Any chance that Vanderbilt had of catching Mississippi State in a trap game flew out the window during the Commodores' bye week. The slim odds that Dak Prescott and the Bulldogs would sleepwalk into this Saturday's contest diminished to zero when Alabama notched a 25-20 win over MSU. Now, Prescott and coach Dan Mullen will need to make a statement when the 'Dores come to town.
That's bad news for a rebuilding Vandy squad. The Bulldogs were already the highest-ranked opponent that the team has faced in 2014. They lost their other three games against top 15 opponents by an average of more than 26 points per contest. ESPN has taken to calling MSU "humbled" this week, but I'd bet they're more angry than anything else. And an angry State team has a very real chance to exceed that 26.3 point margin.
Bettors across America seem to agree. Mississippi State is a 30 point favorite in their final home game of the season. Vanderbilt hasn't been beaten that badly since the first two weeks of the season, but it's safe to say that the Bulldogs have been a different caliber of team than Florida or Kentucky in 2014. Can Vandy keep it close? Do we dare suggest an upset in Starksville? Let's dig a little deeper.
Christian D'Andrea: Has this team improved enough since September to avoid a repeat of the embarrassment that Ole Miss laid upon them? They've certainly upgraded from angry skeleton Stephen Rivers to actual quarterback Johnny McCrary, but this team's lack of growth along the offensive line may make that a moot point. The defense showed major signs of development against Florida, but that game also showed that it doesn't make a difference if the Vandy offense can't keep them off the field for extended stretches.
That pacing will be huge against a State team that has a greater capacity for explosive offensive plays than Florida did. The Bulldogs are a dangerous team against a rested and ready Vandy defense. Unleashing Dak Prescott and his play-extending ability on a tired unit is a recipe for disaster. For the 'Dores to have any shot on Saturday, they'll have to sustain drives and win the time of possession battle.
Ralph Webb will need to have a comeback performance to make that happen. He had only two carries after fumbling twice in the second quarter against Florida and Vandy was worse off for it. However, it's just him and Dallas Rivers in the Commodore backfield on Saturday (and for the rest of the season). Webb could fumble on every touch he gets in the first half and still get called to carry the ball in the third quarter once Rivers got tired.
Webb's carries have ramped up throughout the season, and he's shown the chops to be a workhorse back in the SEC. However, there's a weird current surrounding this game that's keeping me from even thinking about the upset. Between Seymour's dismissal and the lack of energy surrounding this team and its fans after the bye week, it's tough to see how Vanderbilt bottles up the magic they'll need to pull off one of the biggest upsets in school history.
The Pick: Mississippi State 44, Vanderbilt 20. 'Dores cover.
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: ARKANSAS (+3.5) over Ole Miss. Five SEC teams are playing FCS opponents this week (tradition!), which leaves some slim pickings for upset choices. The Hogs surprised the hell out of me (but not Vegas) when they shut down LSU in a 17-0 win last week. Of all the underdogs facing Southeastern teams this week, it seems fair to say that Arkansas has the best chance of any of them to create some chaos in the West.
VandyImport: Well, that got out of hand in a hurry, didn't it? I don't know how many people were writing down a W for this game in August but I know they weren't anticipating CLANGA as a 30-point favorite. I agree that State will be looking to bounce back in a big way, but at the same time, I firmly believe that it will be closer than 30 simply because as the Bulldogs pull away, you'll see guys headed to the bench. Why? Because they are clinging to the #4 spot in the College Football "Not Really The BCS Honest We Swear" Playoff, and beating Vanderbilt by a thousand points will avail them exactly nothing with the committee if they get beat by Ole Miss next week. Consequently, I anticipate that Dan Mullen will be doing his best Milton Berle with this team and the Bulldog Blitz will pull out just enough to win, while the Dores need to avoid the letdown of just playing out the string. If I'm wrong, and we do get destroyed, I despair for next week.
The Pick: CLANGA 38, Vanderbilt 13. The tradition of the backdoor cover against top-25 SEC opponents continues.
The SEC Upset Pick Of The Week: MIZZOU (+4) over Tennessee. Look, I don't know where people are getting the idea that the Vols at 5-5 are some uncrowned world-beater force of destruction. Missouri is a ranked team with eight wins and the opportunity to win the East for a second straight year if they can run the table. They've got a lot more to play for than a Vol team with a lot of swirling distractions right now. And they have Austyn Carta-Samuels on the sideline, who knows a thing or two about taking care of business in Neyland Stadium. Take the Tigers.
Andrew VU '04: 3rd bye week. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Let's adjourn to the bar.
The Pick: Drinking. Heavily. Occasionally glancing up over my beer/bourbon to look at whatever's playing at the bar. Putting in quality time with the lady friend so I can have three nights per weekend to myself during baseball season. Priorities. Maturity. (Ah hell, I'll make the bartender put it on around 6:30pm and watch until I can't take it anymore.)
The SEC Upset Pick Of The Week: BYE WEEK (+∞) over LSU.
VandyTigerPhD: This week, master coach/orator Derek Mason said in a Tennessean article about Jerron Seymour being kicked off the team, "It's never the size of the dog, but the size of the fight in the dog." Seeing as I agree 100% with everything he's ever said, every decision he's ever made, and have started adding the affectation "you-know-I-mean" in everyone of my verbal sentences, I'm going to back this sentiment. A bulldog is relatively small, and is not entirely apt to fight. Commodore Vanderbilt was a large man who sought out enemies like Andrew VU '04 seeks out craft beer. Advantage Vanderbilt.
Further, I say dismissing Jerron Seymour from the team for an unspecified violation of team rules IS A WISE DECISION AND WILL BODE WELL FOR US THIS WEEK. THERE IS NO REASON TO EXPLAIN WHAT PROMPTED THIS MOVE TO YOUR FAN-BASE WHATSOEVER. I said it in all caps, so my opinion is clearly more valid than yours. Damn, my lower back hurts. I think that tandem tramp-stamp tattoo I got with VandyImport last week is getting infected.
The Pick: VANDERBILT 27, Clanga 24. Simply put, this one's going to come down to coaching. MASON UBER ALLES.
The SEC Upset Pick Of The Week: Look one line up.