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Saturday Predictions: Tennessee State at Vanderbilt

Tennessee State is a Top 25 team. In the FCS.

Vanderbilt v Georgia Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Vanderbilt hasn’t lost to a I-AA opponent in program history. Can a Tennessee State team ranked No. 25 in its side of the division break that streak?

The smart money says no, but smart money also said to take Georgia at -14.5 last week and never look back. Given the Commodores’ history of grasping momentum with one hand and throwing it away with the other, no team can be overlooked — even one from the Ohio Valley Conference.

The Tigers won’t have similarly optimistic odds against Vanderbilt when they trek across Nashville for a showdown at Dudley Field.

Christian D’Andrea: Tennessee State shouldn’t pose Vanderbilt much of a threat, but we said that about UMass in 2014 and needed a missed 21-yard field goal to escape that game. When you’re a Vanderbilt fan, you learn to take nothing for granted.

Fortunately, the level of talent on this Vandy team is much better than it was two years prior. Tennessee State, while on an upswing, is not FBS UMass. A better comparison would be the Charleston Southern team the Commodores beat that season; despite a one-point margin of victory, it was a much more comfortable game than the one against the Minutemen. Somehow.

Again, this team is much better than that 2014 squad. Even without a passing game, Ralph Webb should be able to carve up a Tiger defense that’s been average against the run against a slate of inferior tailbacks. The situation gets dicier for Kyle Shurmur. TSU has held opposing passers to an inefficient 5.7 yards per pass this fall. The Tigers have also forced 12 interceptions — eight more than a talented Vandy secondary.

Shurmur will have to break a streak of wretched play to solidify his spot atop the VU depth chart. He’s only completed 45.8 percent of his passes in Vandy’s last three games, and while he’s been solid in pressure situations he has yet to prove he can be the consistent weapon the ‘Dores need behind center.

Tennessee State presents him with a high-risk, low-reward opportunity. The Tigers have a better secondary than most would expect, and if the sophomore falters he’ll be castigated by the team’s fans. If he carves up the Tigers, his performance will be dismissed as the product of facing an FCS team. Still, it’s clear one outcome is far preferable to the other.

In the end, Webb springs for 150+, Kyle Shurmur picks himself up against a non-conference foe, and Wade Freebeck plays in an alarmingly appropriate situation for a backup quarterback.

The Pick: Vanderbilt 34, Tennessee State 10

The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Arkansas (+10) over AUBURN. Auburn’s pretty good this year. Certainly worth of top 25 inclusion. 10 points better than the Razorbacks? Ehhhhhhh.

Tom Stephenson: Did you know that if Vanderbilt wins two more games this season, the Commodores are going to a bowl game (probably)? That’s because there are 80 bowl slots for 128 FBS teams, and bowl games are all like (in honor of TSU’s most famous alum)...

So, yeah. I honestly don’t know anything about Tennessee State except that (a) they’re an FCS team, and (b) we beat them 38-9 the last time we played them, and I remember that night because I found out how much fun taking cover on the concourse at Vanderbilt Stadium was during a rainstorm. This won’t be like the Austin Peay game last year, because TSU is a better team than Austin Peay, but it will probably go something like the last time we played TSU sooooo...

The Pick: Vanderbilt 37, Tennessee State 14.

SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Ole Miss (+6.5) over LSU, as LSU starts to calculate the amount of money they will need to load into the armored truck they’re about to back up to Tom Herman’s house.