A win on Saturday will likely be enough to get Vanderbilt to a bowl game in year three of the Derek Mason experiment. More importantly, it would set the Commodores up for their first winning season since 2013.
At 4-5, Vandy has several paths to the postseason, but all start Saturday in Columbia. A fifth win would put the ‘Dores in line for a consolation bowl bid. With more postseason slots available than six-win teams, the NCAA awards the remaining bowl invitations to teams with the highest Academic Progress Rates (APR). The APR is essentially a six-year window of academic progress for student athletes on a given team.
Unsurprisingly, Vanderbilt does pretty well on the metric. With a score of 990, Vanderbilt ranks fifth among FBS programs.
Ahead of Vandy is:
Duke (4-6, five wins possible)
- Wisconsin (7-2, already bowl eligible)
- Minnesota (7-2, already bowl eligible)
- Northwestern (4-5, likely to finish with five or six wins)
With a win on Saturday, the worst case scenario says Vandy gets the third-worst available slot in a bloated landscape of unnecessary but ultimately fun bowl games. Best case scenario, the team wins out, finishes 7-5, and returns to Birmingham or Memphis to reclaim its Franklin-era glory.
So win Saturday and unlock an extra month of practices for a young team that’s made strides in 2016. Lose, and lower everyone’s expectations by dropping a fourth winnable game.
Seems like an easy choice to me.
Christian D’Andrea: These two teams have changed considerably from the last time they met. Missouri still has its standard stud defensive lineman (Charles Harris), but the rest of the defense has taken a step back in Barry Odom’s first season on the sideline. The Tigers are allowing more than 470 yards per game, the 116th-best mark in a Division with just 128 teams.
For comparison, the bend-don’t-break Commodore defense ranks 60th. Not great, but on a different plane than Mizzou in 2016.
Vanderbilt has taken a step in the right direction after a rocky start. The Commodores have allowed only 17 points per game against SEC competition this season. Granted, that’s come against weak SEC East competition, but on Saturday they’ll face the weakest team the East has to offer.
The Tigers have a more dangerous, but less efficient offense this fall thanks to the up-and-down play of quarterback Drew Lock. Lock has a 450-yard passing performance and a 39-yard game on the books this fall. He popped for 376 yards against Georgia and 302 against South Carolina, but also threw five interceptions across those two games. That included a backbreaker in the end zone against UGA where a field goal would have likely delivered his team’s first conference win of 2016.
Being mistake-prone is not a trait you want against a Vanderbilt defense that has made the most of its opportunities in recent weeks. The way Zach Cunningham has been playing, he’ll not only pick off Lock in the end zone and run it back for the game-winning touchdown, but then run through the stadium tunnel and save a bunch of orphans from a burning schoolbus in the parking lot.
Missouri will find a way to score against a tough Vanderbilt defense, but Saturday’s loss at No. 9 Auburn instilled some newfound confidence in Andy Ludwig’s embattled offense. Kyle Shurmur looked capable behind center, making accurate passes and (mostly) making the right decisions while checking down his route trees. That doesn’t happen without a strong blocking effort up front — and if the Commodores can keep Auburn off Shurmur’s back, they can do the same against a much less terrifying brand of Tiger.
The Pick: Vanderbilt 24, Missouri 17
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Kentucky (+13.5) over TENNESSEE.
Tom Stephenson: See, when people complain about hiring a coordinator with no head coaching experience and demand that we hire a guy who’s been a head coach before, sometimes the guy who’s been a head coach before had a 12-31-1 record at Missouri in the 1980s.
All’s I’m saying is that if playing Missouruh is going to be an annual thing, we might as well give this rivalry a snazzy nickname and maybe even a traveling trophy that we could call the Toll Booth Cup. The last time these two teams met, both teams looked suspiciously like Woody Widenhofer-coached teams, with a smothering defense and a staunch commitment to not having an offense. This year, Missouri has moved in the opposite direction, with an offense that’s capable of hanging 45 points on Middle Tennessee, but then Vanderbilt managed to score 47 on Middle and also didn’t lose to Middle. That’s because Missouri’s defense has given up 31 or more points in each of its last five games, and while they did manage to have some semblance of a defense in the four games before that, those games were against West Virginia, Eastern Michigan, Georgia, and Delaware State (and hell yeah I included Georgia in the same sentence as Eastern Michigan and Delaware State.)
But also, Missouri’s offense has been shut down by some of the better defenses they’ve faced: LSU held them to 7 and Florida held them to 14. And if we’re going full rivalry mode on this one, I would point out that Vanderbilt has won three SEC games AND beaten Middle Tennessee twice since the last time Missouri won an SEC game. While farting away games against beatable opponents is a longstanding Vanderbilt tradition, the optimist in me thinks that Vanderbilt will book that trip to the Idaho Potato Bowl by continuing Mizzou’s misery.
The Pick: Vanderbilt 17, Missouri 13.
SEC Upset Pick of the Week: ARKANSAS (+7) over LSU. NovemBERT is back, baby.
VandyTigerPhD: Even before this recent resurgence in confidence we’ve had in our football team, this game was a penciled in win. With the remarkable win against Georgia, and playing better than Auburn, it’s about as close to being penned in as you can pen in a Vanderbilt football team. Missouri is one of the worst teams in the country.
Our offense has gotten better, our defense is getting “better” than it already was just as a function of getting time to rest. Still, one can’t be too confident in these things.
I predict that we’ll once again be within one score for most of the game, but maybe get a two score win for once.
The Pick: Vanderbilt 24 - Missouri 14.
SEC Upset Pick of the Week: KENTUCKY (+14) over THEM. They will burn down the remaining mountains that haven’t already been burnt down when THEY have yet another meltdown this year.