Vanderbilt will finally have the odds in their favor on Saturday - but while a win over I-AA Austin Peay could be a morale booster, it won't do much to raise their national profile.
With all due respect to the proud Peay alumni out there, the Governors simply aren't a good football team. Take their 2015 so far as an example. Through two games, Austin Peay has been outscored 80-13. They've gained 433 total yards of offense. They're allowing opponents to convert nearly 60 percent of their third downs. Most importantly, they've given up seven touchdowns in nine red zone trips. That's a stark contrast to a Commodore team that has only scored two touchdowns in their nine possessions that reached their opponents' 20-yard line or deeper. A game against the Govs could be just what Johnny McCrary needs to snap out of his scoring-opportunity funk.
But can Vanderbilt do enough to win back the fickle fans that have jumped ship after an 0-2 start? The home team offense needs to fire on every cylinder to make the argument that their newfound proficiency against an FCS program can translate to SEC victories. That means big performances from McCrary, Ralph Webb, Trent Sherfield, Latevius Rayford, Steven Scheu, and more.
Will the 'Dores impress on Saturday? Let's take a closer look.
Christian D'Andrea: Austin Peay is bad. In the past three years, they've averaged 10.4 points per game and have won only one of those contests. FBS programs have outscored them by an average score of 47.2 to 1.8. There are really only two options here for Vanderbilt: victory and moral defeat.
The Commodores nearly held themselves to a moral defeat the last time these two teams played, but a 35-point second quarter was enough to appease fans en route to a nine-win season. This year's Vanderbilt team won't have as much breathing room to empty the benches in a blowout, at least on offense. Johnny McCrary, his receivers, and this team's offensive line need all the snaps they can muster against a Division I opponent. The Governors won't offer much resistance as a defense, but they'll give this team valuable time to gel as a unit through on-field experience.
While Vanderbilt can't afford to overlook any team on their schedule, Austin Peay should offer them a much needed tune-up opportunity in an otherwise difficult 2015 schedule. The real question is whether or not we'll see Wade Freebeck or if the team will keep him on the bench to preserve the redshirt they unwisely burned in 2014. Derek Mason is in a bit of a bind with his sophomore quarterback. Freebeck is a valuable backup, but he needs more game experience to have an impact should he replace McCrary (due to injury or otherwise) this fall. However, playing his #2 QB a) restarts his eligibility clock, b) takes extra snaps away from a starter who needs all the dropbacks he can get, and c) could ignite another quarterback controversy in Nashville.
Saturday should be a confidence-building exercise, and it should be the first game of the season that doesn't feature an endzone interception.
The Pick: Vanderbilt 34, Austin Peay 6
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: KENTUCKY (+3.5) over Florida. After spending the last 15 hours traveling, this sounds...reasonable.
Tom Stephenson: When facing a team that employs a mobile quarterback such as Johnny McCrary, it can be helpful to have a spy on the defense to contain the QB if he decides to run for some yards. Fortunately for Austin Peay, they have an ideal player for such a defense.
I am floored. While Vanderbilt gets pointed at as the "rich kid" school, Austin Peay has a player who actually drives around campus in an Aston Martin, drinks martinis shaken, not stirred, and routinely beds women with names like Pussy Galore, and none of this is an NCAA violation because presumably the Queen of England is not considered an Austin Peay booster, though obviously we suspect that if Her Majesty were going to support any NCAA member institution it would be the one whose mascot bears a striking resemblance to Rich Uncle Pennybags.
Sadly for the Govs, however, Bond is listed as a backup on the two-deep so he probably cannot help them stop Johnny McCrary. For a team that has given up 80 points in the last two weeks to the likes of, ahem, Mercer and Southern Miss, clearly the defense is going to need a makeover before dealing with an SEC offense.
The Pick: Vanderbilt 56, Austin Peay 0
SEC Upset Pick of the Week: KENTUCKY (+3.5) over Florida. Since I correctly picked Kentucky over South Carolina last week, why not roll with the Wildcats again? Much like Tennessee, the oddsmakers have an irrational love affair with Florida based on nothing in particular other than their name being "Florida" and Will Muschamp no longer being their head coach. So why not pick Kentucky for the upset?
VandyTigerPhD: Last night I did an intense Monte Carlo simulation for this matchup. To seed it, I used the results from the 7 games since 2010 that Austin Peay has played a power 5 team (or an AAC team, because they like playing Memphis). Austin Peay has ALWAYS been blown out of the water in these affairs, ususally mustering little offense. It's not like all these games are against perennial powerhouses either. Last year, they lost to Memphis 63-0. That "school" to the East? Two years ago, they beat Austin Peay 45-0 right before we followed up with 38-3. They also managed a sweet FG against #11 Wisconsin in a 70-3 stomping in 2010. Austin Peay hasn't always been near-scoreless though. They put 10 up in garbage time in an affair the BEARCATS scored 72. They also managed a touchdown against a #15 VaTech back in 2012. Anyway, the point here is that even mediocre teams in power conferences handle Austin Peay with ease. Couple that with that they got handled by Mercer week 1? I think we'll be ok.
Getting back to that Monte Carlo, at the three sigma level, we win this game by truckloads. Had I enough time, I'd have properly accounted for the Kerr-Newman spacetime that surrounds the spinning black hole that is Dudley Field. My apologies, I have failed you all. Instead, I defaulted to using a Freidmann-Robertson-Walker cosmology with values of ΩΛ = 0.72±0.025 and H0= 70.0±2.2 and performed 10,000 simulations of the Universe, using standard models of the ISM and star formation rates. To 5-sigma, Vanderbilt wins this game, and to 3-sigma, it's by more than 3 scores. Of course, if you've any notion of observational science, you'd know the old saying, "half of three sigma results are wrong".
The Pick: Considering all variables, I am therefore going with Vandy to win 31-10. Just enough points to give the pitchforkers reason to complain, but a convincing win nonetheless.
SEC Upset pick of the Week: After losing to TOLEDO, there's no way I'm not taking Texas Tech +12 over Arkansas, which is the line Yahoo is giving. Tech may have absolutely no run defense, but there's no way I don't take the points here.