programs have also left the team bereft of quality wins. Despite a pair of 3-4 conference records, Vanderbilt and State will be battling over a spot on the middle tier of the SEC's rankings on Saturday.
That puts an emphasis on what looks like an unremarkable matchup on paper. On top of those stakes, these two rebuilding programs could signal the return of an underrated rivalry that once pitted
Thudbutt Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie against Festus Ezeli and Lance Goulbourne in the paint. Vandy/MSU may not look like much on the surface, but there are currents building here that could make Saturday's game one of the best of the season for the undermanned Commodores.
So how does Vandy win this one? Let's take a look at how TCU did it back in November.